P90728Without prior notice, I was informed on Friday morning of a workday on Saturday morning at Felton Presbyterian Church. That was yesterday. Since there was no time to get other chores done in advance, I was an hour late. Considering that we only work for four hours between eight and noon, one hour is rather significant. I felt compelled to attend regardless. A few friends who are parishioners of Felton Presbyterian Church appreciate it.
The difficulty of not attending is that there are several other volunteers who do attend, and they all have very different ideas, or no idea at all, about how to accomplish what needs to be done in the landscape. It is amazing how much damage can be done with a few light duty power tools and too much undirected ambition. Even when I am there, it is difficult to convince the others that I know more about horticulture than all of them combined.
For the past several years, I had been pruning a flowering crabapple tree to renovate the branch structure that was mutilated by someone with loppers and power hedge shears. Yes, hedge shears. I had pruned the tree for clearance above a parking lot on one side, and a patio on the other, but with low branches in between to partly obscure the view of parked cars from the patio. Bloom was spectacular, and not compromised by the pruning.
Then I missed a workday. Even though the flowering crabapple tree did not need to be pruned at that time, someone lopped away the lower limbs indiscriminately, and then sheared the top! There were mutilated stubs all over the new exterior of the canopy. Much of the blooming stems for the following season were removed. It was very disappointing to see all of my effort wasted so pointlessly. Now, I need to start the whole process over.
However, when I got there today, a planter box below the crabapple tree was being dismantled and removed. I could not work in the area, so must return to start the process of renovating the crabapple tree. Realistically, it should be done while the tree is dormant in winter, even if it compromises bloom for the following spring somewhat. The tree is so gnarly and congested now that it is unlikely that anyone would notice a few less blossoms.
As frustrating as it can be, we actually get quite a bit done. These lily-of-the-Nile in the picture above were one of our projects many years ago. They were recycled from a garden in Aptos from which they needed to be removed. We split, groomed and plugged them. Most were promptly removed and discarded by someone else who did not realize that we had just installed them. But hey, at least these few survived and continue to bloom.


Sugaring Season

P90316KThere is no sugaring season here. Spring comes on too suddenly. By the time sap starts to flow, buds are already swelling.

Bigleaf maple, Acer macrophyllum, happens to be native here, although it is not common. It is the sugaring maple of the Pacific Northwest. A tree next to my driveway gave me enough sap to boil about four ounces of maple syrup a few years ago. That was all I needed to make the point to my colleagues who insisted that it could not be done that it really could be done.

Box elder, Acer negundo, is also native, and in riparian zones, is much more common than bigleaf maples is. I am told that is provides sap for sugaring just like any other maple does. Some say the sap is of inferior quality, or boils to cloudy syrup. Others say that it is comparable to that of any other maple.

Now that I made my point about getting a tiny bit of syrup from a bigleaf maple tree, I have no intention of sugaring again. However, sugaring season is still something that I need to be aware of. It is when I can not prune the maple trees. I can prune them earlier in winter or later in summer, but not while they are most vascularly active during sugaring season. Otherwise, they don’t stop bleeding. Even if the bleeding is harmless, it is unsightly if it stains the trunks and becomes infested with sooty mold as the weather warms.

The same rule applies to birch trees.

I pruned a few of the European white birch, Betula pendula, at work last week, believing that it was still too early for them to be too active. It was not much at all, and involved only a few small upper limbs and two significant lower limbs that had been disfigured by pruning for clearance from adjacent utility cables. I did not notice bleeding from the small stubbed limbs that I pruned from high in the canopy with a pole saw. Yet, the sap started to pour from the pruning wounds before I finished cutting away the two larger lower limbs that happened to be on the same tree. They are still bleeding now. In fact, they are bleeding so much that I feel badly that the tree is losing so much sap. If I had known how much sap would bleed, I could have put a bucket under each of the two wounds to catch the sap to make a small bit of syrup as is done in Alaska.

Attack Roses While They Sleep

8bd4This theme may be getting a bit redundant about now. There is just so much that needs to be done in the garden through winter for what will bloom in spring and summer. We plant new fruit trees, and prune mature ones. When we finish planting spring bulbs, we can start planting summer bulbs. Berries, rhubarb and grapes all get planted. With all this going on, it is also time to prune roses.

Like so many fruit trees through the past few centuries, modern roses were bred to maximize production. Instead of big and abundant fruit, they produce big and colorful flowers. Such enhanced production is more than overgrown rose plants can sustain. Pruning eliminates superfluous stems to concentrate resources into fewer but more vigorous stems, and flowers of superior quality.

Pruning also eliminates diseased, damaged, dead and dying stems; which are known as the ‘four Ds’. Foliage falls from the stems naturally through winter, but should be raked and disposed of because it can spread disease to new foliage in the spring. (Dormant fungal spores and bacteria overwinter in fallen foliage.) Foliage that clings to stems after pruning should be plucked away.

Pruning should ideally be done by the time buds begin to swell in late winter. Of course this is not as easy as it sounds in the mild local climate. Buds swell early, and may even start to grow before rose flowers from the previous season finish blooming! Modern ‘carpet’ roses and a few other shrubby types barely go dormant, but fortunately, they do not need such meticulous pruning anyway.

Hybrid tea roses need the most severe pruning, which leaves only three to seven canes approximately two feet high. These canes should ideally be unbranched below where they get pruned, and be spaced somewhat evenly around the center. Stout canes that grew last summer from the base of each plant are best. However, canes below graft unions are suckers that need to be removed.

Floribunda roses are pruned similarly, but can retain a few more canes. Some grandiflora roses are allowed to get significantly taller, with new canes on top of canes from the previous year, which may already be on top of canes from another previous year. It may take a while before they develop replacement canes from the base. Climbing roses likewise retain old canes for a few years.

Tree roses should be pruned as if the upper graft union is at ground level, so that canes should be about two feet high above the graft union. (Although, tree rose canes are usually pruned shorter.) Carpet roses and a few bramble types only need to be pruned low, but cane quality is not so important. They are not grafted, so can not develop suckers.

Winter Pruning Of Fruit Trees

90130thumbThe vast orchards of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys might make the impression that production of fruit is easy. The trees naturally bloom in spring, and develop fruit over summer, as if they do most of the work prior to harvest. In reality, those trees have been so extensively bred to maximize production that they need, among other maintenance, very specialized pruning in winter.

Without pruning, deciduous fruit trees produce more fruit than they can support. The weight of the fruit breaks and disfigures limbs. Excessive fruit production exhausts resources so that, although more fruit is produced, it is of inferior quality. Diseases and insects proliferate in crowded stem growth that lacks vigor. Unharvested fruit that is beyond reach in upper growth may attract rodents.

Well pruned deciduous fruit tree produce fruit of much better quality, and are able to support it on well structured limbs that are reasonably within reach. They are less susceptible to diseases and insects. Such pruning seems severe to those who are unfamiliar with it, but it is necessary, and the trees appreciate it. Because it is so severe, it is done while trees are dormant through winter.

Different types of fruit trees need distinct types of pruning. Furthermore, different cultivars of each type may need different degrees of the same type of pruning. All should get the ‘four Ds’, which are ‘dead, dying, damaged and diseased’ growth, pruned out of them. Because figs produce early and late crops, they can be pruned less for more early figs, or more severely for more late figs.

Most of the deciduous fruit trees are either stone fruits or pomme fruits. The stone fruits include apricot, plum, prune, nectarine, peach and cherry, which are all of the genus of Prunus. Pomme fruits are apple, pear and quince. Because the winter pruning of deciduous fruit trees is so specialized and so intensive, it is worth studying, preferably before planting the fruit trees that require it.

Prune Now For Roses Later

70524thumb+The main problems with roses locally are not related to climate, soil, insects or disease. Warm and semi-arid climates of California happen to be some of the best places in the World for roses. Sure, many roses have problems with insects such as aphid, and diseases such as powdery mildew, but primarily because such pathogens proliferate among roses that are not pruned properly.

Yes, the main problems with roses are a direct result of improper pruning. Without adequate pruning, roses become overgrown thickets that shelter the pathogens that afflict them, but also lack the vigor to be resistant to damage. Like so many other domesticated plants, they were bred for maximum production of unnaturally big flowers, at the expense of natural resistance to pathogens.

Pruning eliminates superfluous growth and improves air circulation, which interferes with the proliferation of most types of pathogens. Most pathogens overwinter in fallen foliage that should get removed in the process. Pruning also concentrates growth of the next season into fewer new stems, which stimulates vigorous growth that hopefully grows faster than the pathogens that infest it.

Roses should be pruned while dormant in winter, after defoliation, and before buds start to swell at the end of winter. Hybrid tea, floribunda and grandiflora roses should be pruned back to only about three to six canes that grew from the base during the previous year. Older canes should be removed. Remaining canes should be only about two feet tall, and cut just above a healthy bud. Any growth below the graft union (where the basal canes originate) are genetically different suckers (from the understock or rootstock) that must be removed.

As growth resumes in spring, well pruned plants will produce fewer stems and blooms that are significantly more vigorous than those of inadequately pruned plants. Overgrown and inadequately pruned plants must spread their resources thin amongst more but significantly weaker stem growth that is much more likely to be damaged by pathogens. Aggressive pruning now pays off later.

The Rose And Fall . . .

p90113Winter is for pruning. Any good native of the Santa Clara Valley knows that. It starts as soon as the first deciduous fruit trees defoliate and continues to the last minute rush to finish before the buds start to swell at the end of winter. It may seem like there would be no last minute rush now that all the orchards are gone, but there is so much in landscapes to prune that prioritizing and scheduling pruning takes a bit of effort. Just like we know that apples and pears can be pruned slightly later than apricots and prunes, in the landscape, we know that sycamores might be delayed until the birches are done. Naturally, I feel compelled to prune the flowering cherries and fosythias, but am almost content to wait until after they finish blooming in early spring. Of course, I cringe as I write this.
Roses are getting pruned now. I first finished a few scrawny hybrid tea roses, including a few ‘tree roses’. They really should be relocated to a sunnier spot, but not this year. Afterward, I did a row of climbing roses that are not exactly climbing the fence that they were planted against. They really should be moved too, but like the others, not this year. I still need to prune a bank covered with modern carpet roses. I am none too keen on them. Actually, I rather dislike them. However, of all the roses, they are the only ones that happen to be in the right situation, and are doing a nice job.
Just before I started with the first batch of hybrid tea roses, I pruned a single potted hybrid tea rose that is all alone on a deck across the street. I wanted to get it done when I thought about it so that I would not forget about it in the process of pruning everything else. It had bothered me for some time because it was so tall. I mean, I could not reach the top of it. The blooms up there were closer to upstairs windows than to anyone wanting to seem them from ground level. The supporting lower canes were bare of foliage, but well armed with nasty thorns. Honestly, I thought that the deck would have been more inviting without it.
Pruning it was rather simple; just three major cuts. Since the rose is where people mingle, I chopped the thorns just so that they are not so sharp. The remaining three canes were older than one year, but did not seem too terribly old. In fact, there was still a bud to cut back to on one of the canes. For the other two, I had to cut back to old petiole scars, expecting that dormant buds are still in there. That was about it.
The problem that I was not aware of is that the rose was left that tall intentionally because a former gardener liked it that way! Now I feel badly. I really thought that it had just been neglected. Like I mentioned, the canes did not seem to be several years old. They must have replaced older canes in just the last few years. Regardless, I can not put it back. In the partial shade there, it will probably grow back as tall within the year. I hope that the former gardener does not find out about it before then. I know that if someone did that to a roses that I had pruned in a specific manner, I would be really angry about it.p90113+

Exceptions To The Pruning Rules

80228thumbWinter is the best time for major pruning of most plants. They do not mind it so much while they are dormant. However, there are exceptions. Winter pruning might be a bit too early for a few plants that are grown for their late winter or early spring bloom. It is best to wait until immediately after bloom to prune or trim flowering cherry, flowering plum, flowering crabapple and flowering quince.

Because these trees will be in the process of coming out of dormancy, it is best to prune them just after the blossoms finish, as new foliage is emerging. Some of the new buds will likely be ruined in the process, but there should be plenty to spare. If a few extra stems were left on deciduous fruit trees when they were pruned earlier, they can be taken as cut flowers prior to or while blooming.

Forsythia and Oregon grape should also be pruned after bloom, but with different technique. Oregon grape certainly does not need to be pruned annually, and may only need to be occasionally groomed of deteriorating stems. If and when it gets pruned, the oldest canes should be cut to the ground to favor newer canes. Forsythia canes should be cut to the ground after their second year.

Red twig dogwood and small willows that are grown for the color of their twigs must be pruned aggressively to produce new twigs for next winter; but there is no point in pruning their colorful twigs off while they are at their best. It is better to wait until just before new foliage is about to come out and obscure the twigs. They can be pollarded or coppiced. This applies to pussy willows as well.

Clumping grasses will start to grow soon, so can be shorn of their old foliage from last year that likely started to look rather tired by the end of winter. If left unshorn, new foliage and flower stalks will do just fine, but will come up through the old growth from last year, as the old growth lays down next to it and continue to decay. Once new growth develops, it will be more difficult to remove the old without damaging the new. Clumped grasses will look silly longer if shorn too early.

Roses Get Pruned In Winter

30508thumb++Winter is no excuse to be less diligent in the garden. It would seem that gardening would be less demanding because there is less going on, and so many plants are dormant. However, dormancy is precisely why there is so much to do through winter. Bare root plants and bulbs are planted because they are dormant. Fruit trees get pruned because they are dormant. Now it is time for roses.

Just like fruit trees, modern roses were intensively bred for enhanced production. Their flowers are too big and abundant for overgrown plants to sustain. Consequently, aggressive specialized pruning is necessary to concentrate resources and promote vigorous growth. Rather than producing an abundance of inferior blooms, well pruned canes produce fewer blooms of superior quality.

Also like deciduous fruit trees, roses should be pruned while dormant, preferably after defoliated, and before new buds swell. This sounds easier than it really is. Some roses might still be trying to bloom on canes from last year. Others might be trying to generate new foliage for this year. Fortunately, they are tougher than they look. Besides, early or late pruning is better than no pruning.

Hybrid tea, floribunda and grandiflora roses need the same sort of pruning. They all should be pruned back to only a few canes that grew last year. Older canes should be pruned out completely, unless there are not enough new canes that grew last year. Hybrid tea and floribunda roses need only three to six canes, only about two feet tall. Floribunda roses might have a few more canes. Tree roses should be pruned just like shrub roses, as if the upper graft union is at ground level. The canes can be pruned shorter.

Suckers from below the swollen graft union (from where canes emerge) should be removed completely. If possible, they should be pulled or peeled off instead of cut. This seems harsh, but leaves less of a stub from which more suckers might develop later. Because fungal spores and bacterial diseases overwinter in decomposing foliage, fallen leaves should be raked from around roses.IMG_20140331_112633

Most Pruning Happens In Winter

30206thumbWithout specialized pruning while they are bare and dormant in winter, many deciduous fruit trees would be overburdened by their own fruit next summer. The production of excess fruit can waste resources. The weight can disfigure and break limbs. The trees certainly do not want to get so overworked; but they have been unnaturally bred to produce bigger, better and more abundant fruit.

Proper pruning of dormant fruit trees improves the structural integrity of the limbs, and limits the weight of fruit that will develop on the remaining stems. This might seem to be counterproductive, but it is the only way to keep limbs from breaking or growing so high that the fruit is out of reach. It also concentrates resources into fewer but superior fruit, instead of more fruit of inferior quality.

Dormant fruit tree pruning can not be adequately described in only a few paragraphs. Yet, it is so important and so specialized that anyone wanting to grow fruit trees should learn about it. Each type of tree requires a particular style of pruning. Something they have in common is that the ‘four Ds’, which are ‘Dead, Dying, Diseased and Damaged’ stems, obviously need to be pruned out.

The various stone fruit trees (which are of the genus Prunus) need various degrees of a similar style of pruning. Heavy fruit, like peach and nectarine, necessitate more aggressive pruning than does lighter fruit, like plum and prune. Lighter fruit is easier to support. Some cherry and almond trees may not need to be pruned every year. (Almonds are ‘stones’, and their hulls are the ‘fruit’.)

Flowers of next spring and fruit of next summer will develop on stems that grew last year. These stems need to be pruned short enough to support the fruit that can potentially develop on them. If too long, they will sag from the weight of the fruit. If too short, they will not produce enough fruit. Stems that grow beyond reach can be pruned even more aggressively to stimulate lower growth.

Apple and pear trees also produce on the stems that grew during the previous year, but produce more on short and gnarled spur stems that continue to produce for many years without elongating much. Therefore, the tall vigorous stems that reach upward, particularly from upper limbs, can be cut back very aggressively if necessary. Aggressive but specialized pruning keeps trees sturdy and contained, and also improves the quality of fruit production.40101thumb

Winter Is The Season For Pruning

71213thumbNow that winter is only two weeks away, and many deciduous plants are defoliating and dormant, it may seem as if there will be less work to do in the garden. After all, not much is growing. The funny thing is that this is the best time to sneak up on some of them, and prune them while they are sleeping. Depending on what is in the garden, winter can be just as busy as any other season.

There are a few things that should most certainly not be pruned in winter. Maples and birches should either be pruned before or after winter. They bleed profusely if pruned in winter. Plants that bloom in winter or early spring should be pruned after they have finished blooming. Pruning forsythias, flowering cherries and flowering crabapples earlier will remove much of the blooming stems.

Deciduous fruit trees are of course an exception to that rule. They require annual winter pruning so that they to do not produce too much fruit. Excessive fruit is of inferior quality, and can break limbs. It is acceptable when pruning fruit trees to leave a few unpruned stems to cut and bring in later, as long as they are not forgotten. They can be less refined alternatives to flowering cherries.

Once we determine what should not be pruned in winter, it is easier to see that most deciduous plants should be pruned while bare in winter. Elm, oak, poplar, willow, mulberry, pistache, gingko, crepe myrtle and most popular deciduous trees are sound asleep and unaware of what might happen to them for the next few months. They would be pleased to wake already pruned next spring.

Some evergreen plants should probably be pruned as well. Tristania, redwood, podocarpus, Carolina cherry, bottlebrush and the various eucalypti would prefer to be pruned while the weather is cool. Conifers bleed less this time of year; and pine and cypress are less susceptible to pathogens that are attracted to wounds during warm weather. Avocados and citrus, particularly lemons, should not be pruned in winter, because pruning stimulates new growth which is more sensitive to frost.