Tag Archives: Pruning

Last Leaf Standing

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What can I tell you – it’s been darn cold. Here in Duvall, WA we had snow followed by sub-freezing temperatures for several weeks. Today is the first day in what seems like forever when my grass has been green rather than frosty white so I ventured out into the garden to see how things had held up. It wasn’t pretty.

Following the weather forecast across the country these past few weeks I’m know I’m not alone surveying the aftermath of crazy winter storms, assessing one sad looking plant after another. This is where inexperienced gardeners would be tempted to grab their pruners – DON’T! Except in the case of dormant deciduous trees and shrubs, pruning can stimulate new growth which will get killed by the next frost and possibly cause die back further down the branch.

Before you start hacking, chopping or pruning take a few moments to read this post and determine if the plant in question is ….

Dead, sulking or sleeping?

The answer depends on the type of plant and the severity of the damage. Here are examples from my own winter-weary garden this afternoon

Conifers

For the most part these are remarkably resilient and some of the most cold-hardy foliage in the garden. However if your Hinoki cypress looks like this, forget the pruners – get the spade out!

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No hope for this Hinoki, but  frost was just the final straw not the true cause of its demise

This has been on a slow decline for two years following a summer drought the year it was planted. I gave it a fair chance but when this much of the foliage is brown, it is toast.

If you have Blue Star junipers (Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’) with one or two small sections that have turned brown (a common occurrence in my garden during winter ) you will be able to snip that off in spring after danger of a freeze has passed, and by summer you’ll never know it happened.

Most of my conifers thankfully looked OK.

Evergreen shrubs

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Winter daphne shows the worst damage on the more exposed foliage.

It is common to see brown or black, frost-damaged leaves on shrubs such as this winter daphne. The more exposed foliage suffers the worst; branches closer to the house or protected by adjacent shrubs or upper branches may be completely unscathed.

Although these brown leaves will drop, the plant itself is still fine with most buds and a lot of the inner foliage still intact. No action is needed other than raking up leaves as they fall. New foliage will grow in spring.

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Frost damaged brown foliage on Goshiki Japanese holly

So much depends on location. This Goshiki Japanese holly (Ilex heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’) suffers frost damage and die back every year, yet another bush that is closer to the house and under a deciduous tree is completely untouched.

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The white speckled variegation on this Spider’s Web aralia has turned black with cold

This young Spider’s Web Japanese aralia (Fatsia japonica ‘Spider’s Web) may eventually lose the blackened leaves but I expect I shall see new growth from the base (at soil level) as well as the main plant in spring.

Semi-evergreen shrubs

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Most of the purple fringe flower foliage has turned brown

Many shrubs are listed as semi-evergreen which means the plant will keep its leaves in mild winters but may lose the majority when the weather is colder. For me this includes abelia,  and fringe flower (Loropetalum). No action on my part is needed until spring at which point I will prune out any branches that show no sign of life by late April and trim healthy branches back to the uppermost bud (thereby removing frost damaged tips). Some shrubs will grow from the base as well as breaking from dormant buds along the stems – leaving the frost-damaged branches in place will protect these inner areas.

Tender shrubs and perennials

Lavender falls into this category for me – some varieties are more cold hardy than others. Russian sage, hardy fuchsias and gaura should also be treated in the same way.

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This lavender will be fine after spring pruning

You can see this lavender plant has a  mix of healthy silver needles and cold-damaged brown ones. DO NOT PRUNE UNTIL ALL DANGER OF FROST HAS PASSED. Right now there are signs of healthy silver foliage right down the length of each branch. Those lower, healthy buds are the insurance policy in case any more of the exposed areas get frost damaged. Avoid any pruning until temperatures are warmer as it will encourage the shrub to push out delicate and vulnerable new growth.

Rosemary is another tender plant for me and some do better than others….if only I could find the tags!

My Jerusalem sage (Phlomis russeliana) is another frost casualty.

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A sulking Jerusalem sage – easily redeemed

I actually prefer to cut this to the ground in spring anyway as it helps maintain a nice shape to these shrubby perennials. My approach with this plant is to cut it half way back just to get it off the grasses. I will leave approximately 2′ of frost damaged stems in place to protect the crown from further frost damage before cutting the whole thing down to ground level in March or April when it is warmer.

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At first glance this donkey tail spurge looks dead  – but it’s just sleeping

Donkey tail spurge (Euphorbia myrsinites) was added to my garden last year to repel the psky voles so I’m really hoping it survives the winter despite my less than favorable clay soil, getting trodden on by deer and being frozen for several weeks.

I can see new growth at the crown and the tips themselves look OK even if the stems appear to have lost some leaves.

Evergreen perennials

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Blackened leaves can protect the plant

Even super-hardy perennials such as fleabane (Erigeron sp.) can suffer frost damage as can be seen by all the blackened leaves.

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Inner growth is green and healthy

I wait until spring to pull these out, knowing that new foliage will be healthy and green. In fact leaving the frost damaged foliage in place can shield the inner leaves.

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Ugh….but there is hope

Rock rose, also called sun rose (Helianthemum cvs) is either evergreen or semi-evergreen. Mine are showing blackened leaves in patches which will eventually fall away. However I’m confident that new growth will emerge from buds along the branches in spring. I’ll just gently rake the groundcover with my fingers to remove any slug-enticing mush (a new horticultural definition for you).

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Yuk! NOT the Fine Foliage we prefer!

In the case of my semi-evergreen dalmation iris (Iris pallida ‘Aureo-variegata’), the frost damaged leaves are lost – but new growth is already apparent.You can tidy it up by removing the old leaves now.

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Patience rewards the gardener with new leaves

Frost heave

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The root ball is almost entirely out of the ground

Finally, check your plants for frost heave. This deer and rabbit nibbled heucherella has been pushed up out of the soil with the freeze-thaw action. I need to dig a new hole and re-plant it correctly. Many smaller plants are susceptible to this.

Celebrate the Survivors!

Thankfully there are still many great looking shrubs and trees even in January. Besides the many conifers, Little Heath andromeda (Pieris japonica ‘Little Heath’) has to be a favorite of mine, especially with its rosy winter blush.

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Little Heath andromeda – colorful and reliable

How’s your garden doing? Need new ideas for your garden? We have just the book for you! Our brand spanking new book Gardening with Foliage First is on the road heading to bookstores near YOU. Have you ordered your copy yet?

 

 

The Foliage Forecast – A Tale about Transition and the Size of Things to Come

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A tapestry of small-scale plants right next to the sidewalk! Leucothoe ‘Rainbow’, ‘Rheingold’ Arborvitae, Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’, Osmanthus ‘Goshiki’, Nandina ‘Gulf Stream’, ‘Wissel’s Saguaro’ False Cypress, Spirea ‘Double Play Gold’, ‘Tri-Color’ Sage, Senecio cineraria ‘Cirrus’, Dwarf Hemlock.

The downsizing of America‘s landscape is upon us. Just like our homes, cars and some of our lifestyles, we are now learning to garden more efficiently in less space without sacrificing style.

The vast majority of us don’t have giant-sized lots in our neighborhoods as our grandparents and parents might have, depending on where you live of course. 2 acre lots are considered luxurious, 5 acres are GIANT. But, most of us these days have 1 acre, 1/2 or a 1/3 acre. More and more newer planned communities like mine are even less than a quarter acre or what we call a zero lot line.

When our home lots of yesteryear were young and new, there wasn’t nearly the plethora of plants to choose from and not many resources for good gardening information the way we all depend on now. There was no one to teach us “Right Plant, Right Place“. We all piled into the station wagon, went to the nearest nursery and chose from the small selection of Junipers and Rhododendrons or whatever your local everyday average plant choice might have been long ago.

As the years went by those basic, bread and butter plants were great- they did their job. Dad would routinely hack them back every year whether they needed it or not as an act of domination over the family’s land. After all, aren’t we SUPPOSED to have a hedgerow on our All-American Homestead? Isn’t the home supposed to be snuggled with shrubs up against the house and a “Leave it to Beaver” lawn all the way to the street?

But, then while everyone was busy, those plants grew and grew and grew. Dad could only hack them back so far now. Mom can’t get around the Laurel to get to the front door. Guests have to dodge the thorny, poky plants on the walkway, the juniper on the driveway harbors a spider colony that could rival a horror movie.

Don’t we all have that story of the weekend warrior, gardening bender where someone decided that (insert ubiquitous over grown, badly placed plant here) it was high time to take that plant out? “I can’t stand it for not one more minute! Chop it down. Tear it out. Prune it into submission. Tie it to the bumper of your truck and pull that sucker out!”

Then suddenly its gone. As if by magic, the sun has broken through and now you have that SPACE. The family piles into the mini-van and heads to the local independently owned garden center and asks the smart horticulturist/salesperson for advice.

The following conversation is had thousands of times in nurseries every single day:
“We tore it all out, now its a blank slate, what do we do?”
“In your perfect universe, this new plant would be how tall and how wide when its mature in 10 years?”

Now this story is about to go one of two very distinct ways:
1) “We never want anything over 2-3 feet tall and wide. We NEVER want to have to prune it, let alone even think about it.”
OR
2) “Why can’t I just put in that plant that wants to be 25 feet tall, I will simply prune it into submission? It worked for my Dad.”

So, where does that leave us with our choices and options for the right plant in the right place? The future is now, the forecast for spectacular selection of dwarf plants of ALL types has never been better, you really can have the best of both worlds. Breeders and growers are coming out with new dwarf cultivars of nearly everything. You won’t have to settle for not having a Lilac if you can’t fit a 9-12 foot shrub in your small space garden.

Lest you think I have forgotten my foliage obsession, here is where we REALLY start to get some excitement. You CAN have magnificent color, texture, layering and multi-season interest in small garden spaces by focusing on those new plant introductions available to you these days. Dive right in!

Pick your foliage color palette, stick to it, repeat often and then break all the rules. 🙂 There is simply no need to comply with rigid old standards of cramming giant plants up against the house when you have so many foliage forward options to drool over that are low maintenance, colorful and elegant.

The forecast? Our new sized lots have forced us to change how we design our gardens and landscapes. We mix edibles with ornamentals and we focus on layering in some gorgeous foliage that FITS our space rather than forcing it to conform to our lack of selection. And we are vastly more fortunate than our grandparents to have such a huge selection of stunning foliage choices to try out every year.

What are you still doing here? Get out and shop for some NEW FOLIAGE for your landscape!!

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