Tag Archives: Shrubs

THE COST OF WINTER DAMAGE

split tree crotchHow many of you had deep sadness this spring when you saw the snow’s violent impact on your favorite Weeping Japanese Maple, Mounded Pine, or other beloved plant? Christie Dustman & Co. spent much of the spring in plant triage mode; in many cases, we had to remove and replace the plant.

The problem with mixing winter and plants is that the plant’s branch carrying capacity – tensile strength of the limb – can be overtaxed by the weight sitting on it. A large volume of light and fluffy snow is much easier for the branch to bear than the same volume of heavy wet snow.

Heavy weight on limbs causes different effects:

Bending: When a branch bends, it still is attached and can generally right itself when relieved. The branches sag downward.

Breaking: If the branch bends too far, it breaks and often tears or rips off of the plant, leaving an ugly torn area of bark. In the spring we cleanly re-cut the break and trim the edges of the ripped bark so that the plant can try to heal over this open wound.

Splitting: This is when two branches attach in a V shape and the attachment of the two fanning branches is weak. We call it a “weak crotch” in arborist terms. Many Japanese Maples had weak crotches that split last winter. For some, we used a stainless steel screw and cinched them back together; if this didn’t didn’t provide enough stability, we had to remove one large limb or say goodbye to the whole plant.

Uprooting: If the snow pulls over the plant or tree, we call this a plant failure. This sort of damage is more common with high winds combined with weight on the plant.

shrub taped to protectSo what can you do to minimize damage? Let us implement these solutions at your house:

Lightly tie/bind columnar evergreens or other vase-shaped type plants for added resistance against the branches splaying open and breaking. Don’t cinch too tightly – just tie loosely like a hair net. We use a stretchy Arborist tape.propped tree limbs

Prop up horizontal limbs from underneath with a Bamboo support or with another tree branch with a crook in it.

Build an A-frame structure over a Weeping Japanese Maple or mounded type shrubs in vulnerable locations – like where shoveled snow will collect or slide off a roof.

a-frame slotted shelterVery carefully knock off snow from plants where you see them sagging. This is NOT advisable if the snow is icy and is stuck on the branch or if you apply a lot of force. You can do more damage.

Protect your favorite and most valuable plants. We are fabricating shrub sheltercustom winter protection solutions for our clients – both A-frames that can be reused year to year as well as tying/propping up limbs. Call us and we can devise an individualized solution for your plants!

Even Gardens Get Blankies – Time for Mulch

2015-10-20 CD rake and leavesOk, so I was pretty suspicious of the “let’s put down a blankie” idea for the garden before winter. If you have met me, you know that I am not the type of person who makes my own crackers. I buy them. In the garden, I will do fussy things but only if there is a good reason to do it. I resist babying plants and I resist doing things in the garden that make humans feel better rather than make an actual difference in the garden.

As I read studies about using winter mulch, I realized that the reason for mulch is not the COLD per se – the problem is temperature fluctuation, often from the sun’s rays. Cold is cold. The goal of bed covering in winter is not to stop freezing – it is to minimize the top layer of soil from warming up and cooling down. This freeze-thaw action forces smaller plants up and dislodges them from the soil surface. Now vulnerable and stranded, the plant’s roots dry out. (Ok, so I feel a little sympathy now …) Warming soil during midwinter thaws can also encourage plants to come out of dormancy in addition to being popped out of the soil surface by plummeting temperatures.

To assist your perennials (or more recently planted small shrubs) this winter, shade the soil around them to protect against the sun heating up the soil. Snow cover is the best winter insulator but is undependable – once we get snow, lightly push snow back onto beds when you can. Before the snow comes, we recommend adding 2-4 inches of chopped leaves, pine needles, salt marsh hay or sterile straw over the crown of the perennials and around the root zone after you have cut the perennials back and after temperatures are staying consistently in the 50-40F range.

More than just a comfort object, your garden’s ‘blankie’ of winter mulch will help keep it snug and minimize winter damage. Let us help you put your garden beds to sleep before the snow flies!

On the Rocks

2015-6-3 rock + evergreenContributed by Allan Robinson

For many of us, when we think of the contents of a garden we often think of plants – our favorite perennials, trees or shrubs.  Perhaps an arbor, wall, bench or chair, maybe even a hammock.  Some of us may think of sculptural elements like water, art, gazing balls or a bird bath.  But let’s look at another element that humans have been working with and around since time began:  rock.

From an early perspective, rocks were the byproduct of gardening, moved to the side of the field for easier cultivation.  Think of those iconic fieldstone walls running through the New England woods.  We’ve all come across plenty of rocks, perhaps more than we care to think about.  Just how many times has our planting progress been thwarted by that all too familiar jarring feeling and corresponding metal-on-stone audible clank?  Many of us would be happy to never see another stone in our gardens again!  But I suggest taking another look at stone.

Rocks can be used as sculptural elements in the garden to satisfy a need for form, function or both.  Smaller stones can provide a path to, or edge along, our favorite perennial bed.  Larger rocks can be an enduring four season focal point or act as a seat to catch a moment’s rest.  A jagged rock protruding from the earth creates a sense of drama whereas a rounded stone nestled among ground covers can be soothing and look natural.  Rocks can be the backdrop to show off one of our favorite plants.  Rocks with crags or a depression can collect water and attract wildlife.  And if your “thumb” errs on the brown side rather than green, you’ll never have to worry about watering, killing or overwintering rocks.

Let us help you look at rocks in a positive light!

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

Water in the Winter and Antidesiccants

11-18-14 browned shrubsIf you’ve ever participated in winter sports, you know how easy it is to forget to drink water with snow around, yet once you do, you realize how thirsty you are! It is easy to get dehydrated if you’ve been outside for a while in the winter sun. Plants are no different.

When it is super cold outside, the humidity in the air drops significantly. That is what makes the air feel clean and crisp. And why you need a humidifier indoors. This dry air can cause serious damage to plants especially when combined with wind and sun. Even though it is cold outside, it can be warm inside the plant’s leaf – and water evaporates. When a plant loses more water than it can replenish through its roots, the natural process of transpiration (water loss through plant respiration) causes plant desiccation. Desiccation is when the plant cells collapse and die after drying out, causing discolored/ brown/dry areas of tissue. We call this winter burn.

Most important: we can’t prevent the soil around the roots from freezing – but we can give our plants a leg up prior to the ground freezing. Watering your trees and shrubs well into the fall, right up until the ground freezes, can help plants fully hydrate. We recommend watering through Thanksgiving. This is especially important if rain has been scarce during the growing season like this summer.

For some evergreens and bro11-18-14 dessicated rhodo leavesadleaf evergreens like Rhododendrons and Hollies, antidesiccant sprays can help. The anti-transpirant spray coats the leaves and diminishes the loss of moisture through the leaf’s pores, much like an oil based lotion on your legs. These sprays should be used in late December (temps @ 40°), only after the evergreen is fully dormant. Otherwise water can get trapped in the leaf and freeze, causing cellular damage. Our sources indicate that antidesiccants are not reliably effective and can actually harm some plants like Chamaecyparis and Blue Spruce. Read the label and follow directions carefully if you want to try it.

You may recall seeing shrubs all bundled up in burlap in the winter. This can be effective, particularly when the plant is subject to sun and wind or salt. But the cold still gets inside the burlap. We only recommend burlapping shrubs if they are in a very vulnerable location. Often these “winter tasks” are more for our comfort as the gardener looking at our plants rather than for the plant’s benefit. This is true too for salt marsh hay. We don’t use salt marsh hay for a variety of reasons – we leave a layer of leaves on perennial beds. The best “blanket” is actually snow itself, which keeps the temperature around the leaves consistent and blocks the sun.

With winters, we face the vagaries of nature and have to admit that we can only do so much to help our friends the plants.

 

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.

Show-Stopping Plants: Julie Campbell, Design Associate

These are some of the plants that stop me in my tracks, regardless of what I ’m doing (driving, talking on the phone with a client, heading to a meeting, walking around the neighborhood…) and persuasively beckon  me to record their undeniable beauty on film.

(Cedrus atlantica glauca pendula)

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