Pruning With A Purpose

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Pruning woody shrubs, when done properly, is good for the plants.  Cutting out dead or diseased branches helps to preserve the overall health of the plant. Branches that cross over one another may damage the bark of both branches.  Damage to the bark of a woody shrub is an invitation to insects and disease.  Thinning out a woody shrub can help to maintain it at a desired size for many years.  That thinning allows light and air to penetrate the interior spaces, keeping the interior of the shrub well foliated.  In the hydrangea hedge above, the upper branches were kept long, a practice which eventually shaded the lower branches.  The lower branches have leaves that are smaller, and fewer flowers. Once we started pruning these hydrangeas, we shortened the top branches considerably and unequally, and pruned the lower branches with the idea of encouraging lateral growth.  Ideally, a hydrangea should be wider at the bottom than the top.

limelights 2013 (7)As an experiment, I did not prune my limelights at home at all last spring, but for removing the spent flower heads. My reason?  I have a yew hedge in front of them.  I wanted my hydangeas to grow tall, and have lots of blooms in the top third of the plant. On the inside of this hedge is a boxwood hedge, planted fairly close to the hydrangeas.  For the health of the boxwood, I did not want a lot of foliage shading them.  For hydrangeas blooming from top to bottom, the boxwood would have needed to be planted much further away.  I did not have the luxury of that kind of space. This is what I mean by pruning with a purpose.  Good pruning encourages the plant to grow in a way and direction that works with the natural habit of the plant-and the intended design.
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This limelight hedge was planted with the specific intent of providing dense screening from top to bottom.  The branches at the bottom are slightly longer and wider than the branches at the top.  Hydrangeas, like most other deciduous shrub, cannot be pruned with a hedge trimmer.  Cutting every branch at exactly the same height produces a proliferation of growth all at the same level.  A single cut may produce 3 or 4 breaks, or new buds.  This denies light and air to the branches below.  Deciduous shrubs pruned for years in this in this manner have a thin green outer layer, and a dead twiggy interior.

pruned-limelight-hydrangeas.jpgThink shag hair cut.  Shorter on the top, longer on the sides, with each cut an alternate length and direction. Each branch has to be pruned individually, one at a time-each at its own level.  Every branch needs a home of its own, uncrowded by the leaves of a neighboring branch.  Clusters of leaves that pester one another and compete for light eventually leads to overall decline.  Lots of deciduous shrubs grow large.  A big shrub planted in a tight space that always needs downsizing will never look or be happy and healthy.  If you don’t have room for a limelight hydrangea, which will mature at 6-8 feet tall, plant Little Limes.  They can comfortably be kept at 4 t0 5 feet tall and wide.

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There are a few plants that are tolerant of shearing. Boxwood and yews are tolerant. Lindens have been pleached and formally grown into overhead hedges for centuries.  A hydrangea is not a member of this group.  They have a loose and shaggy natural shape.  Pruning them needs to work with this natural  habit.  Landscapes where every deciduous shrub is pruned into ball, mushroom or cube shapes is a look that is heavy handed, and not good for the plants. Proper pruning takes a lot of time, but that time is well spent.

pruned-limelights.jpgThe effect of just one year not pruning my limelight hydrangeas is obvious.  The shrubs have developed long bare legs  Pruned down to 36″ tall will encourage lateral buds to break, and some branching at the bottom.  From a distance, the boxwood disguises this legginess. In fact, I prune my hydrangeas differently every year.  I like trying out different approaches and observing the results.  Shrubs are quite tolerant of gardeners.

hydrangea-branching.jpgIf you do have a shrub that is had become overgrown, or is suffering from long standing poor pruning, it is possible to renovate.  An overgrown lilac might benefit from having a couple of old thick branches cut to the ground.  This will encourage growth from the base.  A privet that has been cut into a ball shape for too many years might be a good candidate for the swiss cheese treatment.  Cut holes in the exterior thicket of branches so light can penetrate.  The light is coming from overhead, so treating the top surface of the shrub is the most effective way.

hydrangea-budding.jpgI would say my hydrangeas have been cut hard this year.  I see I have buds breaking here well below the cut.  The trick is to cut close enough to a bud so no time and energy is wasted on a stub that will eventually die back.  Cut too close to a bud, and you may damage it.  For this reason, I may prune my hydrangeas again in a month of so.  To encourage more branching.  Very hard pruning can result in just a few stems, with overly large flowers that droop over.  A sturdily branched hydrangea properly pruned will be a joy come bloom time.

 

 

Waning

October-garden.jpgThe pumpkins on the stairs flanked by my summer containers -visually jarring.  Different seasons with different plant vocabularies are duking it out. The past 3 weeks has been the best weather we have had all summer.  I haven’t taken these two pots apart, as I can’t get by the foolish hope that they will finally get better and be what they were meant to be.  In another the season, the nicotiana , tibouchina, angelonia and the  boston daisies would be blooming profusely.  The petunias would have kept up with the licorice. Instead, I have robustly green blobs of potted plants that continue to prosper-courtesy of the warm fall weather.

October-garden.jpg They don’t make enough visual sense to permit a decent photograph.  Can you hear me sighing? I can talk this way about them, as they are my pots.  If they were your pots, I would just be sympathetic.  Rotten bit of luck, this cold and rainy summer.   The saving grace of these pots?  The cup and saucer vine has finally decided to bloom.

Oct 12, 2013 (51)Cobaea scandens is a large growing vine that holds itself up by means of spiralling tendrils.  I grow it as an annual, though it is hardy in zone 9 and 10.  The vine is slow to get going, and really wants a warm and sunny situation.  They don’t ordinarily begin to bloom until later in the summer, but they do bloom on into the fall.  The flower buds are a pale lime green, the flowers a pale lavender.  The lavender deepens to purple as the flower ages.  The shape and size of the flowers make them well worth growing.

variegated-boxwood.jpgIt has taken the grass, scaevola and petunias a long time to grow to a size proportionate to the variegated boxwood.  I rather like the look of this pot right now.  I suspect that this is the best it is ever going to look, given that November is but 2 weeks away.

coleus-wasabi.jpgThe Wasabi coleus grew strongly, in spite of the cool rainy summer.  Mercifully, it has overtaken other plants that did not fare as well.  These boxes have that topsy turvy look that is a sure sign that the garden season is waning.

Persian-Shield.jpgThe Persian Shield has grown steadily all summer, and now dwarfs the pot in a way that suits me.  This looks lush.  It is also a reminder that annual plants do not make giant root balls.  They spend most of their growing energy above ground, as they only have one season to grow. At this late date in the season, I have to watch the water carefully.  This pot is full of roots, all of which need regular water.  Even though the daytime temperatures are cooler, the available water is being absorbed at a surprisingly fast rate.

summer-containers.jpgI did like how the thumbergia vines eventually draped over my olive jar, but they too need warm weather to thrive.  Most of the blooming went on between the plant and the wall-on the back side.  The brick absorbed heat during the day, and gave off heat at night.  My cannas are in their first round of blooms since they were planted in May.

angelonia.jpgAngelonia that is thriving and blooming well is a sure sign that the fall has been warm.  They like heat. The graceful habit is as much a pleasure as the flowers.  Many annual plants have a very stiff habit.  Angelonia can soften the mix in much the same was as a grassy plant. This new ageratum, “Artist”, has been a stellar performer.  I would plant this again.

fall-color-on-hydrangeas.jpgThe Limelight hydrangeas are at the height of their fall color.  This flourescent pink coloration I call the super nova stage.  Like a star that glows dramatically just before it dies, this color is a sure sign that the garden is waning.  Only rarely do we not have a hard frost before the end of October.  The forecast seems fairly benign fore the next week.  But as anyone who lives in Michigan knows, the weather can turn sharply at any time now.  The perennial plants, shrubs and trees have been preparing for this a long time already.  The growth of trees and shrubs slows dramatically the end of August.  Having a long season to prepare for dormancy helps them survive over the winter.  I have not cut the roses since the beginning of September.  They are seeding-forming hips.  I like the look of the hips on the roses.  I better like that there are no pruned stems which would invite disease or insects.

fountain.jpgBuck has been so busy at Branch that he hasn’t had time to clean the fountain.  I rather like that lime moss growing inside.  It not only looks great with my Scotch moss, it is a sign of the time of year.

Four Years Later

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Six years ago I submitted landscape plans to a client with an island home.  Five years ago, they brought the property next door, and added on to their existing home. Four years ago, we installed a landscape per a second plan.  This property was 75 minutes away from us.  Despite the difficult logistics, we did install a landscape from start to finish.  In 2010, I attended a summer party given by the client-for all of the contractors that worked on their project, and their families.  That was my last visit-until earlier this week.

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The original plan called for 3 curved steel planter boxes that would fit the curve of a blue stone terrace on the lakeside.  They decided earlier this year to go ahead and have them made.The delivery of the boxes was a chance to see how the landscape was settling in.  What a pleasure it was to see that the plants looked healthy and robust.

the south-side.jpgEvery square foot of the vegetable garden was being used.  The in ground beds had been planted with strawberries, asparagus, and herbs.  The raised beds were planted with all manner of vegetables.  Vegetable gardens are working gardens, the purpose of which is to grow food.  This sounds easy enough, but growing vegetables successfully is hard.  The plants themselves are not always so beautiful.  Roses and tomatoes are grown for the flowers and fruit, not for the beauty of the plant.  It seems like bugs and disease have a special affinity for vegetable plants.  This vegetable garden with raised beds is an orderly space, even if the vegetable plants themselves are not.
the-vegetable-garden.jpg This garden is enclosed, primarily to keep the wildlife at bay.  But the fencing adds much to the look of the garden.  The gate is an exact reproduction from a family vegetable garden in Italy.  The landscape is very much looking like it belongs to them.
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vegetable garden
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gate latch

lawn-plane.jpgWe look after the landscape during the course of installing a big project like this.  But the day comes when the installation is finished, and a client has to take over the care and maintenance.  The areas that require the most care are small-manageable. The landscape was designed for clients that like to use their outdoor spaces for entertaining.

firepit.jpgI vividly remember when this particular spot was a muddy and mucky mess.  Installing the fire pit in late November-challenging.  Today, this space gives no hint of that construction history.

lakeside-landscape.jpgview from the river

waters-edge.jpgThis dockside garden was planted after my work here.  It is simple, and has great texture and mass.

steps.jpgWe did do a lot of work grading here.  My clients did want a lawn area that was easier to navigate.  The long steel step risers are only 4 inches in height. This is a landscape feature that adds interest, and is very little maintenance.
November-2009.jpg

This shady garden area was a major roadway for construction vehicles of all kinds, for almost 2 years. I was worried we would have a devil of a time getting anything to grow.  When we were finally ready to plant this side, the soil was just about impossible to dig.  We incorporated generous amounts of compost into the top 8 inches of soil-with pickaxes and the forks on our front end loader.  This picture was taken in November of 2009.

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This picture was taken a few days ago.

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It takes time for a landscape to begin to come into its own.  This one is well on its way.

Pruning The Boxwood

June 23b 2013 (1)The day the evergreens get pruned at the shop is one of my favorite days in the gardening year.  Mindy from M and M  Flowers comes with a crew; they make a day of it.  The first order of business is the discussion.  Are we pruning as usual?  Is there perhaps a new shape or different direction in mind?

pruning-boxwood.jpgMaking changes to the shape of a boxwood hedge- even an established hedge- is not difficult or impossible.  It just takes time. The spheres at the corners of the parterres have not grown in evenly all around. The west side spheres get more water, as the land drains in that direction.  The east side spheres are planted in what was once asphalt, and they are shaded by the lindens.

pruned-boxwood.jpgThe spheres to the east also suffered a considerable fungal infection that has been very difficult to cure.  Simply put, the conditions for the 4 spheres are not at all equal.  One pair is much larger and more robust than the other.  So there was discussion about a moving towards a different shape at all 4 corners.

boxwood.jpgThe corner spheres could be trimmed as follows.  The bottom of the shrub could be brought into line with the existing rectangular hedge.  The top of the shrub could be pruned as a top-knot, or a smaller sphere that would appear to sit on top of the hedge.  This pruning would take a few years to accomplish, as it means pruning down to old wood.  There would be bare spots that would need to grow in.

green-velvet-boxwoodWe have some time to think this over.  Though I like to wait until the spring growth is fully flushed out before any pruning is done, pruning back to bare wood as the heat of the summer season is imminent is a recipe for burn. Boxwood grows out of winter burn fairly readily, but summer burn is an unsightly state of affairs that persists.

formally-pruned-boxwood.jpgI am not so sure that it bothers me that the spheres do not match.  Perfection is a state that does not really apply to living things.  We may just stay the course. But there is always the option to change course in a landscape.  That just takes planning, and patience.

pruning-evergreen-shrubs.jpgThis hedge has been grown from the species buxus koreana microphylla.  It is a big growing boxwood.  The hedge has been maintained at a height of 32″ and a width of 48″ for a number of years.  Grown in full sun, it readily handles the winter wind and cold weather.  The only danger posed by the winter is when we have heavy snow, the weight of which can crack the woody branches.  Those cracks make the shrub more susceptible to fungal infections.  It’s not always easy to decide whether to remove the snow, or let it be.  Disturbing branches when they are frozen can produce more damage than the snow itself.

pruning-a-boxwood-hedgeKorean boxwood does have a pronounced orangy cast in the winter, a characteristic that is not to everyone’s taste.  Our most important issue is tending a hedge that is in good proportion to the size of the building.  If that large overall size were not so important, “Green Velvet” boxwood maintains its green color all winter, and matures at 3′ by 3′.  “Green Mountain” boxwood is  virtually indistinguishable from Green Velevet, but matures at 4′ tall, and 3′ wide.  “Green Gem” is a good choice, if a more refined leaf and smaller mature size is what your garden needs.

 

pruning-the-boxwood.jpgWe lost 2 boxwood in the hedge over this past winter.  We did have one replacement available. In this spot, we went another direction.  We stitched the hedge back together, with a pair of potted boxwoods.

pruning-the-boxwood.jpgThe pruning makes a world of difference in the appearance of this garden.  I am enjoying that change thoroughly.  If you have a boxwood hedge or specimen boxwood plants that ask for a precision pruning, I highly recommend M and M Flowers.  Their work is superb.  248  340  0796.