Pruning 101

Pruning tools
Pruning tools

After the hustle and bustle of the growing season, gardeners have more time to pay attention to pruning and shaping of their trees and shrubs in late fall and winter. Most people are very intimidated by pruning, but there is no reason to shy away from this necessary job for a healthy and groomed landscape.

Pruning the hedges at Ladew Topiary gardens
Pruning the hedges at Ladew Topiary gardens

The biggest thing to consider when pruning your woodies, is the time of year that they bloom. If you have a spring bloomer, like an azalea or lilac, then you want to prune right after it blooms, in the late summer. If you pruned an azalea in the early spring or late winter, you would be trimming off next season’s blooms. You can still shape and trim your spring-flowering shrubs in the winter, which I do all the time, just be aware that you will get less flowers in the spring because you are cutting off flowers buds that have already formed.

An Exbury Azalea in bloom
An Exbury Azalea in bloom

High winds  over the winter can play havoc with plants such as roses and buddleias so I recommend that you cut these stems back by half right now, which will stop them rocking backwards and forwards in high winds. If not done, this constant movement causes a space to develop at ground level which can allow severe frost to damage the plant. The final pruning can be done in March. So, I do a coarse pruning in the early winter, and fine tune in the spring.

Pruning shrubs and trees is not rocket science. You have to understand a bit about the natural form of the plant and shape and trim it judiciously. But when I see wholesale slaughter of plants, I cringe. I consulted with a client on how to maintain her front trees and shrubs, and recommended someone professional that I knew would do a great job. Her shrubs were definitely getting out of hand and needed  pruning a good deal.

My client opted to go with her lawn service people who claimed to perform “pruning” along with their lawn chores. The result was a beautiful “hack” job that will take a while to recover from. Beware of lawn service companies that do pruning on the cheap. If you are hesitant to do it yourself, go with professionals and observe how they do it, so that you can start doing it on your own.

These were beautiful viburnums
These were beautiful viburnums
An art class sketching a beautifully pruned Japanese Maple
An art class sketching a beautifully pruned Japanese Maple

If you want to do it yourself, start small and carefully and do your homework. There are some shrubs that I call “cut-back shrubs” that you can indeed hack down to the ground with impunity. These would include butterfly bushes, caryopteris, vitex, knock out roses, smoke trees, and the like. In fact, if you don’t hack at these, they will take over, see http://thegardendiaries.wordpress.com/2013/05/10/mow-down-those-knock-out-roses/

Ladew Topiary gardens horse and rider
Ladew Topiary gardens horse and rider

Crape Myrtles need a good pruning every few years to look good. Crape Myrtles are notorious for being improperly pruned, thus the term “crape murder”! They are pretty easy to prune, if you think “thin the tree” instead of “chopping the tree”.

Proper pruning techniques
Proper pruning techniques

For a great article on pruning strategies, go to Follow Proper Pruning Techniques at http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/earthkind/landscape/proper-pruning-techniques/, for a tutorial on how to prune beautifully. Now is the time to get a good start on your pruning while the leaves are absent. You can see the structure of the tree or shrub to make your job easier.

An espaliered tree needs expert pruning
An espaliered tree needs expert pruning

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Berried Treasures-Planting the Best Berried Shrubs for Your Fall Garden

Beauty of Winterthur viburnum berries; enjoy them before the birds get them!
Beauty of Winterthur viburnum berries; enjoy them before the birds get them!

Viburnums are Stellar

When selecting shrubs and trees to plant in your garden, consider not only the beauty of it’s flowers and foliage, but also the bonus of fruit or berries. Berries add another dimension to the attractiveness of the landscape which can last until late winter. Birds and other wildlife benefit from the berries as an important source of food when most other sources have disappeared. Even birds that primarily feast on insects will switch their diets in the winter to berries in order to survive the long lean winter months.

These berries have been stripped of all berries by birds
These berries have been stripped of all berries by birds

The list of berry producing shrubs and trees includes service berry, viburnums, roses, beauty berries, hollies, sumacs, persimmons, bayberries, nandinas, and pyracanthas. I have highlighted a few that are easy to grow, last into winter and are particularly showy.

Viburnum dilatatum ‘Cardinal Candy’ is a nicely rounded deciduous shrub that will grow 6 to 8 feet tall. It likes sun or partial sun and carries an incredible display of abundant, glossy red fruit in the fall that persists into winter. It is blanketed with creamy white flowers in the spring and forms an attractive well branched shrub that fits in well with any landscape.  It will cover a steep bank very effectively.

Cardinal Candy  Viburnum covering a slope
Cardinal Candy Viburnum covering a slope
Cardinal Candy Viburnum
Cardinal Candy Viburnum

Michael Dodge has a different berry which sets it apart from most other Viburnums – yellow! Yellow berries are a rarity in the plant world and I treasure this one.

Michael Dodge Viburnum berries
Michael Dodge Viburnum berries

Erie Viburnum has the same red berries as Cardinal Candy, but I particularly like the fireworks display of berries.

Erie Viburnum
Erie Viburnum

American Beauty-Berry

Purple beauty berries
Purple beauty berries

The American Beauty-Berry (Callicarpa americana) grows 3 to 5 feet in height and width with long arching branches.  It has yellow-green fall foliage and clusters of striking shiny purple berries held close to the branches.  The berries also come in white.  It is easy to grow in sun or part shade. I cut branches of this shrub and plunge them into vase of water to enjoy the beautiful berries and field a lot of questions about this unusual shrub.

White Beauty Berries
White Beauty Berries

Peony Envy

DSC_0450

Peonies are blooming right now and I am in heaven! I love the flowers for cutting, fragrance, and Wow factor. Plunk some peonies into a vase, and it looks like an arrangement by a master. You don’t need to arrange them – they just sit in a vase and say “look at me!” No one can pass them by without exclaiming, touching, or sniffing. For those who love peonies, you can extend the picking and sniffing season for about 6 weeks with a variety of peonies that bloom at different times.

There are three major types of peonies.

Pink tree peony
Pink tree peony
  • Tree Peonies-

    First off the track in early May are tree peonies which are the upper class of peonies; they seem a little snobby and too perfect and everyone loves them. Tree peonies have woody stems and lose their leaves in the fall and grow very slowly to form a small shrub. They prefer to have a little shade. The ultimate color to get for a tree peony is yellow. I still have to get one of these.  I have been burnt buying them from growers and they turn out to be white or pale pink! So, buy them in bloom if possible!

  • I went to a peony tree farm that was run by a Chinese family and took this picture of their Chinese Shar-Pei in the field
    I went to a peony tree farm that was run by a Chinese family and took this picture of their Chinese Shar-Pei in the field

    When these bloom, it is almost a sensual experience cutting the flower off the shrub.  The blooms are massive, maybe 7 inches across with beautiful centers of frilly contrasting stamens. The foliage is beautiful also and will remain throughout the season.

The coveted yellow tree peony
The coveted yellow tree peony
Paeonia 'Linne'
Paeonia ‘Linne’ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
  • Herbaceous-

    The most common and many people know this one the best.  It is the one found in gardens that someone planted 50 years earlier, and they are still going strong. The stems die to the ground in the winter just like any other perennial. I dug lots of peonies up from my mother’s garden that bloomed very sparsely, having been shaded out over the years, transplanted them to my garden in full sun, and they now bloom like gang busters. So, herbaceous ones demand full sun to bloom well.

Herbaceous peonies with nepeta make a good combo
Herbaceous peonies with nepeta make a good combo

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Itoh peony with a nice rounded shrub shape
Itoh peony with a nice rounded shrub shape
  • Itoh or Intersectional Peony- 

    Just a fancy term for a cross between a tree peony and a herbaceous one. The top growth will die down during the winter and the plants have a nice rounded shape. They are usually shorter than herbaceous ones, thus no floppy stems or staking. These like a little shade also and since they are a relatively new species, are expensive.  Prices range from $50 to $150 on line. I just bought one, it set me back $80 and is a beauty! The color is almost a coral pink, one that I have never seen in a peony.

peach-peony-patricia-s

Ants

Everyone has seen ants attracted to peony flowers and that might stop some people from cutting them and bringing them into the house. You can briefly swish the buds and blooms in a pail of water to flush them off if they bother you. Ants are attracted to the nectar secreted from the buds only and will not be on flowers in full bloom. They are not harmful to you or to the flower, so don’t try to spray them with insecticide!

English: Ants, as well as wasps, are attracted...
English: Ants, as well as wasps, are attracted to the nectar of peonies (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Related articles

Blueberry Bonanza

The Invasion of the Blues

I have been growing blueberries for years and this has been a banner year for picking them.  We have had plenty of rain and the weather has been perfect for growing.  I have only 5 shrubs but that is enough to keep us in berries, as well as providing the birds all they want to eat. I used to cover them with nets, but they are so prolific, I let the birds have at them.

Blueberry flowers
Blueberry flowers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Growing

Blueberries are so unbelievably easy to grow, I am surprised that not everyone has at least one of these shrubs planted on their property.  They don’t get very large and have beautiful scarlet fall foliage that makes them worthwhile to grow just for that feature alone.

Wild Blueberry (Vaccinium) in autumn foliage t...

I have several varieties to extend my picking season and there are more than 100 varieties to pick from.  There are even dwarf ones suitable for container growing.

My blueberry bushes

Acid Soil

Blueberries require an acidic soil, 4.5 – 5.5 pH, much like rhododendrons and azaleas.  If you can grow rhodies and azaleas successfully, then you are golden.  But my soil tends to be more like 6.5 to 7 on the pH scale, so I add plenty of peat moss when planting. I continue to add it every year around the plants.  I also mulch with pine needles and add an acidifier in liquid form periodically to keep the soil on the acid side.  If you are unsure of your pH, you can always get a soil test done at a local garden center or the agricultural extension service.  Add some cottonseed meal or blood meal as a high-nitrogen organic fertilizer twice in the spring.  Coffee grounds rich in nitrogen, magnesium, and potassium are an inexpensive organic fertilizer to add some further nutrients to the soil.

pH Test of Soil in Flowerbeds
pH Test of Soil in Flowerbeds (Photo credit: Chiot’s Run)

Pests are never a problem except for the birds, and aren’t an issue if you have prolific bearers.

My blueberries are in partial shade and do fine with that light.  They will also perform well in full sun.

Pollination

There is really no secret to pollination other than planting several varieties close to each other.  For healthier, more productive blueberries, regardless of type or variety, you should plant different varieties so that bees can travel and cross-pollinate the plants. My bees are all over the shrubs when they are blooming.

Watering

Consistent watering of blueberries is important because they have a shallow, fibrous root system.  But I rarely water my shrubs as they are pretty distant from the hose reach. To avoid watering I layer on tons of mulch around the whole area. Once in a while when we have had some long periods of drought, I run the hose out to the plants for a good soak.

Picking the Harvest

The only thing that I don’t enjoy about growing blueberries is I hate to pick them! They are small and tedious to pick and take up time. The berries ripen over a couple of weeks, so you need to pick the ripe ones every couple of days. I have tried different methods, like placing a sheet underneath and shaking and pulling off the ripe ones, but I have gone back to my normal picking one by one into a Tupperware container.  The shaking method pulls off too many immature berries and wastes them.  I enlist help and ask people who want some berries to pick them and leave me some too.

Pruning

English:
English: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pruning the shrubs to make them more compact, and to get rid of older branches that bear less fruit, is a matter of a few minutes in the late winter.  This annual pruning forces the shrub to produce new wood that will bear larger, more abundant berries.

Simple Seasonal Care 

Winter – prune

Early spring – fertilize

Late spring – fertilize again

Summer –  harvest fruit and enjoy!

Fall – mulch

Healthy Eating

Blueberries are the perfect health food. They are nutritious, have anti-oxidants, and require little preparation. Freezing easily and going well with so many foods and desserts are among their many attributes.

Blueberry Temptation
Blueberry Temptation (Photo credit: kitsunebabe)

Everyone has recipes for muffins, pies, and cakes using blueberries so I wanted to pass along a great recipe that I use for meat! This is a great sauce and you can use either fresh or frozen blueberries.

Savory Blueberry Steak Sauce

3 T unsalted butter

2 small shallots, finely chopped

2 T flour

1/4 C sherry vinegar

1/4 C ketchup

3 T dijon mustard

1/4 C orange juice

1/4 C molasses

1/2 Tsp dried thyme

1/4 Tsp dried sage

2 C fresh or frozen blueberries

Salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in large skillet and saute shallots for 3 to 4 minutes. Sprinkle in the flour, blending and stirring until mixture begins to bubble. Add vinegar, ketchup, mustard, orange juice, molasses, thyme, and sage, and stir until combined.  Add blueberries and raise heat to medium-high to bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and cool, stirring often for about 15 minutes until the mixture is thickened and glossy.  Season with salt and pepper. Serve warm over steak.

English: A pack of blueberries from a organic ...
English: A pack of blueberries from a organic farm co-op program. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)