Delay Some Gardening Between Seasons

Plants are still going to seed.

For gardening, this is one of those in between times of year, when summer chores are under control, but it is a bit too early for much of the work that will need to be done in autumn. Automated watering systems have already been adjusted for the longest and warmest days of summer, so will only need to be adjusted the other way as days eventually get cooler and shorter. Growth of most plants slows; and some of the plants that will later be the earliest to show fall color begin to fade from bright green to paler green.

The last of the summer fruits should be gone, leaving the trees that produced them looking somewhat tired. The weight of large fruit, particularly peaches, might have pulled stems downward where they may now be obtrusive. Pruning a few minor stems should not be a problem. However, trees are still too vascularly active for major pruning. That needs to wait for dormant pruning while trees are bare in winter.

A few plants with sensitive bark are susceptible to sun scald if pruned to expose too much bark on interior stems while the sun is still high and warm. This is not so likely to be a problem if pruned during winter because the sun is lower and cooler, and foliage grows back before the following summer. Actually, that is why English walnut and various maples are able to defoliate during winter, even though their smooth bark needs to be shaded.

Pruning of plants that are potentially sensitive to frost should likewise be delayed. Otherwise, pruning is likely to stimulate development of tender new growth that will be even more sensitive to frost during winter. Besides, new growth develops slower this time of year, so plants look freshly pruned for a longer time than if pruned late in winter, just prior to spring.

Some types of pittosporum are more susceptible to disease if pruned in late summer or autumn because their open pruning wounds heal slowly and stay open to infection during rainy winter weather. However, slow recovery from pruning can be an advantage to formally shorn hedges that are not so sensitive to frost or disease, such as the various boxwoods, or glossy or wax privets. If shorn now, they might stay trim until spring.

The dried foliar remains of any summer bulbs that are finished blooming can now be plucked and disposed of. Gladiolus and montbretias that are still green can be deadheaded (pruned to remove deteriorated flower stalks), but should be allowed to turn completely brown before getting plucked. Watsonias are not so easy to pluck without also pulling up the bulbs, so should instead get their dried foliage pruned off.

Weeds outside of landscaped areas may not seem to be a problem, but many are now producing seed that gets blown into the garden. Even if such weeds do not need to be pulled, their flowers and seeding stalks should still be cut off and removed if possible.

Shear Hedges Seasonably And Properly

Scheduling is important to hedging too.

There are rules to hedging. For example, hedges should be uniform and exclusive to just a single cultivar. A modern ‘Green Beauty’ boxwood will never conform within a hedge of more yellowish old fashioned boxwood. Hedges should also remain within confinement. It is important to shear them back from obtrusion into walkways and other usable spaces.

It is not as simple as it seems to be. That is why so few hedges get proper maintenance. Almost all occupy and therefore waste more space than they need. Most have wide tops that shade out narrower lower growth. Moreover, many plants that are not components of hedges all too commonly succumb to inappropriate shearing too. It is sheer shear abuse!

Even if done properly, only hedges and a few other plants are conducive to shearing and hedging. It is an aggressive procedure that compromises form, texture and bloom cycles of involved plants. For hedges, that is not a problem. They need not bloom, and adapt to a refined hedged form, which is more desirable than their natural shrubby form would be.

However, it is important to not unnecessarily shear plants that bloom, or provide intricate foliar texture or form. Shearing deprives rhododendron of young floral buds. It ruins foliar texture of Heavenly bamboo, and foliar form of Japanese maple. It is acceptable to shear boxwood only because it responds by generating such appealingly uniform foliar growth.

With proper scheduling, it is possible to shear only a few blooming plants without ruining all of their bloom. Aggressive shearing after the early bloom of oleander and bottlebrush leaves them with space to grow enough to bloom again during autumn. Without sufficient space to grow, they will require subsequent shearing, which will ruin subsequent bloom.

It is better to shear some of the simpler hedges, such as privet and boxwood, shortly after winter. They regenerate lush growth immediately afterward, and do not mind two or three annual shearings. The last shearing should be early enough to allow a bit of growth prior to autumn. Photinia generates appealingly bronzed new growth in response to shearing. Also, frequent shearing inhibits potentially undesirable bloom.

Can’t See The Forest For The Trees

Even small trees can become obtrusive.

Foliage is often employed to obscure views. Evergreen shrubbery or trees can provide privacy in the garden or for windows. It can just as easily hide unappealing buildings in the distance, or driveways where cars get parked. Unfortunately, too much foliage often obscures desirable views or interferes with lighting.

There are all sorts of reasons to control greenery that might otherwise get overgrown. Overgrown shrubbery and trees not only hides the architectural appeal of a home, but can also be a security risk by concealing windows and doors that burglars might break into, and by obscuring security lighting and street lights. Too much shade prevents lower plants from getting the sunlight they need.

The best way to limit overgrowth is by selecting plants that stay proportionate to their intended functions. For example, shrubbery below windows should naturally stay lower than the lower windowsills. Shade trees for areas where views should stay open should have high branch structure and relatively bare trunks. Well, most of know that this does not always happen.

The options are limited for greenery that wants to get larger than it should. Obviously, it can be pruned regularly; but this may be more work than it is worth, and can cause disfigurement Some plants can be pruned less frequently if pruned more severely, but will be bare and potentially unsightly for quite a bit of time. Overgrown plants can alternatively be removed and replaced with plants that are more proportionate to intended functions.

An option that is not often considered is an ‘updo’. Trees and large shrubbery that are obtrusive to views or lighting can be pruned up and over what they are being obtrusive to. For example, lower growth of large pittosporums that is covering low windows can be pruned away to expose bare inner trunks supporting higher growth. The lower trunks can be appealingly sculptural without being too concealing. This works nicely for large shrubbery like viburnum, bottlebrush, oleander, photinia and pineapple guava.

Street trees that interfere with street lights (or marquis on storefronts) may need to be updo pruned a few times for adequate clearance, but these procedures are much less work, are less disfiguring to the affected trees, and produce more appealing results than keeping trees down.

Six on Saturday: Rhody’s Roady IV (not Hedera) – Carson

Carson is Rhody’s Roady. Like most of the vehicles here, he is named after a place. Beau is named after ‘Beau’lder Creek (Boulder Creek) (although his name was actually derived from Hobo). Lee the Chrysler was named after Bever’Lee’ Hills (Beverly Hills). Roy was named after Gil’Roy’ (Gilroy). So, Carson is named after Carson City in Nevada. He took Rhody and I to the Pacific Northwest on vacation. We returned two and a half weeks ago with only a few pictures. These six are some of the last, which were taken during the last two days, as we drove back. The drive was totally excellent!

1. Douglas fir grows wild everywhere we went. Red maple is not native, but is very happy in a neighbor’s yard. This could have been a good picture if not photobombed by Carson.

2. Oregon white oak is likewise native to almost all the regions that we traveled through. However, we did not see many. Although uncertain, I think that these are some of them.

3. Mount McLoughlin is visible from only several miles of Highway 5. It seems to be too visible though. Scenery is obscured by dense forests elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest.

4. Mount Shasta is even more visible for many miles of Highway 5, not only because of a lack of dense forest, but also because highway 5 gets nearer to it. This was at a rest stop.

5. Apple trees were still being pruned where we stopped for the night on the return trip. The trees to the left are finished. The vigorous trees to the right are about to get pruned.

6. Orchard House was our lodging for the night. It was as grand as Cedar Lodge! Rhody, of course, is near the lower center of this picture. Carson, Rhody’s Roady, is to the right.

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

The Stakes Could Be High

Some unfortunate trees become so reliant on staking and straps that they are never able to support their own weight.

The irony of landscaping and gardening to bring nature closer to the home is that it is so very unnatural. Plant specie are imported from all over the world, grown in synthetic environments, and then expected to perform in unfamiliar climates and soils far from home. Most plants have been bred for optimal retail appeal at the expense of their natural adaptations.

Trees grown in nurseries need to be staked tightly to develop the sort of straight trunks that branch at just the right height to be marketable. In the landscape, trees need to be staked because they have become so dependent on the stakes that they grew up with. Eventually though, trees need to learn how to carry their own weight.

When new trees get planted and staked loosely with heftier stakes that stand up to wind, old tightly bound nursery stakes should be removed since the tight binding interferes with trunk development. By the time trees gets planted, the nursery stakes are probably nearly rotten through at the ground anyway. The new heftier stakes should not hold trees tightly in place, but simply be there to keep them from getting blown over.

Straps should likewise not be tightly bound, but instead allow for a bit of motion with the breeze. Straps should cross over in a ‘figure eight’ pattern between trees and their stakes, so that trunks do not rub so abrasively against the stakes. Most trees need only two straps each, or two pairs of straps if two stakes are used, with support up high, and lower support to prevent outward bowing. If there are no branches to hold straps in place, straps must be nailed or otherwise attached to the stakes.

Some sturdy trees, like well developed redwood trees and small magnolias, may not need stakes. Palms and yucca certainly do not. However, limber trees like the various eucalyptus may need more support than just two straps. The problem is that many trees become dependent on their stakes and will not develop strong trunks if they do not need to.

It is better to prune maturing staked trees to limit weight and wind resistance (that might cause them to blow over) than to provide more support with heftier stakes. If a maturing young tree is relying on stakes and straps for support, it needs to be pruned. A young unstaked tree that begins to lean from the weight of its canopy should likewise be pruned until it regains its posture without getting staked and bound. Trees should never be tied to other trees, buildings or anything else that can be damaged by the tension.

Deadhead Spring Bulbs After Bloom

Most spring bulbs are done blooming.

Fruiting warm season vegetables that are now in season, such as squash, tomatoes and beans, are more abundant with regular harvest. Plants that produce such fruit respond to their natural obligation to generate seed. Deprivation of the fruit that contains their seed stimulates production of more. Similarly, it is helpful to deadhead some flowering plants.

Deadhead grooming is a type of pruning, even if it does not involve pruning shears. It is, in simple terms, the removal of deteriorating flowers after bloom. For some plants, it only improves aesthetic appeal. For many others, it redirects resources from seed production into subsequent bloom, or vegetative growth that eventually sustains subsequent bloom. 

Now that early spring bulbs are finishing bloom, it is time to deadhead them. Most bloom just once annually, so without the distraction of seed production, will prioritize vegetative growth into new bulbs to bloom for next year. Many of the summer bulbs that bloom later bloom more than once annually, so divert conserved resources into subsequent blooms.

However, many cultivars of spring bulbs are too extensively hybridized to produce viable seed. For them, deadhead grooming merely eliminates unappealingly deteriorated floral carcasses, while their foliage continues to sustain the development of new bulbs for next year. The foliage of most deteriorates slowly through warming spring or summer weather. 

Some extensively hybridized modern cultivars are not sterile though. Some can produce feral progeny that are less appealing than the hybrid parents, but are vigorous enough to displace them. Deadhead grooming eliminates most or all of the unwanted feral seed. Of course, for wild grape hyacinth and snowdrop, seed can be left to develop and disperse.

Established colonies of feral freesias can be allowed to make seed for more of the same. However, hybrid freesia benefits from deadhead grooming to eliminate feral seed. Dutch iris, narcissus, daffodil, tulip, hyacinth and lily can also benefit from deadhead grooming, for a variety of reasons. Some are sterile. Some are not. Some get shabby. Some do not.

Six on Saturday: Rhody’s Roady II – Washington (the State)

Our vacation continued from Ilwaco, where I took both pictures #1 and #2, to Silverdale and Poulsbo, all within Washington. The Tomeo Residence, where I got pictures #5 and #6, is in Silverdale. The farm, where I got pictures #3 and #4, is near Poulsbo. For most of my vacation, I did exactly what I wanted to do. I pruned a few apple trees that were in need of major structure pruning. I wanted to do more, but got distracted. (That is a long story.) Apples were about to bloom.

1. White grape hyacinth could be my favorite of the many goodies I received from Tangly Cottage Gardening. I try not to choose favorites, but I wanted this for a long time, and it came directly from the planter beds at the Port of Ilwaco! They are approved by Skooter!

2. ‘Golden Fragrance’ grape hyacinth was blooming in the same bed with the white grape hyacinth. I thought I got a picture. This could be Muscari paradoxum, but I do not know. 

3. Pluot was still in early bloom when we arrived in Kitsap County. I dislike pluots, but it might substitute for apricot, which is unreliable in the local climate. Peach is absent too.

4. Apple trees were barely beginning to bloom. It was technically too late to prune them, but I did anyway. They have been neglected for too long. I finished less than half though.

5. Heather was blooming quite colorfully. It seems to be about as popular there as lily of the Nile is here, likely because it performs so reliably. It was strange to see so much of it.

6. Hyacinth and many other early spring flowers were still blooming splendidly. I should have gotten a better picture of a colony of hyacinth, but wanted to get a close up picture.

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

Late Pruning For Early Bloomers

Deciduous magnolias get pruned after bloom.

Winter is generally the best season for pruning. Obviously, it is when a majority of plants are dormant, and therefore most complaisant to such potentially invasive procedures. Of course, there are exceptions to this generalization. A few plants are dormant during other seasons. Some simply prefer late pruning to accommodate their bloom or fruiting cycles.

Late pruning is important for some of the same reasons that dormant or winter pruning is important. It controls growth and directs resources. Removal of superfluous or unwanted growth reallocates resources that such growth would otherwise consume, to more useful or productive growth. The primary difference is that late pruning happens after dormancy. 

Flowering cherry trees are very similar to fruiting cherry trees, but generate only copious bloom without fruit. Flowering crabapple trees likewise produce only their unique bloom, but without much fruit. Technically, both would prefer dormant pruning during winter. Yet, late pruning immediately after bloom allows them to first bloom as profusely as they can.

Fortunately, flowering but fruitless counterparts of fruitful trees require pruning that is less severe than what their fruitful relatives require. Comparably severe pruning would be too stressful for them after dormancy. However, flowering peach trees can endure harsh late pruning to stub their bloomed shoots. Stubs generate more shoots for bloom next spring.

Late pruning begins as early as spring blooming trees and shrubs finish bloom. Because of warm weather this winter, many are blooming early. Stems of some types work well as cut flowers, either while in bloom or immediately prior to bloom. Once the first few flower buds begin to show color, most buds on the same stem should continue to bloom inside.

Camellias supposedly prefer pruning during their bloom cycle, since they resume growth immediately afterwards. Because such pruning would ruin some of the bloom that is their primary asset, most camellias must tolerate late pruning after bloom. Dogwood, forsythia, redbud, and flowering quince, as well as flowering cherry and flowering crabapple, are likewise tolerant of these technically untimely techniques.

Prune now for roses later.

Roses should be pruned before the end of winter. Here where winters are so mild, they can get pruned early.

Just like most of the modern fruit trees that were bred over the past few centuries to produce unnaturally large and abundant fruit, almost all modern roses have been bred for unnaturally large flowers. Production of such large flowers takes quite a bit of work. An excess of these large flowers is more than overgrown rose plants can keep up with. This is why roses should be pruned so aggressively while dormant in winter.

Pruning should be done before buds start to swell at the end of winter. Some people prefer to wait until the end of February. However, because winters are so mild here, buds are already starting to swell, and some are even beginning to grow. I actually prefer to prune early, as soon as roses are dormant and most of the foliage falls off easily when disturbed.

The objective of pruning is to remove as much superfluous growth as possible, in order to concentrate growth into fewer but more productive stems and flowers. Without pruning, roses naturally develop into rampant thickets of abundant but less productive stems. It is also good horticultural hygiene to remove all foliage from last year, since that is where fungal and bacterial pathogens overwinter. Leaves should be plucked from stems and raked from the ground.

Hybrid tea roses get pruned severely so that there are only three to six canes about two feet high. Healthy canes that grew from the base last year are the best. They should have fresh green bark, and preferably lack branches below where they get pruned. Older canes that are developing striations (rough bark texture) should be pruned out. Most floribunda roses can get pruned almost as severely, so that they have only five to a dozen canes.

Some grandiflora roses are allowed to get significantly taller. They develop most new canes on top of canes that were pruned during the previous winter, instead of from the base. Consequently, some stems can get quite old and tall before new basal canes develop to replace them. Climbing roses are likewise pruned less aggressively, since new canes grow from old canes.

Like most fruit trees, most roses are grafted. Therefore, ‘suckers’ (shoots from below graft unions) must be removed. Tree roses should not be pruned below the graft unions on top of their main trunks. Most carpet roses are not grafted, so do not develop suckers; but then, they do not require such specialized and aggressive pruning either.

Pollarding Pruning Techniques Remain Controversial

Pollarding is pruning to the extreme.

Olive orchards formerly inhabited some of the regions that became urban in California. A few orchard trees remained within urban gardens of the homes that encroached on them. Unfortunately, for those who did not utilize the abundant olives, these trees were horridly messy. Many decades ago, pollarding eliminated the mess without eliminating the trees.

Pollarding is extreme pruning that eliminates all but the main trunk and a few main limbs. It deprives olive trees of their ability to bloom, by eliminating stems of a previous season that would otherwise bloom during the next season. Fruit can not develop without bloom. For other trees that bloom only on older stems, pollarding eliminates bothersome pollen.

Pollarding has several other practical applications. It confines trees that would otherwise get too big for their respective situations. It enhances foliar color and texture for trees that display colorful foliage through summer, such as Schwedler and Princeton Gold maples. Red twig dogwood generates more colorful twigs, and more abundantly, after pollarding.

For agricultural purposes, pollarding generates lush vegetative growth of white mulberry to sustain silkworms, or other vegetation for livestock. It similarly generates long and thin willow stems for basketry. Various eucalypti rely on pollarding to produce juvenile foliage that is colorful and healthy enough for floral design, or aromatic enough for essential oils. 

Nowadays, pollarding is unfortunately passe and even vilified. Consequently, almost no arborists learn about it. Because it is technically disfiguring and potentially unsightly, it is undesirable for many situations. Annual repetition is needed to prevent bloom or fruiting. Otherwise, restorative pruning or more extreme pollarding eventually become necessary. 

For pollarding, proper technique is imperative. Such severe pruning must happen during winter dormancy. It would it be too stressful during vascular activity. Besides, bark would be very susceptible to scald if so suddenly exposed during warmer and sunnier weather. Pruning cuts must be very neat, and back to any old pollard cuts, without stubs to inhibit healing.