Monthly Archives: April 2014

Shear madness

bad landscapes 7-09 006 (1) 4-24-2014 post

Gum drops, meatballs and blobs:  believe it or not, these are typical shrub shapes commonly found in many suburban neighborhoods. Well-intentioned homeowners and professionals alike regularly shear off each year’s new growth, forcing bushes into visions of symmetrical greenery never found in nature.  And then we all wonder – why do my shrubs just keep getting bigger and flower less?

To answer this conundrum, we must learn a little about plants and their growth patterns.  When we cut a stem of a plant, it sends a signal to the plant to grow MORE shoots further down on the branch and produce two “bunny ear” shoots at the cut tip.  So one cut ultimately encourages a burst of even more growth.  This starts a maddening cycle of shearing, profusion of growth, more shearing and more growth.  Soon your forsythia only has a few yellow blossoms on the outside of the shrub and your front hedge look like a chaotic pile of twigs all winter long.  The indiscriminate cutting of all branches, or shearing, has an unanticipated effect:  more vigorous and uncontrolled growth.

And we compound the problem by inadvertently shearing off flower buds, removing the aesthetic beauty, fragrance and natural form of the plant.

Pruning, by contrast, is the process of strategically cutting select branches to meet the plant’s short-term and long-term health and aesthetic goals.  Pruning takes into consideration maintaining optimal plant health, controlling growth, encouraging flowering and fruit production, and ensuring property safety.  Suffice it to say, electric hedge trimmers can’t be used exclusively for a more thoughtful approach to plant pruning.  Aesthetic pruning considers all of these factors, then adds the goal of maximizing the plant’s beautiful shape given its type and function in the landscape, and how it relates to surrounding plants.  Aesthetic pruning brings in an artistic element to the landscape and the shaping of plants.

Using an overgrown Forsythia as an example, aesthetic pruning requires considerably more thought and planning than simply shearing off new growth.  Carefully consider the following before picking up clippers:

  • Time of the year: What is the optimal time of year to prune your plants and shrubs?
  • Plant location:  Should it be trimmed back from the window or the front walkway, or allowed to develop a lovely fountain-like shape in the lawn area?  Should the plant be moved to a more suitable location?
  • Age of the plant:  Is this an older plant with inner stems that should be removed to encourage new growth and more abundant flowering?  Is this a young plant that requires a stronger root system and more density in its branches?
  • Type of tool:  Should I use hand pruners to make a few more significant cuts to the plant that will meet my goals?  Will a hedge trimmer start that maddening growth process?

Defining your goals for any plant pruning will lead to the best results and minimize unintended consequence.  Late winter and early spring is prime pruning season, especially for spring flowering shrubs and plant which need to be pruned after they flower.  If your goal is a beautiful and healthy home landscape, the benefits of aesthetic pruning may be right for your garden. Pruning with a vision for your entire landscape scene will increase the enjoyment of your garden plants today and for many years to come.

Improve your soil with a Fresh Coating of Leaf Mold???

improve your soil - earth day - 4-17-14

With the snow long gone and temperatures warming up, we look ahead to our national holiday, Earth Day, on Tuesday, April 22nd. For almost half a century now every April 22nd has been about celebrating the Earth and trying to make our environment more healthy and sustainable.  But, do we ever really think about the Earth part of it?

Traditionally April is the time where we go out into the landscape to plant annual flowers, sprinkle some fertilizer, spread some new colored mulch, take a deep breath and think ‘I did my part for the year’ with a certain sense of satisfaction.  But have you ever wondered if your efforts are really helping to improve the Planet?  How do your customary efforts affect the billions of organisms that live beneath your feet?  What is the connection between our gardening efforts and the fungi, nematodes, bacteria, protozoa teeming in the soil itself?  It is this cast of characters that our planet depends on to function on the most elemental level.  It is the microbes that make food or nutrients available in the soil for plants to absorb and, without this food, plants wouldn’t survive; and without plants, we would have no oxygen to breath.

So all the more reason to get out there with that synthetic fertilizer that is available in big 50 lb. bags at any home improvement store and feed your plants, right? WRONG! Those synthetic fertilizers are actually doing far more harm than good to your soil and the billions of organisms that call it home. The synthetic fertilizers directly feed your plants and harm the soil. It causes a disruption in the soil ecosystem that upsets the balance of the organisms. Once the balance of soil organisms is off kilter, your plants get hooked on the synthetic fertilizers. The chemicals actually kill the organisms and your plants become more susceptible to disease, poor growth, and long term problems.

Thank goodness there is an Earth-friendly way to give your soil the nutrients it needs instead of sprinkling synthetic fertilizers.  You will be amazed at how nature works because this magic additive is leaves. Leaf mold, or leaf mulch as it is sometimes called, is chocolaty brown, sweet-smelling, moisture-retentive mulch. It is nothing more than crumbly brown material with a pleasant, earthy scent made of partially decomposed leaves. It provides your planting beds with plenty of nutrients, helps retain moisture and is even said to boost the health of the soil so much that it can help prevent certain weeds and diseases much better than with standard bark mulch. And it doesn’t contain the questionable chemical dyes sprayed on all colored mulches.

You won’t find leaf mold in stores and it’s even hard to come by through retail nurseries or mulch suppliers. Fortunately, leaf mold can be made at your own house with some space for composting, a little bit of patience, and all of those leaves that you rake in the fall.  If you don’t have the space to make your own, or want our help, we can bring some by so you have the healthiest natural landscape around!

Help: I Have Spring Fever!

CD Blog pix - Brian - 4-4-14After being cooped up as prisoners, subject to winter’s cruel ways, there is a wild abandon that takes over most of us gardeners.  It is that GOTTA get out there feeling … the FEVER!  Despite our enthusiasm, spring garden tasks sometimes seem insurmountable.  Where do I begin?

To start with, quickly, before the leaves come out, inspect your garden for damage and broken branches on trees and shrubs due to snow loads.  Prune damaged areas.  Always look up into trees for broken or hanging branches.  Consider having a professional take a look if the damage is beyond your reach or confidence.

In garden beds remove heavy leaf litter that may impede the growth of emerging perennials, bulbs and groundcovers.  You can leave behind smaller pieces as it will be good organic material that will feed your plants as it decomposes.

Soft tissue perennials should be cut as close to the ground as possible (for example:  Asters, Lady’s Mantle, Baptisia). This removes all the dead tissue killed by the winter cold. Depending on the plant and when you cut it, new growth may be emerging so carefully cut off the dead tissue.

Woody perennials (for example: Russian Sage, Montauk Daisies, Lavender) should be cut back by about 1/3.  Reshape the plant by thinning and tipping back the woody stems to make a well-spaced scaffold for the leaves to emerge.

Ornamental grasses should also be cut back to 6” to 10” high at this time before new growth begins. Be careful not to cut the emerging grass shoots.

Edge garden beds with an edger tool to keep the lawn from running into the garden.  Don’t we all love clean crisp lines?

Mulch all gardens.  It adds nutrition to your soil, guards against weeds and helps conserve water.  It is easier to mulch gardens before perennials start popping up and weeds start germinating. If any weeds have germinated or wintered in the garden remove them first, even the small ones, because they will pop through the mulch. Dark organic mulch is best for growing healthy plants.

Don’t hesitate to call us for a Spring Cleanup if your “fever” runs cold before your work is done.