Pruning is fun and other basics you need to know

Give me some good loppers and a pruning saw, and I am a happy woman. Pruning is my favorite garden chore. I don't have to do it very often, and the results are both immediate and long term. Limbing up, shaping, and removing dead branches can all have a positive impact on a garden. Proper pruning can make a plant more attractive and healthier, promoting growth and improving the quality of stems, flowers, and fruit. Kolkwitzia amabilis, known as beauty bush, and a 'waterfall' Japanese maple, both benefit from judicious pruning.

I prune the lower branches of trees to allow easy walking along the garden paths.However, improper pruning can deform a plant and, in some cases can lead to a plant's decline. A lot of people are afraid to prune their shrubs and trees, and it's no wonder suburbia is half hidden by overgrown, misshapen plants. 

Entire books have been written on pruning guidelines and techniques, but it is easy to remember these five basics:

1. Plant the right plant in the right place. That means a shrub that is destined to grow ten foot tall should not be planted three feet from your living room window, unless it grows slowly and you don't mind pruning it regularly. Yet, why do that, when there are many other, more appropriate plants that won't cover your windows and send their roots snaking under your foundation?

2. You can prune dead wood anytime. Otherwise, it's best to prune spring flowering plants immediately after they have bloomed. Prune summer flowering plants in late winter or very early spring. If you prune at the wrong time, you might not harm the plant, but you will reduce the next season's blooms. Also remember if you prune in late autumn, you could stimulate new growth just in time for frost. 

3. To maintain a plant's natural appearance, cut in layers. Most of the time it's best to let the plant keep its identity. That means don't saw straight across the top of the plant. That is ugly. Cut some from lower, middle, and top branches, and make your cuts just above buds that point outward.

4. Hedges should be trimmed so that the top is a bit narrower than the bottom, so that sunlight reaches the lower part of the plant. Otherwise, the bottom branches will loose their leaves. 

5. Use good quality, sharp tools. Dip in a 1:10 bleach solution between plants to keep from spreading disease.

6. This one is controversial, so I didn't include it in the five basics, but I think it's important to remember. Pruning is fun. It's creative. Your plants will love you for it.

While I like to think I have complete artistic control over my garden, regarding pruning I have had to compromise. My husband and I have a difference of opinion about the yaupon holly shrubs out front. I like a natural shape, but he likes the little ball look. We have discussed this for years, but he is a man who loves his power hedge trimmer. So for now my garden has a lot of these proper balls. Besides, Lou cheerfully hauls off the great piles of clippings and branches I make when I am pruning, so he deserves something for that.This is a view through the rose arch, taken in November.



A Time to Rest

"For everything there is a season."

I was busy with meetings today, but by three o'clock I was free to explore my garden. I almost didn't do it. I was tired. I had worked hard the last two days and I have to work all weekend, as well. I looked at my garden with its bare branches and piles of dead leaves. Was there anything out there worth seeing, anything at all to perk up my weary spirit? I have a new book to read, and I was tempted to curl up with that for the afternoon.

But my garden always surprises me. If I look, I can always find something to make me smile. So I grabbed my camera and headed out, thinking a quick tour wouldn't hurt, and the book would still be waiting.

The first thing I noticed was the mistletoe! Hanging in clumps at the tops of trees, one can only see it after the leaves have fallen. It's a parasite but not a bad one, for it increases biodiversity. I read that in an encyclopedia. I prefer to remember its more romantic reputation as the kissing plant.

Outside my kitchen, near the herb bed, I smiled at the dried seed heads of garlic chives. Oh, no. These are likely to produce a thousand babies next spring. Rule #1: Cut garlic chive flowers before they go to seed. But they are so pretty.

Then I walked to the front garden, and I was struck by the colors still there:  the yellowing foliage of forsythia, the red nandina berries, and my stalwart rosa mutabilis, its pastel blossoms resting against the fresh green of a white pine.

Also in the front garden is a huge viburnum 'augustifolium'. It is evergreen, but its leaves are taking on pink and gold hues as December's cool air arrives.

This plant has been a mystery to me. Despite its clearly marked label when Lou bought it for me, it doesn't really look like the 'augustifolium' pictures I have seen in books, and it's lacy, dull white flowers are unremarkable. It does have nice leaves. It's about twenty feet tall, and growing.


I thought the woodland garden would look sad, for all the deciduous trees have lost their leaves. But, really, the openness allows a good overview.

The form of an ancient muscadine vine caught my attention. Lou once asked me if I wanted him to cut it down. I'm glad I told him no.

The black locust 'twisty baby' also has striking form, more evident now that it has lost its leaves.



The evergreen tree in the background is a southern magnolia. My son Josh once climbed it when he was a small boy. That was years ago, but it was still quite tall at the time. I almost had a heart attack when I saw him perched up high in its branches.






There is a hillside in the woodland garden covered with an assortment of shrubs, including goldmound spirea. This plant is beautiful when it blooms, but it is known for its golden leaves. Even now the fading foliage is lovely, especially seen against a weeping blue cedar.

Some other scenes from my woodland garden today:

A mossy footstone 





A viburnum still wearing its fall colors














And the red stems and spotty gold leaves of a 'lady in red' hydrangea

I am reminded that a garden needs rest; it needs to store energy for the next year's work.

I have decided that tonight I am going to bed early and get some good sleep. (Unless I stay up late blogging!)

Sweet rest to all  - Deborah