Late winter to early spring is a terrific time for pruning many shrubs. What should you prune and when? You could study pruning for an entire semester, but here are some basic guidelines. I recommend that you properly identify, then research, each particular kind of woody plant before you consider your first cut:
- Safety first 1) If any part of a tree or shrub is within ten feet of any kind of electric cable or wire, stop and call a professional. 2) Wear gloves and sturdy shoes, and use only sharp tools like bypass (not anvil) hand pruners and loppers, and saws. 3) Sanitize your tools and gloves with isopropyl alcohol or a product like Lysol spray before you start, and again when you’re done pruning each individual plant.
- General concepts Notice the overall shape of the shrub. Most flowering shrubs should be balanced and open in their center. Start pruning by removing all dead and diseased branches, then look for branches that cross or touch each other. Rubbing branches damage the bark tissue, inviting pathogens and pests, so remove one or both branches, depending on their condition, all the way to the base. Branches that grow from the perimeter towards the center should usually be removed. To shorten a branch or twig, cut it 1/4 inch above an outward-facing bud so new growth heads towards the perimeter of the shrub.
- When does your shrub bloom? 1) For spring bloomers, pruning them during the late dormant period (late winter/early spring) will remove flower buds, which were formed last year after the shrub bloomed. No flower buds, no flowers, so wait until after they bloom this year. 2) For later bloomers, pruning them now, before they form this year’s flower buds, is ideal. These can also be pruned soon after blooming.
- Roses Relax. Roses are simply shrubs that benefit from annual pruning. Prune in late winter to early spring (late dormancy) or when the buds start to swell. First cut out dead, broken, diseased and crossing canes. Put all your pruning debris in a trash bag and throw it away. Do not compost. Fertilize your roses with something like Espoma Rose-Tone or a good organic slow release fertilizer by following the directions on the bag. Climbers like to keep their main stems, so keep them fresh by pruning their lateral branches. Once the main stems are three years old, consider cutting one or two of them to their base to encourage new ones. Then cut one or two of the oldest every year. For shrub roses, cut up to 1/3 of the canes, the oldest, thickest woody ones, to their base as you open up the overall look to a vase shape. Cut to their base any super skinny canes from last year. For height, cut the remaining canes to about 1/2 their height, 1/4 inch above a robust outward-facing bud.
Please feel free to contact Carol with any questions.
You can hardly beat winterberry holly, Ilex verticillata, for its winter show of bright red berries. The berries are coveted this time of year by migrating birds and holiday decorators, so why not have one of these hard-working native shrubs for your own personal supply of winter delight and support birds, too?
The one pictured here serves as a screen between driveways in Sharon, MA. The screen design includes a variety of shrubs and a tree with different bloom times and colors, deciduous and evergreen, including Carolina allspice (Calycanthus floridus), viburnum, lilac (Syringa vulgaris), and a juniper tree.
The winterberry prefers moist, acidic soil and full sun, but can do well in part shade and tolerate some dryness if the soil is rich organic matter. As with all hollies, there are male and female plants, so you’ll need one male nearby to get berries on the females. Most nurseries are good at labeling the sex properly. When in bloom, you can tell the sexes apart on your own by a close look at the flowers.
Why didn’t your hydrangeas bloom this year? Most likely they were either pruned at the wrong time of year or their flower buds were damaged by winter weather or foraging deer.
With so many species and numerous cultivars, hydrangeas confuse many gardeners and even landscape designers when it comes to understanding the best time of year for pruning. Many gardeners prune at exactly the wrong time, eliminating almost all flower buds for the entire season.
Most early blooming shrubs, including some hydrangeas, develop their flower buds during the summer and fall of the previous year. This is known as blooming on old wood. Other hydrangeas develop their flower buds in the spring every year, then bloom later in the season. This is called blooming on new wood. Hydrangea cultivars such as Endless Summer™ bloom on both old and new wood.
Panicle hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata) and smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) develop their flower buds on new stems (new wood). Therefore they can be pruned back severely in the late fall or early spring to manage their size, and they will still provide flowers. Even after exceptionally cold winters where stems are killed to the ground, new spring stems will produce flowers. In our climate and soils, panicle hydrangea and smooth hydrangea are typically the easiest species to grow and provide the best show. Panicle hydrangeas, for instance, can bloom from July through October.
Common panicle hydrangea cultivars include: Limelight’, Vanilla Strawberry, Little Quick Fire, ‘Grandiflora’ aka PeeGee, ‘Fire and Ice’, Bobo®, ‘Bombshell’, ‘Little Lamb’, Quick Fire®, ‘Pee Wee’; Pinky Winky®, ‘Praecox’, and ‘Tardiva’. You can recognize them by their cone-shaped flower heads.
Common smooth hydrangea cultivars include: ‘Annabelle’, Invincibelle Spirit®, Incrediball®, and ‘Grandiflora’.
By contrast, hydrangeas that bloom in the spring bloom predominantly on old wood from flower buds that were formed during the previous summer and fall. They include bigleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla), oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), mountain hydrangea (Hydrangea serrata) and climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris). These varieties should be pruned immediately after the flowers start to fade. You can cut off the just the flowers or cut the stem at any point you need to in order to control the size and shape of the shrub. If you prune later in the year, you’ll be removing next year’s flower buds.
If you know the type of hydrangea you have in your garden, it can take some of the mystery out of understanding why they’re not blooming as you expected, and knowing when to prune them. If you do not know what type of hydrangea you have, do not prune them. Remove only the dead wood in spring, then wait until they bloom to determine when to prune them the following year. If they’re planted in a favorable position in your landscape, they’re well worth waiting for.
One of my passions is lifelong learning, and another is to help people — and plants — who appreciate sustainable garden design and maintenance. I’m proud to have continued my studies at the New England Wildflower Society and earned an Advanced Certificate in Native Plant Horticulture an Design.
Each graduate had the opportunity to make a presentation about the required community service aspect of their certificate. I was proud to share my story of one of the two eyesore sites that I re-designed (and helped to install) at the Easton Town Offices that had been long overdue for a landscape makeover.
I’m excited to continue to be a valuable resource in my community. While I currently serve as Horticulture Co-Chair with both the Sharon and Easton, MA garden clubs, I look forward to future opportunities to collaborate, create and educate people about smart, sustainable landscapes.
Imagine that when you were a child your parents loved gardening, and over time you helped your family create secret gardens and woodland paths that changed daily with new sprouts pushing up from the earth, turning into a bounty of ever-changing blooms, and you loved every petal and leaf of it all.
Now, imagine that you’re middle aged and still living in that same beloved 1950’s ranch, but you’re ready to tear it down to build your dream home, and save as many of your family’s horticulture heirlooms as possible. You’ve come to appreciate that many of the plants your family selected and nurtured are quite unique.
Sharon, MA homeowners in this situation called in Carol Lundeen, owner of Garden-911 Boston, for landscape renovation consulting and horticulture services to help them make their decisions. The excavation crew was expected to start in a couple of days, and we needed to establish priorities, make a plan, and get a move on.
How do you decide which heirloom plants to keep and which to abandon to the dumpster? Here’s how we worked together:
First, we contrasted the emotional and financial value of various plantings. The client had many childhood memories in specific areas of the property, especially around the patio, past the boxwoods (Buxus sp.) and up the path into the woodland, past the doll’s eyes plants (Actaea pachypoda). There was also the giant Wygelia whose branches arched over the front door entryway, and if it could talk it would tell more than half a century of stories.
I reminded the client that financially it costs money to remove existing plantings (and manage their debris); to lift and temporarily relocate and care for existing plantings, then replant and reestablish them; and to purchase (plant selection and delivery) and install and establish new ones (site preparation and irrigating). Existing shrubs on the property were mostly well established beauties that would be costly to replace with same-size specimens, and perennials seemed to be everywhere. This client kept her sense of humor and broad perspective of the past and future, she asked lots of questions and we figured everything out together.
While he was already on the property, we had the excavator dig a trench in well-protected areas in the front and rear of the property, and with machines he lifted and placed many of the larger shrubs into the trench. Garden-911 Boston carefully backfilled by hand, irrigated, and mulched these specimens for the best possible outcome. Perennials were dug together by hand by the client and Garden-911 Boston owner Carol Lundeen, and we placed them into a long-overgrown garden area that we first had to clear of all manner of wild invasives vines and weeds, fallen-down raised beds and tangled chicken wire as the mini-excavator went to work nearby.
Eventually, as in all renovations, comes a period of being okay with not knowing when enough is enough. But most all very important plantings are safely stashed for the fall and winter, and spring will bring a new house and new possibilities for the client’s heirloom plants to re-establish in their new places. We’ll be working on the design together over the winter.
How fun to watch a swallowtail butterfly dive into a daylily for a drink of sweet nectar. On the way in its wings became streaked with pollen, which the butterfly then took to and pollinated a neighboring daylily in seeking more nectar.
No daylily is native to North America as thus their value to native pollinators is limited to providing food rather than providing food, ideal egg-laying sites and food for their caterpillars that would support this butterfly species’ entire life cycle. Most native butterlies and moths have just one type of plant that is the host plant for their entire life cycle.
Native plants support not just native butterflies, but also all living things in native ecosystems, including humans, which is just one reason to have a diversity of native plants on your property or property that you manage or care for.
While daylilies have good horticultural value as colorful flowers, native plants have both horticultural and ecological value in the landscape. There are many fine native plant substitutes for non-native plants, and I encourage you to explore the possibilities before investing in non-native plants that could take the place of high-performing native plants.
When a Sharon homeowner wanted to meet about redesigning her front yard gardens, Garden-911’s Carol Lundeen suggested expanding the vision to include improved circulation from the driveway to the front door, adding ease of use and curb appeal at the same time.
Here’s an example of using contrast as a visual principle of landscape design. In the foreground of this scene in Cambridge, MA, leaves of a variegated dogwood tree contrast along a diagonal with the pink flowers of a blooming azalea shrub in the middle ground, while in the background the curly-edged rumpled leaves of perennial geraniums anchor as a groundcover.
In addition to contrast, other principles of landscape design include unity and harmony, balance, hierarchy, scale and proportion, dominance and emphasis, and similarity and contrast. Design elements such as color, line, shape and volume, texture and pattern, space the illusion of space, motion and the illusion of motion and value can be combined as ingredients in a recipe that creates the various design principles that make a design a visual success.Other elements of a successful landscape design are functional, such as circulation around a home and its grounds, and water management.
Garden-911 Boston offers landscape design services. Visit https://www.garden-911.com/ or call 617-327-9254 for more information.