Category Archives: Pruning

Pruning Workshops at Allandale Farm April 15, 2017

Contributed by Christie Dustman

Every spring, my internal panic measure ratchets up as the weather warms. Suddenly, all of the woody plants in my garden seem to need immediate help and I feel pressured to work on each plant. For each of these plants, I have to use my brain as well as my tools. It takes a lot more brain power to prune than simpler tasks like weeding or deadheading. Imagine that – pruning my plants engages my brain as much as my tools!

For many people, spring brings up those perennial questions of how, where, why and when to prune woody plants such as shrubs, roses and smaller trees: “What plants should I touch now?”, “How far should I cut it and where?”, and for almost all folks, “Am I going to kill it?”

Allandale Farm

Good news! I am teaching a 2-hour pruning workshop, “Pruning for Healthy Plants,” at Allandale Farm this Saturday, April 15th at 9am and again at 11:30am. I will show my tools and tool belt, then delve into the indispensable thought process that should precede any cutting. Just like you have an end goal when you walk into a hair salon, you should have clear goals and reasoning behind any pruning actions. As we all know, a bad hair cut can really ruin your day!

You can register here – hurry up, space is limited!

I’ll be teaching four other classes at Allandale Farm on Saturdays this month and next. To see the full listing, check out the events page on Allandale Farm’s website.

SNOW MELTING – should I close my eyes?

broken branches - snowAs the temperature warms this week, the woody plants of your garden will start to show again.  Oh, the irony of finally seeing your “winter interest plants” now that spring is almost here!

We are getting inquiries about how to handle damage seen on shrubs and small trees.  You may see more evidence of broken branches as the snow recedes – or you may find that the snow acted as a support cushion under the branches.

What can you do?

We are advising that you resist pushing on or otherwise testing the branches.  If we provide garden maintenance services for you, we would prefer to evaluate any partially detached branches to see if they can be reattached.  And wiggling them to see just how much they wiggle (admit it – you want to do this) can make the tear more acute.  In some instances, a clean removal cut may be advised to allow the plant to start healing the wound immediately.  But in some cases, when the branch is still mostly attached, and if determined to be significant to the plant for health or aesthetic reasons, we can bind, brace or use a stainless steel screw to bring the two split sides together. Some of you may have seen us use this approach with a Japanese Maple branch and the plant heals over the crack and envelops the screw.

If you want to tackle this on your own – observe the crack and figure out if the branch is still attached by greater than 50%.  If the branch is a major branch for form, structure and/or leaf coverage (food production), try binding it with a splint to stabilize the force pulling the two sides apart.  Don’t tie so tightly that you overly constrict the sap flow in the bark, and remove it this fall to evaluate whether the crack has healed enough to stand alone or take a looser brace for the winter.  If the branch is not healing quickly, we would most likely advise removing it since leaving a torn wound is an entrance point for disease and pest invasion.

You can always send us a photo – info@christiedustman.com

Hydrangea No-Show 2014 – Why Aren’t My Hydrangeas Blooming?

Hydrangea_macrophylla_Blauer_Prinz_1After a very long and VERY cold winter, the traditional Mophead Hydrangea is a truly cherished and anticipated symbol of summer in New England gardens.

In many of our Fine Gardening client’s gardens this season our crew has encountered Hydrangea macrophylla or the Mophead Hydrangea without blooms.  Throughout the spring, we were grimly greeted with a mass of dead stems with no signs of leaves and no flower buds.  Eventually new growth emerged from the base of the plant surrounding the dead stems.  This particular variety of Hydrangea are ones that bloom on “old wood” only (meaning last season’s stems).  When in past seasons you could easily lose count of the number of blossoms, this season we saw some plants with only one lonely bloom!

We cut the dead stems out but, although the plant looked green and lush, the main reason we plant and love these Hydrangeas was sadly lacking.  The cause of this was a spring freeze that killed the developing bloom buds and all the emerging leaves as well.  As a result, most of the new growth for this season came from the roots.  Since the flower buds develop on the old stems, once these stems are killed in a freeze new flowers will not appear until the following year and only then if it is a milder spring.

The good news is that there are many exceptional Hydrangeas that will bloom despite this kind of damage.   ‘Annabelle’ Hydrangea arborescens, Hydrangea paniculata or Pee Gee Hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia or Oakleaf Hydrangea are usually reliable seasonal blooming options.  Weather cooperating, our beloved Mophead Hydrangeas will be back in full glory next year!

Help…when do I prune spring flowering shrubs and trees?

5-15-14 blog new shoots on Lilac

The show is over…spring blooming shrubs and trees have put on their much appreciated display.  With blossoms just passing by, your plant is already planning for spring 2015.  It is hard for us humans to remember that this is the right time to prune those same plants.  Timing your pruning correctly will positively manage the shape and health of the plant as well as promote their bloom performance in the years to come.  As a general rule of thumb: don’t prune spring blooming shrubs and trees more than a month or so after they finish blooming unless you are willing to sacrifice some bloom. Plants like Forsythia will now start developing their 2015 flower buds so waiting too long to prune will eliminate some of next year’s display.

Spring bloomers like Forsythia and Lilacs renew themselves by sending up new stems at or near ground level each year. As plants age, older stems begin to crowd each other and the plant will flower less than desired.  Cutting away some old stems will make room for new vigorous ones to take their place and gives the new shoots time to grow and bud up this year for flowers next year.  Making selective pruning cuts to older stems promotes the overall good health and vigor of the plant.  This is also a good pruning approach for Red Twig Dogwood and other multiple stem shrubs like Spirea. Do this type of thinning now.

For more bushy shrubs with side branches off of a main trunk, like Azaleas, Rhododendrons, Pieris, and Kalmias, they can use some shaping after they bloom too.  Consider their current shape and make some cuts inside the plant to increase air circulation and sunlight penetration.  All too often, these shrubby plants get too dense and the flowering decreases.  Shrubs that have been pruned incorrectly in the past or outgrow their location may require more radical considerations.  This is often called rejuvenation or renovation pruning.  Some mature or neglected shrubs may need several seasons of renovation pruning to bring them back into scale with the landscape and restore their full beauty.

To do any of this pruning, sometimes you need courage, sometimes you need coaching and sometimes you need a professional to take charge.  We’re available if you need help.

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.

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.