Sunday, February 24, 2013

Winter Pruning: 5 Tips for Making the Kindest Cut

Pruners cutting a redbud branch
It's time to do winter pruning.

With the official start of spring barely three weeks away, it’s time to get out and do some pruning. Not only is it easier to see the branch structure of a tree or shrub before the leaves emerge, but the plant will be able to heal the cuts before major pests emerge.

Still I always seem to put off my pruning because I want to make sure I'm removing just the right branches. Hey, once it's gone, it's gone. You can't glue a branch back on. Trees and shrubs are amazingly resilient though, and will recover in no time flat.

Here are five tips to help you make the kindest cut.

1)  Use a sharp, sterilized blade. You'll cause the least amount of damage to the tree or shrub. Spray rubbing alcohol on the blade between cuts to avoid spreading any disease that might be on the branch.

2)  Remove suckers, water spouts and wood that's either dead or diseased. Suckers form at the base of the trunk and need to be removed annually. Ditto for water spouts. These look like branches that head straight up from the branch. When looking for deadwood, check out the buds on the branch. They should look healthy rather than dried up or sunken. If you're not sure, take your fingernail and lightly scratch the bark. If you see green underneath, the branch is alive.

3) Remove crossing and rubbing branches. This is tough because you often have to cut living wood. It's important, though, to create a good structure for the tree or shrubs. Think of the framework used to build a house. You're trying to do the same thing. Think line drawing.

4) Prune, don't shear. When many people want to shape or limit the height of a tree or shrubs, they simply cut off the tips of the branches. A rounded shape or a flat-topped hedge is usually the result. This process is called shearing and you'll soon be back in the same situation because a cut spurs growth at the spot where it occurs. The resulting dense growth also will keep sun from getting to the inside of the plant and all the foliage there will die as a result. The solution? Remove some of the branches all the way down to the ground. If you do cut the branch tips after that, stagger the branch lengths so it looks more natural.  Do not remove more than one-third of the plant in a given year or you'll weaken it.

5) Removing a large branch requires three or four cuts, not one. The first cut should be on the bottom of the branch about 18 inches from the trunk. The second will be an inch farther away from the trunk and on top of the branch. Keep going until the branch breaks free. The final cut should be at the branch collar, a swelling where the branch meets the trunk. Don't get too close to the trunk. No flush cuts! And no, don't put paint on the wound. Both of these interfere with the plant's natural healing process.

A word of caution: The best time to prune a flowering tree or shrub is right after it has bloomed. That said, you can do some pruning this time of year if you want a better view of the branch structure. Just remember that you'll be cutting off some of your blooms if your tree or shrub flowers in the spring.

Don't laugh. I once talked with a gardener who complained that his forsythias never, ever bloomed -- no matter what he did. Turned out he was pruning them every winter, removing every single flower bud in the process. Was his face red!

A final suggestion: If you have any concerns about a tree or large shrub, check with a certified arborist. Many problems can be prevented with proper care by a trained professional.

By Karen Geisler

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Valentine Puzzle

Two love birds with a hanging basket of forget-me-nots
"Love Birds," a Valentine Post Card by Raphael Tuck and Sons,
Art Publishers to their Majesties the King and Queen. *

Happy Valentine's Day! There are 16 plant references in the love note below. Some are cultivar names, some are common names. Can you find them all?

Ms. Valerie Finnis
214 Columbine Drive
Chicago, IL

Dear Valerie,

Please be my Valentine!

Ever since your friend Carol Mackie introduced us on that May night, I've been attracted to you. Then, at last week's garden club meeting, when I saw your angel face in the morning light, I could resist no longer.

Cupid’s dart hit me and my love lies bleeding. I adore you!

Let me be your Mr. Goodbud, your heartthrob. I want to drink creme de cassis with you under the August moon and kiss your hot lips. Or better still, kiss me over the garden gate later today.
Please help my bleeding heart. Don’t break the chain of love.

Your sweet William
The answers are below. How many were you able to find? Any other plant names that you would use in a mash note?

Falling in Love rose
Falling in Love rose
Photo courtesy of Weeks Roses

1) Valerie Finnis -- Muscari armeniacum or Artemisia ludoviciana  2) Carol Mackie -- Daphne burkwoodii  3) May Night -- Salvia sylvatica  4)  Angel Face -- Rose  5) Morning Light -- Silver Maiden Grass, Miscanthus sinensis   6)  Cupid’s dart  -- Catananche caerulea  7) Love lies bleeding -- Amaranthus caudatus  8)  Mr. Goodbud -- Sedum  9) Heartthrob -- Viola or Cornus kousa 10) Creme de Cassis -- Hollyhock, Alcea  11) August Moon -- Hosta  12) Hot Lips -- Chelone lyonii  13) Kiss me over the garden gate -- Persicaria orientale  14)   Bleeding heart -- Dicentra/Lamprocapnas spectabilis   15) Chain of love -- Antigonon leptopus  16) Sweet William -- Dianthus barbatus

Give yourself 5 bonus points if you knew that Valentine is the cultivar name of Eremophila maculata or Dicentra spectabilis. Give yourself an extra point for every time you knew a name applied to more than one plant. Give yourself an extra two points if you knew that Dicentra is now officially Lamprocapnas.

By Karen Geisler

* This postcard was dated and postmarked Feb. 13, 1911 by T.B. Hamilton of Argentea, IL near Decatur. It was sent to a cousin, S.H. Nudig in West Fairview, PA.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Snow, Glorious Snow

Snow-covered oaks near a picnic shelter

Snow. Great big white flakes of it tumbling to the ground. Steadily. And for hours at a time. When you’re still in or recovering from a drought, there’s no more glorious sight for a gardener.

The Chicago area finally had its first major snowstorm of the year last Thursday with accumulations up to 9” in some places. Yes, we’ve had some rain in the past month but much of that has run off the still-frozen ground. This snow, when it melts, should help the garden get ready for that early spring predicted by the groundhog. 

I know the snow accumulations we got are nowhere near those dumped on the Northeast during a blizzard this weekend. I'm hoping, though, that the impact follows a pattern similar to ours.
First day: Horrendous.
Snow in  wooded area
Second day: The snow actually starts to look pretty. Then the kids get out and start having lots of fun. Snowmen pop up everywhere. A large city park where teenagers were running cross country a few months ago becomes a major sledding hill – packed with people of all sizes and shapes.
Temperatures warmed up today and melted much of the snow, lessening its beauty somewhat. But before it did, I went for a walk in a wooded area near my home as well as the city park mentioned above. I needed to get some photographs just in case it takes another two years to get such a storm.
Here's hoping the Northeast gets back to normal soon.
By Karen Geisler
Kids climbing up a sledding hill
Chaos at the botom of a sledding hill

Waiting at the top of a sledding hill
Snowman with blue scarf and hat

Oak branches covered with snow

Snow on evergreens

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Great Gnome Hunt

Garden gnome at Morton Arboretum
A gnome at the Morton Arboretum's Children's Garden

Garden gnomes are amazing creatures.
About 17 of them are braving sub-zero temperatures at the Morton Arboretum near Chicago this winter, waiting patiently for children to find them as part of a Gnome Hunt there.

Now my gnomes, they insist on spending the winter in the garage at the very least. (They tried to set up a trip to warmer climes with the Roaming Gnome but he was already booked.) These little guys (plus one girl) are only too happy to be playing a game of hide-and-seek in the Children’s Garden.
The hunt involves the story of Joy, a male gnome who is lost and searching for a home. Each of the 15 different locations has a poem about where Joy has tried to live  – on a fence, in a dog house, under a net and in a log, just to name a few.

Gnome and squirrel on a swing
This gnome and his squirrel friend enjoyed the warmer weather Sunday.

(Spoiler: All ends well when Joy finds a nice tree.)
Several of the children there when I visited were having a blast. But parents, don’t think this is a slam dunk. I found only 11 of the 15 locations. Some parts of the garden were blocked off due to snow so the other four probably were there.  (At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Besides, there were chocolate tastings inside.)

Nobby, the informal leader of the Morton Arboretum gnomes, told the Hortiholic in an exclusive interview that the group loves entertaining children despite the cold and snow.
Gnome couple on a swing reading a book
Two gnomes shared their book with a bluebird
“It's so much fun! Besides, we’d otherwise be sitting around, getting fat, talking about fiscal cliffs, higher oil prices and immigration policies,” he said. “I feel very strongly that our immigration laws need to be changed. All oppressed garden gnomes should be allowed to immigrate to the U.S. without any restrictions.” *
The arboretum's Gnome Hunt continues through the end of February from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, weather permitting.

*Note: Opinions expressed by Nobby are his own and not necessarily those of the Morton Arboretum.
By Karen Geisler
Gnome in a tree knot
This gnome got a push from a chipmunk
Gnome on swing next to a pod
Gnome in the swing of things next to the pond
Gnome sleeping
The gnome took a snooze on a tree branch
Arch over the entrance to the Children's Garden
The entrance to the Children's Garden at the Morton Arboretum