Showing posts with label pruning. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pruning. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

3 Things You Should NOT Do in the Garden in Fall

If you are not overly fond of gardening chores, you may be relieved to know that there are things you simply shouldn't do right now. You're off the hook, at least for the time being. 

Here's what you should NOT be doing in fall:
1. Pruning. Pruning stimulates growth. If you prune trees and shrubs now, they will react by sending out new shoots. That new growth is very tender and susceptible to frost damage. If we have an early freeze, which has been the pattern the past two or three years, that new growth will be damaged. This weakens the plant and makes it less hardy overall. This goes for roses, too. They might look leggy and ragged right now, and you're tempted to go over there and clean them up, but wait until February. For more information, read this post on when to prune

2. Fertilizing. It's time for your garden to slow down and rest. Lawn and general purpose fertilizers stimulate growth, and this is not the season for that. If you are planting bulbs, a top dressing of bone meal is fine, but otherwise, fertilizing is like drinking an energy drink just before bedtime. 

3. Watering. OK, this seems obvious, especially since we've had some rain in the past couple of weeks. But some people with automatic sprinkling systems get so used to not having to think about watering (or not watering) that they forget to turn them off until late in the season. Established gardens need little or no supplemental watering after September 1. (New gardens, ones planted this year or last, may need more water if we haven't had rain.) If you water by hand, water less frequently as fall approaches. Dry conditions, along with cooler night temperatures and shorter days, are a signal to plants that it is time to start slowing down, hardening off and preparing for winter. 

Friday, May 20, 2011

Picking Out the Pines

Do you have trouble telling one conifer from another? Do pines, cedars, firs and spruces all look the same to you? Well, after you read this post, you'll be able to tell the pines, at least, from all the others.

Here's how: pay attention to evergreen trees in your neighborhood this week. You'll notice that some of them have new shoots emerging from the tips of their branches that look like fingers pointing toward the sky.

These shoots look as if the tree is making the kind of rude gestures that humans do when they've been cut off in traffic. But don't take this personally, because these "fingers" are simply the beginnings of this year's growth for the pine tree. No other conifer produces shoots that look like these, so when you see them, you know the tree is a pine.

Over the next few weeks, these shoots, called "candles," will grow longer and shortly after that, new needles will appear along them. Depending on the type of pine, this will add anywhere from one to eighteen inches to the size of the tree.

You'll notice that some pines have white candles. (My guess is that these white shoots are what inspired people to start calling them candles.)

And that some have yellow candles. But they all work the same way.

You can shape a pine tree over the years by pinching the candles to stop or slow the growth of a branch. If you don't want a branch to add any new growth for the year, cut the candle completely off. If you want it to add some growth, but not too much, cut off just a portion of the candle. This technique is used in formal Asian gardens to train pines into a specific shapes.

As a bit of pine trivia, you might be interested in the fact that pine trunks offer a sort of record of the amount of rainfall from year to year. If you look closely at the tree on the left, you can see that there's bare trunk for several inches, then a whorl of branches, then more bare trunk, another whorl of branches, and so on. The distance from one whorl to the next is one year's growth. In rainy years, the trees grow more and the distance between whorls is longer; in drier years, it is shorter.

There are many pine varieties that grow well in the Seattle area. If you want to know more about them, the Sunset Western Garden Book has a lengthy section on types, growth rates, habits and more.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

3 Pruning Tools You REALLY Need (and 3 That Are Optional)

To prune properly, you need very sharp tools so that you can make clean, precise cuts. This is important because jagged cuts and torn bark provide good avenues for insect infestation and disease. To do the job well, you don't need lots of tools, you just need good ones.
Here are my well-used  favorites, the tools I use for 95% of the pruning I do. At top, my 19 year old hand pruners, a folding saw and a pair of bonsai scissors.
Here's why these are the must-haves:
  • Hand pruners. Unless you are doing significant tree work, most of the pruning you'll do is with hand pruners. It is worth it to spend a little extra money on pruners that feel good in your hand and are sturdy enough to last. Felco is the brand I prefer because they offer high quality and a choice of sizes and features. The pair I have is designed for small hands like mine. I no longer get cramps from trying to use pruners that are too big for me.  Felcos come in larger sizes, of course, and there's a version for left-handed gardeners, too. All of these are bypass pruners, which are preferable to anvil pruners because they make cleaner cuts. Anvil types tend to crush stems, especially as they lose their sharpness. 
  • Folding pruning saw. I like folding saws because you can fold them up and slip them into a pocket (or a tool holster) to keep them handy. They are small and easier to maneuver in cramped spaces than larger saws. These saws are fine for cutting branches up to 2-1/2" - 3" diameter. Better brands have blades that can be replaced. 
  • Bonsai scissors. When I bought these scissors 15+ years ago, I didn't think they would be as useful as they have turned out to be. They are ideal for tip pruning shrubs and roses. I use them to deadhead pretty much everything, including bloomed-out herbs like lavender and thyme. They are the perfect tool for deadheading rhododendrons because the pointy blades can slip into the tight space at the base of the faded flower without damaging the new growth emerging below it.
OK, those are the "must haves" -- now here's a few tools that you might need for specific situations. If you are a beginning gardener, add these as you come across a project they are suited for. There's no need to spend money on them until that time. None of these are precise tools. The length of the handles of loppers and pole pruners can make for wobbly cuts. The bow saw is hard to maneuver in tight places. You use these in cases where you want to remove lots of foliage and branches quickly so you can get to the specific areas where you will make precise cuts with smaller tools.

  • Loppers are excellent for projects like clearing out blackberry overgrowth or dismantling shrubs you want to remove. They are also good for "lopping" off big hunks of foliage and get them out of the way so you can  get to the place along the trunk where you need to cut off a branch.
  • Bow saw. Bow saws are best used to make quick work of large diameter branches. They can be a bit unwieldy because of their size and shape, which can make for irregular cuts. Good for clearing away storm debris or removing trunks and branches of trees you want to remove. 
  • Pole pruner. Again, these are tools that have some use if you need to remove the outer portions of broken branches. But it really isn't possible to have precise control over a cut made holding a tool with such a long handle - there's going to be some wobbling going on. That said, there are places where ladder work is not practical (slopes, e.g.) and these pruners might be the best or only choice. 

There you have it, the lowdown on pruning tools. There's just one more thing to add -- good information on how to prune. If you live in the Seattle area, consider getting some hands-on training from Plant Amnesty. Check their website to find out when and where classes are being held. Or get a copy of Cass Turnbull's pruning guide, which is the next best thing. Cass is the founder of Plant Amnesty.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

It's February and Time to Prune Roses

'Joseph's Coat' rose

Ask rosarians around here and you will find out that February is the month to prune roses. Exactly when in February is a matter of opinion. Some people do their pruning around the first of the month. Others wait for Valentine's Day or Presidents Day. Others won't touch their roses until the last days of the month.

Why does it matter? Pruning stimulates growth. Plants respond to being cut back by releasing growth hormones and new shoots follow soon after. This new growth is tender and very susceptible to cold damage. A late, hard freeze will kill the new growth and possibly the entire plant. Therefore, you want to hold off until you are reasonably sure the danger of a freeze is past.

Beyond the question of when to prune roses, there's the question of how. The answer is complicated because there are several different types of roses and they are pruned in different ways. Hybrid tea roses are cut back to about 18", shrub roses are pruned to shape them and climbers are pruned primarily to train them onto a structure. Rejuvenating old roses requires yet another technique. As always, I refer you to the book, Pruning and Training, for specific directions.

If you live in the Seattle area and want hands-on instruction, consider attending Plant Amnesty's rose pruning class on February 13. The cost is a reasonable $15 for non-members (less for Plant Amnesty members and horticulture students). You'll learn the proper way to prune your roses and have a chance to ask questions before trying this at home.

Keep in mind that rose pruning varies considerably from region to region. What works in the unique climate of the Northwest is not applicable to other parts of the country (or world for that matter). If you live outside the Puget Sound region, check with your local horticulture professionals for advice.