Spring Pruning

pear espaliered arbors (4)Every plant in the landscape will better realize its potential if it is kept properly pruned. A shrub that is kept pruned will respond by being densely twiggy-a strong branch structure is essential to good health. Plants that are pruned in such a way that every branch gets its fair share of light and air is a healthy plant. Every tree, shrub and perennial has its individual requirements.  I prune the hydrangeas after the buds swell in late March or April. I prune out the dead wood, and branches that cross over each other.  Branches that rub against each other may damage the bark – damaged bark is an invitation to insects and disease.  I prune each branch individually, so every shoot has its own light and air space. The forsythias and lilacs need to be pruned right after they flower, in a very natural and loose way that mimics their natural shape.

pear espaliered arbors (5)Very few plants tolerate close formal or shaped clipping. Boxwood and yews tolerate this better than other species. This results in a proliferation of growth at the ends of the branches.  Eventually the light and air is excluded from the interior of the shrub. I see lots of deciduous shrubs that have been sheared, resulting in a thin layer of green at the top, and bare branches below. Those shrubs will eventually have to be hard pruned in order to renovate them, or removed altogether. It is important to keep in mind that a pruning cut is a call to grow, and will produce a reaction.  The breaking of multiple new shoots is not uncommon from a single pruning cut.

pear espaliered arbors (6)Pruning to keep a shrub within the bounds of a confined space will fail sooner or later.  Planting shrubs or trees that will gracefully fit a space when mature is good planning. A tree planted within 3 feet of a sidewalk is a bad idea, unless that tree is a very dwarf or grafted form.  I prune most plants in the spring, although there are exceptions.  I prune maples late in the summer, and grapes in the winter. The roses and clematis have their own special routine. I prune boxwood after the first flush, so I don’t have to prune again later.  Pruning too late in the season is risky, and may expose a treasured plant to winter injury.

pear espaliered arbors (3)For those people who just love to prune, an espaliered tree is a perfect plant.  Espaliers are any tree pruned to lay flat, in two dimensions, against a wall. Trees pruned in this fashion, with proper support early on, make beautiful living free standing fences.  Some espaliers are pruned to assume a particular shape. They need a a sure and regular hand willing to prune. Some gardeners prune them to follow the shape of the arms, as trained.  Others prune them so all of the spaces between the arms fill in with a solid structure of branches. These pairs of keiffer pear espaliers have been grown, and pruned to assume an arch shape. Once a pear arbor is purchased, we fabricate a steel arbor matching the shape of the espalier which bolts together at the top.  The arms of the pear trees and tied to the steel arbor, which is installed on the underside of the trees, to maintain the shape.  We were fortunate enough to obtain 8 pear arbors.  All of them are gone now, and each required a little something different in terms of the steel support. An espalier pear arbor in full bloom is astonishing. It is a treasure, loaded with fruit, later in the summer.

pear espaliers (1)These espaliers had some pruning over this past winter that made me cringe.  The lower arms had the bark chewed off the arms, and shoots were clipped off by a very sharp set of teeth.  This malicious destruction of property-rabbits.  Cuts to a branch on a tree or shrub at a sharp angle indicates rabbit damage. We have never had this kind of devastating damage to our espaliers over the winter before.

pear espaliers (2)Nature has plenty of pruning agents which may or may not be to your liking.  Terrific wind storms, or ice storms can bring down dead or weak branches in trees and shrubs. Fierce weather can be an agent of pruning.  Keeping trees and shrubs properly pruned is your best defense against damage from natural causes. The rabbit damage to our espalier collection was considerable.  Only 12 of our trees were spared.  Next fall, we plan to put up a galvanized metal fence to protect the trees.

pear espaliered arbors (7)In the meantime, the pear trees responded to the rabbit pruning in exactly the same fashion as they have always responded to pruning.  They pushed out new growth. I was astonished to see buds emerging from old thick wood-although I should not have been. The will to live is very strong. Lots of life is lurking underneath that bark. The trees responded to this severe pruning by sending forth new shoots.  Should you ever fear that your pruning may damage a plant irreparably, take these pictures to heart.

pear tree sproutingThe scars of the rabbit damage to the bark will always be there. But the bare lower branches are already beginning to re leaf.

kieffer pear espalierPlants are amazingly tolerant of bad pruning.  What they don’t like is no pruning at all.  The best way to learn is to read, and then do.  The resulting shape and health of your shrubs will tell you if the job you have done is good, or needs a different direction. What a relief to see the new growths on these espaliers.


The Spring Garden

May Day (3)Despite a run of very warm weather, and the tomato plants I have seen sitting outdoors for sale, it is still very much the spring season here. One of my favorite things about gardening in the mid west is the fact that the seasons change.  I like all of them.  Spring is a special favorite, as it comes on the heels of the dregs of the winter.  Speaking of the dregs, we have a forecast for 37 degrees overnight. Our last frost date is the end of May-some 2 weeks away. This is no hardship.  The spring season, even on the coolest of days, is a delight. My variegated lily of the valley is proof positive of that. My tulips are on hold, in full bloom. The dogwoods are just about in full bloom, as are the lilacs.

DSC_0457The spring flowering trees are at their best when the spring is cool and moderate. Some years ago all of the flowers on my magnolias were frosted off, and the new shoots sustained damage as well. Our past winter was terrifically cold-especially in February. As a result, my magnolia flowers are so so this year. But I have seen lots of crab apples, cherries, red buds, and Bradford pears striking in bloom. The spring flowering trees-I would take a chance on them. My dogwoods are just beginning to bloom. Spring blooming trees are a marvel, and there are so many kinds to choose from. I see very few young flowering trees when I drive through neighborhoods.  And not so many stands of tulips either.

spring season (5)I ascribe this to the notion that many people feel the spring is especially ephemeral, and is shorter than the other seasons. However, the spring is just as long as every other season. The spring does not begin with a flowering phase.  The long process by which plants emerge from the ground and break dormancy is every bit as beautiful as a patch of daffodils in bloom. That pale limey green I call spring green is as visually lush as the new growth.

DSC_0219These dwarf spruce are not so dwarf any more, after 30 years in the ground.  When the new growth emerges on the tips of every branch in the spring, the visual effect is spectacular. The hellebores have been in bloom for at least a month. The warm weather pushed every plant full speed ahead.  At times there was too much to look at, and not enough time to look.  A good friend in the nursery business told me years ago that his gardens are designed to peak in late summer-this is when he has the time to appreciate them. I want it all.  Every season. This is why I make a special effort to enjoy the spring, even though it is a very busy time of year.

May Day (4)This patch of creeping jenny, campanula, and sweet woodriff is lush and fresh.  That quality applies to every inch of the spring landscape. All of the failures in the garden now are winter failures. Everything in the spring garden is growing robustly.  Regular rain sustains all that growing. There hasn’t been enough time for bugs and fungus to take hold. The time for disappointment comes much later.  The spring is about promise and possibility.

spring season (2)My yellow magnolias are rarely in bloom longer than a week or 10 days, but each one those days is heavenly. I look forward to them with great anticipation. The spring garden has an expectant atmosphere. How ephemeral the flowering makes the experience of that blooming all that much more sweet.

spring season (1)My perennial garden is finally beginning to fill in.  The delphiniums should be so beautiful this year.  They have just about filled the tomato cages that I hope will keep them aloft when they flower. Would that the catmint would keep this shape.  By midsummer it will fall to the ground, splay out, and need shearing.  This moment is a good one.

Mother's Day 2014 (41)Rob plants lots of spring pots, many of which feature lettuce, bok choy, chard, and herbs. This pot is good enough to eat. That luscious quality speaks to the best of what spring has to offer. There is no other fresh like spring fresh.

DSC_0433This new garden we did for a client last year has a few early flowering perennials-notably euphorbia polychroma and anemone sylvestris.  My client planted yellow and white viridiflora tulips, and white triumph tulips.  What a charming spring garden she has.

May 11  2015 009 I can hardly believe I have seen basil for sale outdoors already.  It despises cold soil, as do tomatoes, and many of the summer season annuals.  The best way to tell if you can plant for summer is to put your finger in the soil.  If it is very cold, wait to plant any tropical plants. A week of consecutive night temperatures above 50 degrees is a sign you might consider planting tropical plants. I am not ready for geraniums, or calocasia, or caladiums.  I want my spring as long as I can have it. The best way is to ignore the siren call to plant for summer when it is too early is to cultivate a spring garden, and enjoy the spring around you while it lasts.

At A Glance: A Spring Evening In The Garden

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HowardHave I ever seen Howard lie down in the bed next to the fountain? Of course not. Did Milo feel compelled to follow suit?  Of course. They insisted it was all in good fun. hmm.

Tulips For Mother’s Day

2015 tulips  3The tulips at the shop have been evolving over the past 3 weeks, when the first of them came into bloom.  How appropriate that they are usually about in full bloom on Mother’s Day.  My Mom would have loved it, and photographed them over and over again. I came in early today, so I could take my own pictures. I always plant a mix in front of the shop, as I plant lots of them. A minimum of three colors will make a good basic mix.

the 2015 tulips (4)There are other characteristics besides color that make up a good mix.  A mix of heights rewards the eye with flowers up, down, and in the midsection.  All the same type or class of tulips puts all the flowers at the same height. No matter whether you plant 20 or 200 tulips, there will be a horizontal band of green at the bottom, and a horizontal band of color at the top.  Tulips have big, splashy flowers, but I like to plant them close together. Choosing tulips of different heights means the individual flowers will read.

the 2015 tulips (6)Different classes of tulips bloom at different times. Creating a good mix of times is not quite as simple as planting an early, a mid season, and a late tulip.  A mix whose early tulip is finished before the mid season tulip comes on means the whole group will never be in full color for that one moment of tulip glory. For that reason, I usually include smaller numbers of a 4th and 5th-and maybe even a 6th tulip.    the 2015 tulip mix (6)Different types of tulips have different shapes-of course.  The classic mid season Darwin hybrid tulip flower is tall, and globular.  Single late tulips are very large, and more rounded in shape than the Darwins.  Lily flowered tulips have a lily shape-of course.  A variety of shapes keeps the mix interesting.

the 2015 tulips (1)Of course color plays a big part of the mix. Strongly contrasting colors makes for a very lively mix. Bright orange, bright yellow and white is a striking and dramatic mix.  That drama can be left as is, or tempered with pale yellow and peach. Pale violet or lavender added to this mix tones down the heat in a visually interesting way. Red would heat up the mix.  Leave out the white, the mix will smoulder. 1 part white to 1 part red yellow and orange will be sunny in a very springlike way.

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Colors that are closely related make for a harmonious mix. Red and pink is a natural combination, as pink is red mixed with white.  In this scheme, there is a near warm white, a white flamed pink and red, a pale pink, a single late rose pink/red, and a medium pink.

the 2015 tulips (12)The varieties, from left to right:  World Expression, Silver Stream, Renown and Mariette, with Pink Impression at the bottom.

the 2015 tulips (13)There can be great color variations within an individual tulip.  Pink impression is a pale pink with blue overtones.  The midrib of each petal is darker than the body, and the edges of the petals are lighter than the body.

the 2015 tulips (15)World Expression and Silver Stream have the same two colors, though the color distribution is very different.  I think each of these tulips is all the better for its respective companion.

the 2015 tulips (11)The blooming of the tulips from start to finish is about 5, maybe 6 weeks.  I thoroughly enjoy that process, from the time the leaves emerge from the ground, until the last of the petals mature and fall. The flowers themselves are extraordinary.  I would always plant tulips for my Mom for Mother’s Day.  I would do my best to plant when she was not there, so she would not know what colors or where I would plant. I also schemed to be sure that the tulips were at their perfect best on Mother’s Day.  Though I rarely met that goal perfectly, the process of the selection, the planting, the anticipation of spring, and the blooming was a process we both enjoyed. I so appreciate that every time I see tulips in bloom, I think of her.