Pruning Evergreen Shrubs

Let’s consider evergreen shrubs, which differ from deciduous shrubs by continuing in leaf year-round. This is not the same as retaining leaves all year: evergreen shrubs sometimes are described as dropping their leaves year-round, for on-going renewal.

A separate group of evergreens is comprised of coniferous trees and shrubs, which are pruned primarily in late winter or early spring, before the appearance of new growth. It is now generally too late in the year for pruning coniferous evergreens. Exceptions include removing unwanted whole branches of spruces and junipers, which may be done at any time, and trimming yews and arborvitae can be done when they have a second flush of growth in mid-summer.

We will address the pruning of conifers next winter. These plants require minimal pruning, except as needed to control their size and shape. If you have such plants in your landscape, mark your calendar with a reminder to consider pruning needs around next February.

The larger group of evergreen shrubs should be pruned as needed in April or May, i.e., in mid-spring, after any risk of frost has passed and ideally before new growth starts. In the Monterey Bay area’s moderate climate, there is little chance of frost except in inland regions, and new growth might appear early in the spring. If the gardener initiates light pruning after new growth can be seen, the downside is that some of the plant’s energy will have been wasted, but the plant will simply replace the shoots that have been trimmed.

For pruning purposes, evergreen shrubs can be regarded in one of three groups.

  • Early flowering. Examples include Berberis, Camellia, Ceanothus, Daphne, Mahonia, Pieris, Azalea, Rhododendron, and Viburnum. They bloom in winter, spring or early summer. Many shrubs in this group should be pruned only lightly and deadheaded.
  • Late flowering. Examples include Eucryphia (Leatherwood), and laurels (e.g., English Laurel). These plants bloom in summer and late autumn on either old or new growth. They need little pruning.
  • Mid-season flowering. Examples include Calluna (Heather), Erica, Lavandula (Lavender), Santolina, and Thymus (Thyme). These bloom on old growth in spring or early summer, or on new growth in late summer and autumn. Generally, pruning involves removing shoots after flowering to about one inch of the previous year’s growth.
Daphne Bloom

Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata” in bloom

The pruning strategy for these plants follows these following basic steps;

First, remove any diseased, damaged, or dead branches. They will not heal themselves and could spread disease, so prompt removal benefits the healthy parts of the plant and helps the gardener to evaluate other needs for pruning.

The second step, then, is to remove branches that are crowding other branches, or compromising the desired appearance of the shrub. The pruning objectives might include reducing the overall size of the plant, either to work better within the landscape plan or to clear a walkway.

A common problem arises when an established, healthy plant grows larger than expected or wanted. Such outcomes should not be surprising: information on the mature size of a plant is readily available at the garden center or in a reference book or website. A bit of research during plant selection can save future effort.

Shrubs that have become badly overgrown might need rejuvenation pruning. In such cases, remove one-third to one-half of the branches to ground level, and reduce all other branches by one-third. In the following two years, remove half of the older branches to ground level.

Pruning time also should be used as an opportunity to evaluate the overall health of the plant. If it has sparse or leggy growth, consider the need for greater exposure to sunlight. For example, a nearby tree might have grown to shade a plant that grows best in full sun, or the plant might have been installed originally in partial shade. In such cases, prune the tree that blocks the sun, or move the shrub to a sunnier spot.

Another factor limiting the plant’s growth might be poor soil, which can be treated with fertilization during the growth period, and regular applications of compost. The gardener should avoid planting in soil with minimal nutrient value, e.g., sandy soil or sub-soil (lacking loamy top soil). If this is unavoidable, consider planting in better soil in mounds, raised beds, or containers.

A third factor might be insufficient drainage. Some shrubs thrive in soggy soil, but the large majority need oxygen at their roots, so the surrounding soil must be allowed to dry out between irrigations. This can be a problem that results when plants are placed in low-lying areas, or in moisture-retaining clay soil.

The third step in pruning includes mulching and feeding. These actions minimize weeds around the plant and help the plant to grow.

The final step is to stand back to appreciate a job well done.

Pruning Deciduous Shrubs

Right now is the right time to prune some (not all) shrubs in your garden.

The first group of targets for pruning in April included flowering shrubs that bloom in the spring on old wood. These plants should be pruned soon after their blooms have faded. This practice allows ample time for buds to develop and bloom in the following spring. Pruning long after the blooms have faded will remove buds as they develop, and reduce or eliminate blooming next year.

Fading Lilac Bloom

The accompany photo shows fading blooms of a Common Lilac (Syringa vulgaris ‘White Angel’) in my garden. This is one of the Descanso Hybrids, which were developed in southern California for mild winter regions, like the Monterey Bay area. Unlike the lilacs from my youth in Connecticut, these hybrids bloom without a winter chill. This plant bloomed nicely and produced a fine fragrance, and now needs pruning in preparation for next year’s flowering.

Here are examples of additional plants in this group that grow well in the Monterey Bay area.

  • Flowering Quince Chaenomeles speciosa)
  • Forsythia (F. ovata and other species)
  • Japanese Rose (Kerria japonica)
  • Lily-of-the-Valley Shrub (Pieris japonica)
  • Mock Orange (Philadelphus lewisii and other species)
  • Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius and other species)
  • Purple-leaf Sand Cherry (Prunus × cistena)
  • Viburnum (V. tinus ‘Compactum’ and other species)
  • Weigela (W. florida and hybrids)
  • Winter Daphne (D. odora)

You can identify additional plants in this group by direct observation. If you are undecided, look up your plant in Sunset’s Western Garden Book, the American Horticultural Society’s A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants, or a pruning reference book. You can also search for the plant on the Internet, ideally by botanical name.

Some gardeners are reluctant to prune their plants, either because of uncertainty or a fear of damaging the plant. It can be helpful to regard pruning as therapy for the plant, i.e., it helps and does not hurt the plant.

Pruning improves the plant first by removing dead, broken or diseased twigs and branches. Such parts of the plant are not good for the plant, and could be harming it by spreading disease or drawing resources.

Other benefits are beneficial primarily for the gardener. Timely pruning will improve flowering, fruiting, and overall shape. Flowering shrubs growing without the care of gardeners or landscapers will develop a pleasing natural habit entirely on their own. They will also produce enough flowers and fruit to reproduce, and enough roots and branches to ensure healthy growth. With this in mind, always prune for specific objectives. Before picking up the clippers, take the time to stand or sit down to examine the plant and decide what pruning is needed.

There are two main approaches to pruning: cut back the plant more or less evenly, and remove selected stems or branches entirely. These approaches can be combined. In this case of the lilac, cut below each faded blossom, just above a developing bud, and also remove entirely up to one third of the older branches to encourage new branches growing from the base.

Net week, we’ll consider seasonal pruning of evergreen shrubs.

Remember to sharpen your clippers to make your cuts clean and easy.

Pruning Roses (and Trees & Shrubs)

It will soon be time for dormant pruning of your trees and shrubs. Pearl Harbor Day (December 7th), which reminds us first of when our gallant sailors and soldiers were attacked in Hawaii, also “triggers” rose pruning season. This day might be early for some, but noted local rose grower Joe Ghio has for years started his pruning on that date. He cultivates a lot of roses, so pruning is not a one-day event, as it might be for your collection. Still, this day reminds us to start pruning our roses, or at least to start thinking about this annual task.

I have written about pruning roses before, and do not want to repeat the guidelines for gardeners who are already experienced pruners. Instead of detailing the process, I will offer some broad suggestions.

First, if you are unsure of your pruning skills, visit the website of the American Rose Society for a refresher. Scroll down to “Pruning Roses” to find eight articles by experts on the subject. You will also see numerous articles on all aspects of the cultivation of roses.

Second, let your roses teach you how to prune. After you have absorbed some basic ideas from the ARS, a book, or some other source, make mental or written notes of how you prune your roses, then monitor their responses over the next growing season. You might even tie ribbons on selected branches to remind yourself of what you did, and to help in watching the plant’s growth.

Third, if you learn best from demonstrations, plan to attend one of the Monterey Bay Rose Society’s free rose pruning classes in January. The Society’s 2017 schedule includes classes at the Alladin Nursery (Watsonville), San Lorenzo Garden Center (Santa Cruz), and the Society’s Display Rose Garden in the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds (Watsonville). In addition, Joe Ghio might present his popular “Anyone Can Prune a Rose” workshop during the Society’s January meeting in Aptos. For information on times, dates and locations, visit the Society’s website.

McShane’s Nursery (Salinas) also provides free workshops on rose and fruit tree pruning. Visit the Nursery’s website for more information.

***

Fruit tree pruning also can be challenging for backyard gardeners. The dormant pruning season for fruit trees begins when leaves fall and before buds swell, roughly January through March. I recently attended a workshop on pruning fruit trees, conducted by a long-time friend, Peter Quintanilla, who is a UC Master Gardener, an International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) Certified Arborist, and a teacher of Arboriculture and Landscape Pruning at Cabrillo College. Peter spoke at a recent meeting of the Monterey Bay Iris Society (the members of the MBIS are interested in more than irises!).

I will write more on this subject as we near the pruning season, but now is a good time for gardeners to get “up to speed” on this subject. Find good information in your local public library or bookshop or on the Internet. For information on selected trees or shrubs (apple trees for example) try a Google search for “pruning apple trees” to find both article and YouTube demonstrations.

Seasonal pruning of roses and fruit trees will optimize their appearance, health, and productivity. This task, when done in a capable and timely manner, also can be a satisfying exercise for the gardener. If you are unsure of your pruning knowledge, make a New Year’s resolution to master at least the basic techniques. And be sure to let Nature teach you about pruning.

Pruning Tomato Vines

A great many tomatoes are available to home gardeners, either as seeds or seedlings. We are already well into the growing season, so if you enjoy growing tomatoes you are probably already past the stages of selecting a variety or planting seeds or seedlings.

If you are already skilled at pruning your tomato plants, and doing the job in a timely manner, you will not need to read this column.

For the rest of us, let us review the pruning process, with an emphasis on corralling a runaway tomato vine.

The first bit of knowledge about growing tomatoes is that the multitude of cultivars includes just two types: determinate and indeterminate. The determinate plants develop a number of stems, leaves, and flowers, as predetermined by their genetics, and then stop growing. The fruits (actually berries according to the experts) all ripen at the same time, relatively early in the growing season. Pruning of these plants only reduces the harvest.

The indeterminate plants continue to grow and produce stems, leaves, and fruits throughout the season. These are the plants that need controlling.

Expert grower Frank Ferrandino, writing in Kitchen Gardener Magazine, warned, “Left to its own devices, a vigorous indeterminate tomato plant can easily cover a 4- by 4-foot area with as many as ten stems, each 3 to5 feet long. By season’s end, it will be an unsightly, impenetrable, disease-wracked tangle.”

I am growing three tomato plants this year, all of which are the variety, Super Sweet 100, a popular bite-size tomato. I grew one of these plants last year, watched it produce a bounty of very tasty little tomatoes, and develop into the tangle that Frank F. warned about.

Long after I had cleared the bed, a new spring arrived and several seedlings of Super Sweet 100 appeared. I replanted three of the best, determined to control the plant better.

The goals of pruning a tomato plant are to promote larger fruits (not really an issue for cherry tomatoes), keep the plants tidy, and keep the plants off the ground to minimize the potential for disease. The Super Sweet 100 is a disease-resistant variety, but keeping the plant tidy and off the ground still seems worth the effort.

The basic pruning technique is to remove side shoots, called suckers, that grow in the crotch (axil) between the main stem and the side stems. These suckers can produce fruits, but they tend to develop later than the primary fruit-bearing stems and reduce the plant’s vigor.

Tomato plants grow rather quickly, so the removal of suckers is a weekly task. When the suckers are very young, they can be snapped off without the use of tools.

Despite my nest intentions, my plants were soon well on their way to the predicted tangle. This condition inspired an experiment, which took the form of brutally cutting back branches that were sprawling in all directions and in several instances producing little or no fruit.

Super Sweet 100s (green)

More systematic training surely would have been better, but this approach was really the only option at the time. I expect and hope the plants will shrug off my abandonment of best practices and produce another bountiful harvest of sweet, small fruits.

Those fruits are mostly green, still, but have plenty of time to ripen. I’ll try again next year to prune by the book.

 

Continue reading

Next Year’s Roses

Water your roses during the hot summer to keep them happy and blooming!

A month ago I recommended deadheading re-blooming roses to promote another cycle of blooms. Now, as the end of June approaches is the time to deadhead one-blooming roses, not to extend the season, but to support formation of the greatest number of new buds for the next season.

Roses respond predictably to seasonal attention.

One of my roses that should be deadheaded now is the prolific producer, Rosa mulligani, shown during its recent peak of bloom.

Rosa Mulligani

If my schedule includes deadheading this plant during the next couple weeks, it will provide an even greater cascade of blossoms display next year.

This time of the year is also a good time to contemplate roses in your landscape.

The traditional time for such reflection is late fall and early winter when bare-root roses appear in local garden centers. These are often bleak days for the landscape when avid gardeners hunger for a burst of color in the landscape and respond eagerly to the enticements of dozens of rose photographs.

That’s a good time to add roses to your garden, but not the best time to re-think the role of roses in your landscape.

Many gardens include three or more (perhaps many more!) shrub roses, clustered primarily for ease of maintenance. In other words, there is a rose garden.

The most popular varieties are hybrid tea roses, which cross Rebloomers and tea-scented roses from China, and modern English roses, which cross old roses with hybrid teas. The English roses, notably those by David Austin Roses in western England’s Shropshire County, combine several of the most appealing qualities of roses: hardiness, durability, and fragrance.

The gardener cannot go far wrong by collecting English roses. If you are enjoying your rose garden as it is now, that’s fine.

Still, consider fresh looks at your garden to explore new ideas and your evolving priorities. This approach can inspire creative challenges and new interest in gardening.

Here are a few possibilities.

  • Clustered plants. A popular recommendation is to plant roses in groups of three, to increase visual impact. This approach counters the familiar use of single specimens, which favors variety over garden design.
  • A color-oriented theme. This could be a single color, e.g., white, different shades of a single hue, e.g., pink, or a combination of two or three colors that work well together. A bi-color combination of climbers on a trellis or arch can be striking.
  • Touring rose varieties. Roses have been grown in temperate climates throughout the world for over 5,000 years. A long list of interesting varieties awaits your exploration. Begin an absorbing online research by entering “Wikipedia garden roses.” You could soon be on your way to comparing the common and uncommon varieties in your garden.
  • Combining 0nce-bloomers and re-bloomers. The once-bloomers introduce a different rhythm to the rose season. Some are single-flowered, with just five or seven petals, offering an entirely different look in comparison to the lush varieties with as many as 100 petals. Sometimes, less is more!

We have access to many fascinating varieties within the genus Rosa, even before exploring the ever-expanding universe of hybrids. Your gardening experiences can be enriched by adventuring through the genus.

Seasonal Pruning

The vernal equinox is really more significant for meteorologists than it is for gardeners. Some plants respond to changes in day length, of course, but they don’t perform differently merely because days and nights are equal in duration.

Still, the vernal equinox (March 19, 2016) is a useful marker for the change from winter to spring.

As the world experiences climate change, scientists who study the seasons (phenologists) are generating more interesting reports about bud break, flower opening, insect emergence, animal migrations and other seasonal phenomena.

We are already witnessing changes in our gardens: for example, my lilacs are blooming earlier than they have in previous years. Lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) typically require a significant chill during the winter months, but decades ago, Walter Lammerts, working at a southern California nursery now known as Descano Gardens, developed three low-chill lilac hybrids: ‘Lavender Lady’, ‘California Rose’ and ‘Angel White’ (pictured). Gardeners in the Monterey Bay area and similar climates can grow Descanso hybrid lilacs and enjoy their fragrance.

Lilac 'Angel White'

Lilac ‘Angel White’

At the same time, my salvias are fading noticeably, earlier than I usually see.

These two garden favorites have markedly different pruning requirements. The lilacs bloom on new wood, so they should be pruned soon after the blossoms fade, before new buds form. This work should be done before June.

Another important maintenance issue for lilacs manages their strong desire to spread through underground runners. When allowed to roam for a few years, a healthy lilac will form a thicket. This may be desirable, depending on the shrub’s location within the garden, but containment might be appropriate. Accomplish this by the straightforward approach of excavating and cutting off the runner that has created the unwanted new growth.

By contrast, salvias can be cut back to about six inches above the ground in early spring, as new growth appears at the plant’s base. Such renewal pruning cleans away the old growth and stimulates vigorous new growth on these garden standbys. The right time for this work will occur in about one month. It is OK to prune earlier before the new growth is evident, but the ideal timing will shorten the least decorative period for your salvias.

A friend, busy with other priorities, saw the traditional season for rose pruning come and go this year, and now asks if she should prune her roses late, or let them go until next year.

The general rule for roses is to prune during the winter months, when the plants are dormant. Still, the popular repeat-blooming hybrid tea roses should be cut back as blossoms fade during the summer months. According to David Austin Roses, this approach will stimulate blossoming and support maintenance of a desirable rounded shape for the plant.

If a missed winter pruning has allowed a rose to compromise its overall shape, the gardener’s strategy should include summer pruning, cutting back stems after blooms fade with shaping the plant in mind, as well as encouraging new growth.

Pruning can be a challenging task for the gardener because of differences in best practices for individual genera. A good pruning book can help to reduce uncertainty, put the gardener in control and make the process easier and ultimately creative.

Enjoy your garden and keep your pruning shears clean and sharp.

Send pruning questions to Tom Karwin

 

Dormant Season Projects

The dormant season does not have an official beginning to mark on a calendar, but depends on a combination of factors, beginning with the individual plant’s biological clock, with which the plant responds to day-lengths.

Another important environmental factor is temperature: lower temperatures trigger dormancy, and higher temperatures can stimulate growth. Climate change has modified the annual cycles and geographic distribution of many plants, and will continue such changes. Phenology is the study of periodic plant and animal life cycle events

Rather than delving into the science of dormancy, let’s consider seasonal projects for the gardener. There are many priorities to schedule over the next few months.

Pruning

As the leaves fall, and the “bones” of your trees and shrubs are exposed, look for ways to improve them through pruning. In general, use sharp tools, begin by removing branches that are broken or diseased, and don’t remove more than one-third of the canopy in one year. As is often true in gardening, there are exceptions: for some shrubs, severe or renewal pruning is appropriate. Extensive pruning of roses, for example, stimulates new growth and abundant blossoms. Several other multi-branched shrubs, e.g., salvias, can be cut to their primary structure or to near the ground before spring growth emerges.

Many gardeners are hesitant about pruning, concerned that they could hurt their plants. Pruning can be done badly so a little time with a pruning book would be instructive. The positive perspective is that pruning improves a plant’s form and stimulates new growth.

pruning fig 1

Pruning during the dormant season

The photo is from the University of California publication, Pruning Small Trees and Shrubs, which is available free online.

A good approach includes observing pruning’s effects during the early spring.

Other Projects

  • Walk through the garden with a critical eye, to spot opportunities for improvement.
  • Transplant or give away plants that have grown too large, or not working in the landscape.
  • Install new plants now, to let the rains irrigate them as they establish roots.
  • Add mulch to cover any bare ground between plants.
  • Plant a cover crop in any fallow planting area.
  • Force a bulbous plant to bloom indoors. Paperwhites (Narcissus papyraceus) are popular, but are so strongly fragrant that restraint can be prudent, i.e., don’t grow a lot.
  • Sharpen your garden tools, or have them sharpened professionally.

Mark your Calendar for the New Year

January 8, 9 & 10 — The 42nd Annual Santa Cruz Fungus Fair, at Loudon Nelson Community Center, Santa Cruz

January 10 — Annual Scion Exchange, Monterey Bay Chapter, California Rare Fruit Growers, at Cabrillo College, Aptos

Late News: Broom versus Leaf Blower Challenge!

The broom versus leaf blower challenge between Ken Foster (on the broom) and Brent Adams (on the leaf blower) will take place Friday December 11th at high noon next to the Westside New Leaf Community Market, at the corner of Fair Avenue and Ingalls Street in Santa Cruz.

Gasoline-powered leaf blowers pollute our environment, disturb our peace, and change our climate. They might be justified for their seeming efficiency, but that too has been questioned. The Broom versus Leaf Blower Challenge, designed as a fair completion, is worth witnessing (sorry about the late announcement). I’ll report the results in next week’s column.

Interactive Gardening

Our interactions with other persons or things can be among our most absorbing, challenging, satisfying—and occasionally most frustrating—activities. Examples include raising a child, working with colleagues, living with a spouse, cooking, and, yes, gardening.

Early uses of the term, “interaction,” dating from 1832, emphasize reciprocal action, i.e., the action or influence of persons or things on each other.

In this digital age, “interaction” often refers to the responses of computer software to a human operator’s inputs, e.g., keyboard entries, voice commands, or other forms of messaging. True human–computer interactions include the human’s responses to the computer’s output.

In this column, we are focused on gardening.

Interactive gardening means a gardener’s actions on a plant, the plant’s responses to those actions, and the influence of the plant’s responses on the gardener’s future actions.

Some gardener’s believe they can influence plant growth by talking to, or playing music to, the plant, but plant scientists tell us that while plants are very sensitive to their environment, they are unaware of their gardeners or sounds.

For a scientist’s analysis of the ways in which plants experience the world, read What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses, by Daniel Chamovitz (Scientific American, 2012). The author reviews the research into what plants see, smell, feel, hear and remember, and how they know where they are.

Chamovitz shows that plants are aware—in highly evolved and surprising ways—of “external pressures that increase or decrease a plant’s chances for survival and reproductive success.”

For this reason, interactive gardening involves the gardener managing the plant’s environment, the plant responding to the environmental conditions, and the gardener noting the plant’s response and modifying his or her actions to achieve an intended response by the plant.

The gardener can affect all aspects of the plant’s environment, including the amount of light, heat, wind and moisture; the structure of the soil; the availability of natural or synthetic nutrients; and the presence of pests and diseases. Planting a seed involves modifying its environment.

The gardener also can interact directly with a plant, but only by touching or cutting the plant by pruning, dividing or transplanting.

For example, the Sensitive Plant (Mimosa pudica) responds to even a light touch by causing its leaves to fold or droop. This unusual response could be a defense against herbivores or insects that might be startled by the plant’s sudden movement.

As an aside, landscaping and flower arranging do not qualify as interactive gardening because the landscaper or arranger seeks to encourage responses from other humans, not from the plants.

When we consider gardening as an interaction between the gardener and the plant, we realize that the gardener’s success grows with his or her understanding of the plant’s responses to environmental conditions.

This encompasses simple responses, e.g., drooping from lack of moisture, less obvious responses, e.g., slow growth from lack of soil nutrients, and more complex responses, e.g., failure to set fruit from lack of seasonal chill.

Mastering the responses of plants to numerous environmental variables, and differences between plants from various native habitats, can be a lifelong study. Still, every gardener doesn’t need to study all plant’s cultivation preferences, or complete advanced studies of plant science. The gardener who wants to succeed and enjoy the experience should, however, learn about the needs of each plant in his or her garden.

Pruning Salvias Hard

We want our gardens to look good, pleasing to eye, whenever possible, but occasions arise when our gardens need tough love.

Right now, in late winter, is one such occasion, particularly for salvias.

Salvias, also called sage, are excellent garden plants in a large and varied family. There are almost 1,000 species of salvias, almost all of which are native to one of three distinct regions: Central and South America, Central Asia and the Mediterranean Basin, and Eastern Asia. A few species are native to the United States.

Salvias are popular garden plants because the genus includes many forms, sizes and blossom colors to choose from, the plants are easy to grow, with few problems with pests and diseases, and drought tolerant. Many salvia blossoms are various shades of red. Here is an example the relatively uncommon Forsythia Sage (Salvia madrensis), native to Sierra Madre Oriental in Mexico, with yellow blossoms.

Salvia madrensis

Click to Enlarge

Salvias do require pruning, which is done best on an annual schedule. If your garden includes a lot of salvias, as does my garden, it is easy to skip a pruning session or two. As often happens, procrastination only postpones the task and does not eliminate the need.

When salvias are not maintained with regular pruning, they grow rangy and produce fewer blossoms. It is worth the effort regular pruning to control the size and shape of the plant, and stimulate blossoming.

There are two broad categories of salvias: perennial woody plants and deciduous soft-stem plants. Popular species in the woody group include Culinary or Purple Sage (S. officinalis), Autumn Sage (S. greggii), Germander Sage (S. chamaedryoides), Texas Sage (S. coccinea), and Baby Sage (S. microphylla). The best times to prune woody salvias, it is said, are lightly after the blooms fade (late spring or early fall, usually), and more heavily just as new growth appears at the base of the plant (late winter or early spring).

Popular plants in the category of soft-stem plants include Mexican Bush Sage (S. leucantha), Pineapple Sage (S. elegans), Brazilian Sage (S. guaranitica), Waverly Sage (S. waverly), and Gentian Sage (S. patens). These plants, which bloom on new growth, should be cut “to the ground” after the flowers have faded, or as new growth appears in the early spring.

When salvias have grown for two or three years without regular pruning, as just might have happened in my own garden, right now is time for rejuvenation pruning, also called catch-up time.

According to some advisors, pruning salvias involves careful planning and time-consuming snipping of individual stems, but when managing forty or fifty overgrown plants, the most practical tool is an electric trimmer, wielded with tough love.

We also shovel-pruned plants that had sprawled to form a large clump, moved larger plants that were encroaching into the pathway, and repositioned several low-growing, blue-flowered Germander Sages to form a border for this large collection of salvias.

Time will tell, but I expect that these plants will recover quickly from this hard pruning, , and respond with a fine new season of growth and blossoming. They are already producing new shoots.

Salvia corrugata, hard-pruned

Salvia corrugata, hard-pruned

If you are managing only a few salvias, you could prune individual stems and produce a more attractive result, but your plants are also likely to respond with a new season of growth and a profusion of flowers. Try a little tough love!

Learning More About Salvias

B. Clebsch. The New Book of Salvias: Sages for Every Garden. Timber Press, 2003.

J. Sutton. The Gardener’s Guide to Growing Salvias. Timber Press, 2004.

Basic Introduction to the Genus, on Wikipedia

Species of the Genus Salvia, from The Plant Encyclopedia

Cabrillo College’s Salvia Chart

Tree Pruning Season

Today, we are about one-third of the way through winter, and well into dormant period, which is the right time for winter pruning of trees.

Gardeners need always to be conscious of the change of seasons, because it affects the growth cycles of our plants. Let’s review.

Winter begins on the shortest day of the year, called the winter solstice. In 2014, that day was December 21st.

The days gradually grow longer until day and night lengths are equal, marking the first day of spring. That phenomenon, called the Vernal Equinox, will occur next in about ninety days, on March 15.

The cycle then continues for ninety days. The days grow longer and the nights grow shorter until we have the longest day of the year, the Summer Solstice, which marks the beginning of summer.

Ninety days later, the day and night lengths again become equal and we will have the Autumnal Equinox, marking the first day of fall.

It is comforting in this troubled world that something of importance occurs on a predictable schedule.

So, this is the time for gardeners for winter pruning of trees.

Atlas Cedar After Storm

Atlas Cedar After a Wind Storm

Tree pruning involve practices that may be unfamiliar to some gardeners, and encourage them to avoid the work. The reality is that pruning is really not difficult, but complicated enough to that books have been written on the subject The complexities arise when considering the growth patterns of different trees, and the stylistic preferences of pruning specialists.

Without getting into all the in and outs and ups and downs of tree pruning, consider the basics. First, winter pruning, which is done during dormancy, stimulates growth in the desired directions. Summer pruning, by contrast, which is done after spring growth is done, directs or slows growth.

A third category, corrective pruning, could be done at any time, and should be done before seasonal pruning. The Four D’s of Pruning guide the removal of the following branches:

Dead – If a branch looks dead, scratch the bark to look for a green layer. If it’s green, it’s still living. It it’s not green, remove it.

Diseased –A sick branch can have various symptoms, depending the disease or insect infestation. Between cuts, clean clippers with 10% bleach water.

Damaged – Remove branches wounded or broken by storms or any other cause. They are unattractive and can foster diseases and insects.

Deranged (the root meaning is “moved from orderly rows”) – Remove suckers, water sprouts, and branches which cross or rub other branches, or point in the wrong direction.

A busy gardener might be tempted to skip this seasonal maintenance task, but trees, like everything else in the garden, grow better and look better when they are cared for regularly. Skipping seasonal pruning simply postpones the task, but doesn’t eliminate the need. Meanwhile, the tree doesn’t look its best.

Reach for your clippers!