Mild Days & Mid-Winter Pruning

February 19th, 2012 § Comments Off on Mild Days & Mid-Winter Pruning § permalink

Although the Ice and Snow are Beautiful, Winter Damage Must be Cleaned Up Every Year & Now is the Best Time to Tackle Major Structural Tasks (Above: Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’) …

Although the old “prune in June” rule applies to certain woody plants in some situations —-those that blossom in early spring, such as lilacs (click here for how/when to prune lilacs) or the removal of suckers from the base of tree trunks, for example— and of course broken branches can and should always be removed whenever they are noticed, major structural pruning of deciduous trees and shrubs is best tackled during winter dormancy. I love winter pruning tasks, and find that warm, sunny days in late February, March and even early April (depending upon your climate, of course) are perfect for shaking off cabin fever and getting back in the garden! But, before you start cutting, take the time to clean and sharpen your tools, and take a long walk around the garden; examining the skeletal form of your plants while keeping an eye out for winter damage caused by heavy snow-loads, ice and wind. See any cracked branches or snapped limbs on your ornamental trees and shrubs? Any damaged trees or large shrubs located near power lines should be dealt with by a professional landscape contractor or arborist. But small pruning tasks —especially those within easy reach— can be handled by most gardeners at this time of the year.

Red Twig Dogwood Adds a Beautiful Glow to the Winter Landscape. I Thin 1/3 of the Stems Each Year —Cutting Each Shoot All the Way Back to the Ground— in Late Winter or Early Spring to Encourage New Growth with the Beautiful Bright-Red Bark! (Of course, always wait ’til the ice melts before pruning branches and limbs).

Much as I love sculpting trees and shrubs to achieve their finest form for my clients, I get even more excited by the opportunity to teach other gardeners how to correctly prune the woody plants in their home landscapes, all by themselves! And as intimidating as it may seem, there’s nothing complicated about the process of pruning. A good book (such as this favorite by Lee Reich), a sharp pair of bypass pruners, and a broken branch or forgiving/neglected old shrub are all you really need to get started. For an introduction to pruning basics, travel back to a post from 2009 by clicking here.

Crushed Witch Alder (Fothergilla major): What a Mess! Click Here for Tips on How to Prune Out Winter-Damaged Branches

Below are three basic pruning cuts to practice. Remember, always clean and sharpen blades between specimens. For more specific tips, begin by revisiting my previous introductory article, and the cut-specific posts linked below!

Removing a Broken or Damaged Limb: Learn how to correctly make this cut with a Grecian Saw: click back to a detailed, tutorial post by here.

Learn how to properly prune plants with opposite budding patterns, like this Hydrangea, by clicking back to my tutorial post on the subject here.

Shrubs and trees with alternate budding and branching patterns require a slightly angled cut, sloping away from the bud. Learn more about how to prune alternate branches in my previous post here.

Post-pruning clean-up time. All pruning tools are cleaned with rubbing alcohol, sharpened with a whetstone, and oiled before returning to the garden room for storage

Felco 8 bypass pruners are the perfect tool for tending to the small branches of ornamental trees and shrubs as well as fruit-bearing woody-specimens in your landscape. Click here for more pruning tool suggestions.

Lee Reich: The Pruning Book – I Consider This Book an All-Time, Garden-Maintenance Classic!

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photos, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions) are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Un-Flower Pots: Designing & Caring for Spectacular Succulent Container Gardens

May 9th, 2011 § 12 comments § permalink

Beautiful Container Gardens are all about Color, Form and Texture. Great Designers Work with both Contrasts and Harmonies to Create Stunning Results. Hanging basket available at Walker Farm.

Saturday morning I spent the better part of an hour and a half listening to enthusiastic oohs and ahhs at Walker Farm’s Succulent Container Gardening & Hanging Basket Design seminar. I had so much fun watching Karen Manix demonstrate how to create a container garden of succulents and listening to Daisy Unsicker talk about how to care for these gorgeous plants, that I just had to share a bit of my experience with all of you here today…

Pretty, dark-violet hued Aeonium arboreum and orange-tipped, chartreuse leaved Sedum nussbaumerianum (opposites in the spectrum of colors) make a stunning color combination

Last week I mentioned how much I’ve come to love succulent container gardening. My new-found obsession started innocently enough a few years ago, while expanding my indoor gardening pursuits during the cold winter months. Because I am so busy with gardening during the growing season, I’ve traditionally kept houseplants to a minimum; with only windowsill herbs, and a few tough ferns to satisfy my horticultural-urges from December through March. Then, after creating a Secret Garden Room, and experiencing much joy and success with my expanded indoor garden pursuits —and a passion for epiphytes and terrariums— I began to develop an interest in succulents…

Click on the photo above to read a previous post on indoor gardening with succulents

I’ve been teaching myself about cold-climate container gardening with succulents as I go along. And much to my delight, this expanding indoor-outdoor collection of tropic, sub-tropic and desert region plants has thrived and grown, thanks to a lot of research and a little help from my friends. I’ve discovered that succulents are remarkably easy, undemanding plants to grow —even for cold-climate gardeners— both indoors and out. But like all living things, succulents and cacti do have specific requirements and preferences all their own. Getting the container, potting mix and combinations right are the first step toward success with succulents. By learning about each plant, and continuing to provide these beauties with what they need —and never more— a gardener can achieve long term success and satisfaction from their investment.

And here are two of the plants pictured from the previous photo, now transferred to a larger pot which I’ve moved outdoors

Lucky gardeners in attendance at Walker Farm’s free seminar last Saturday got a real head-start on the subject by learning how to care for succulent containers from real pros! I’ve mentioned before that local Walker Farm is a world-class horticultural destination for rare plant connoisseurs throughout New England, New York and even further afield. Beyond the fact that their plants are unusual, healthy and beautiful, we hortimaniacs love Walker Farm because their staff is incredibly friendly, unpretentious and truly knowledgable about what they sell. The owners and staff at Walker Farm have a real passion and enthusiasm for what they do and generously share their experience without a trace of the dread ‘high brow’ attitude that so often tuns new gardeners away from horticulture. The excitement and creativity at Walker Farm is downright contagious, and it’s one of the many reasons why their loyal fans keep coming back for more.

Karen Manix began the talk by covering the basic principles of container garden design, with succulents in mind. Quickly covering the five most important aspects of composition —scale and proportion (finding correct sizes and structure for the container), balance (creating a sense of unity and point of view), contrast (using different colors, textures and forms to create interest), rhythm and flow (repeating color, form and texture plays) and fullness (giving a sense of lushness to satisfy the senses)— Karen immediately jumped into a wonderful demonstration from a dynamic display of containers and plants…

Karen Manix, owner of Walker Farm, demonstrates the basics of container garden design, using a variety of succulents in different sizes, shapes, textures and colors. Isn’t that clam-shell container gorgeous? Perfect for topping an outdoor living room table…

Succulent Container Design in Action. Isn’t this a beautiful pot?

While filling a gorgeous, clam-shell inspired planter with growing medium, Karen discussed the importance of proper planting mix for succulents. Because these fleshy, shallow-rooted plants need to dry out between waterings, it’s important to choose a light-weight, fast-draining container medium; such as cactus mix or a home-made equivalent. Regular potting soil is too dense and holds too much moisture to keep succulents and cacti happy. As a general rule, planting medium for succulents must contain 1/3 to 1/2 pumice or coarse sand —such as builders sand or poultry grit— for proper drainage. Some succulents prefer slightly more porous planting medium than others. Always read up on the plants you are growing and know their soil preferences prior to placing them in pots. Before you begin designing your succulent container, Karen recommends filling the pot 3/4 full of growing medium, and adding a small amount of time-release fertilizer (which you can mail order or pick up at most garden centers).

Just a few of the beautifully tempting terra cotta pots available at Walker Farm

And speaking of pots, getting settled in the right home, with a location you love,  is just as important for your plants as it is for you! Although terra cotta is the best choice for succulents and cacti, due to its porous nature, it’s equally important to choose a pot that suits your plant’s style, and satisfies your eye. Try playing the colors and textures of your chosen pot against the colors and textures of foliage, as well as your overall design and composition. Check to be sure that your chosen pot has a good drainage hole (although pots without holes can be modified with a base of pumice, but this is more advanced). Karen mentioned covering the drainage hole in pots with screening, rocks or broken pottery. Although this isn’t always necessary to prevent soil-loss, it can definitely come in handy when you are moving pots in and out of your home, or when you are dealing with large sized drainage holes.

This spiky, ice-blue Senecio serpens would be nice in combination with a terra cotta pot or another plant with peachy toned foliage or flowers. Red-orange and green-blue are opposite on the color wheel, and they make beautiful music together…

Once you have your container and growing medium ready, feel free to play around with individual plants while they are still in their nursery containers, until you find a combination you like. Perhaps you might combine a dramatic upright specimen with a mound shaped plant and a couple of trailers in colors chosen to contrast with your pot. Like a dusky-purple echeveria? Look for a chartreuse colored species to settle in next to it, and make that violet color sing. New to container design? Don’t be afraid to look at photos for ideas or imitate other gardeners until you get the hang of it. The process should be fun and relaxing. And remember, you can always move the plants around and try again if you aren’t quite happy.

Choose pots to bring out the best in your plants. Walker Farm has incredible selection in their potting shed, but if you live far from here, you can find some real beauties online in Etsy shops; such as those made by Vermont artist Virginia Wyoming (click here to visit her lovely shop). And there are plenty of gorgeous containers melting my heart at Terrain as well.

Satisfied with your arrangement? Karen advised us to tuck in all the plants; gently adding potting mix to fill in gaps, and bring soil level approximately 1″ below the container rim. Top dress the container with a decorative mulch to help keep soil stable during watering and conserve moisture. Some designers like to use glass pebbles or marbles, others prefer to use colored gravel or natural stone. Whatever you choose, when you are finished, brush growing medium away from leaves and gently water, rinsing dust and soil from the foliage as you go.

At this point in the seminar, focus shifted to long-term care of succulent containers. Both Karen and Daisy (pictured below) emphasized that over and under watering —particularly in tandem— are a recipe for plant woes. Keeping soil moist —but no wetter than a wrung-out sponge— and allowing the planting medium to dry out a bit between waterings is key to success. Keep in mind that these conditions mimic the natural environment of these semi-tropical and desert region plants. The foliage of plants like succulents and cacti has evolved to hold moisture, in much the same way as a camel stores its water in humps to provide hydration between stops at the oasis!

Daisy, head propagator at Walker Farm, discusses the maintenance and care of succulents and container gardens…

Daisy covered all of the keys to success with container garden maintenance. In addition to balanced watering and regular fertilizing —probably the two most important chores in gardening— one of the major points Daisy covered in her thorough over-view was container size as relative to plant size. It’s always important to educate yourself about the plants you are working with. How big is that cute little button going to get in a year? How long will that enchanting vine trail… Will it visit you in your bed at night? With scissors in hand and orders to clip away at plants for fullness and to promote flowering, Daisy declared: “You control your plant, your plant doesn’t control you”. Now there’s some advice worth taking! Potted plants looking scraggly or leggy? Then it’s time for a haircut. Prune and pinch plants frequently, she advised, to keep them looking great and in proportion with the container. There’s no reason to struggle with an unmanageable plant.

Keep hanging plants attractive and manageable with regular pruning. Manage growth in confined containers, such as wreaths or baskets, by limiting fertilizer.

Of course, Daisy emphasized the importance of knowing both yourself, your location, and the plants you choose. Are you away from home a great deal? Lower maintenance, drought-tolerant succulent species are the best choice for your containers! Sunny spot with six or more hours of direct sunlight? Choose plants that can tolerate such hot, dry conditions. Cacti and many succulents from the American desert regions are a good choice for full sun. Partially sunny location? Most container plants thrive in this situation; including many succulents from the tropics and subtropics. Shade? The vast majority of succulents do not like full shade, and with a few exceptions —such as sansevierias— plants other than succulents will be a better choice for containers in shady situations.

Aphids are sometimes a problem for succulents, particularly when they are brought inside to overwinter. A lack of natural predators allows outside pests to grow un-checked when carried indoors. Here, they cluster and feed on a Kalanchoe in my studio. Click on photo for details on how to deal with succulent garden pests….

Pests aren’t usually a big problem for succulent container plants outdoors, but aphids, scale and mealy bugs can occasionally trouble some plants; particularly during and just after over wintering. Daisy, Karen and I all strongly advise using organic methods to deal with pest problems, and always try the least aggressive method first. During summer, try removing aphids by spraying plants with a strong blast of water from a hose. Often this will knock back pests long enough for natural predators —like ladybug larvae— to take on the battle. For particularly troublesome container pests —like mealy bugs or spider mites— or serious infestations, try insecticidal soap with neem oil or hot pepper in the mix. See my previous post (click here) for more ideas.

The Jewel Box Garden – Thomas Hobbs

Looking for more design ideas and care tips for succulent containers? We’re all big fans of Thomas Hobbs’ gorgeous books. I especially love his colorful Jewel Box Garden (pictured above). And of course, as I recently mentioned, Debra Lee Baldwin’s Succulent Container Gardens is a wonderful resource for the creative container gardener. Walker Farm’s seminars and the regular support of their friendly staff are a great resource for local gardeners here in southern Vermont. I’ll be reporting more from their wonderful gardening seminars in the coming weeks. And if you live in the area, I encourage you to take advantage of these fun and free events for gardeners of all ages and stages…

Succulent Container Gardens – Debra Lee Baldwin

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Gardening Seminars at Walker Farm are Free and Open to the Public. The Gardener’s Eden received no compensation, of any kind, for editorial mention of businesses or products in this post.

Article and all photographs are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent.

Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links here (including Amazon.com book links and Terrain Garden & Home). A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Pruning Ornamental Trees & Shrubs: Free Saturday Gardening Seminar Sponsored by Walker Farm in Vermont

April 12th, 2011 § Comments Off on Pruning Ornamental Trees & Shrubs: Free Saturday Gardening Seminar Sponsored by Walker Farm in Vermont § permalink

Lilacs are best pruned immediately after their flowers fade (or, if you like them as fresh cut blossoms, prune and decorate your house with bouquets at the same time). Learn more about how to prune lilacs in this post, and if your looking to improve your pruning skills…

I’m presenting a free gardening seminar, “Pruning Ornamental Trees & Shrubs”, sponsored by Walker Farm, this Saturday, April 16th at 10 am. The event will take place at beautiful Walker Farm, Rt. 5, Dummerston, Vermont.

There is no charge for these weekend seminars. Classes are limited to 30, and advance reservations are requested. Contact Walker Farm to save your seat by calling 802-254-2051 or emailing: walkerfarmvt (at) gmail (dot) com.

Walker Farm is offering a great selection of free weekend gardening seminars this spring. Check out the listing on their website, there’s something for everyone!

Walker Farm is a wonderful destination for gardeners (they offer farm grown organic vegetable starts, unusual annuals, and rare perennials as well as a beautifully curated collection of conifers, trees, shrubs and vines). If you are gardening in Southern Vermont, New Hampshire or Western Massachusetts, Walker Farm is an easy car ride. I hope to see you there!

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Spring Clean-Up Part One: Pruning Damaged Limbs in Tight Spaces Using The Handy, Folding ‘Grecian’ Saw, Plus… A Special Giveaway!

April 9th, 2011 § 15 comments § permalink

A young Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ in my garden. This photo was taken last spring during a passing shower, just as the beautifully vibrant red leaves began to unfold

I love all trees, but I have to admit that in particular, I am a very, very fond of Japanese maples. And in spite of the fact that they can be difficult to grow in cold climates, every year I add a new, hardy specimen to my garden. The first Japanese maple I planted when I bought my land ten years ago was Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’. A lovely tree with dark, oxblood colored leaves and fine structural form, ‘Bloodgood’ is a commonly grown Japanee maple cultivar in the northeast; mainly due to its hardiness. But in spite of this tree’s tolerance for cold, one of the biggest challenges to growing Japanese maples in the northern climates —breakage due to heavy snow and ice accumulation— remains a problem with this and many other ornamental trees with complex branch angles and patterns. Preliminary pruning and training helps to set up a strong framework for ornamental trees —to withstand winter’s weighty precipitation— but some breakage is inevitable during ice storms with heavy accumulation.

Perhaps you’ll recall this image, of the Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ in my garden, taken during the last of many ice storms in late winter of this year. Fortunately, only one branch cracked beneath the weight of the ice, and it was one I’d considered removing late last summer anyway.

When damage does occur on a Japanese maple, and on many other trees, one of the toughest maintenance tasks is pruning out broken limbs without damaging the bark and healthy wood on the nearby trunk and branches. Making cuts in tight spaces (like the one pictured below) can be difficult unless you have the right tool on hand. Hand-held bypass pruners (like those shown in the last post) are fine for branches and limbs up to 1/2″  in diameter. But when the limb is thicker, it’s best to switch to a pruning saw. When I need to cut a moderately sized limb —several inches thick— particularly  in tight and awkward spaces, I reach for my handy folding saw. Sometimes this pruning tool is referred to as a Grecian or Japanese-blade pruning saw. This type of saw has teeth —arranged in an arc on the inside of a blade— and folds up neatly into a compact size (see photos below). Designed to cut on the pull-stroke, these saws makes quick, clean work of tree limb removal.

This limb is too large to cut with bypass pruners, and the angle is too tight for my bow saw. So, the tool of choice?

The handy folding saw! This type of saw is sometimes called a ‘Grecian’ saw, or a ‘Japanese blade’ pruning saw.

Here’s what it looks like fully extended. When I’m finished using it, I can just close it up an put it in my back pocket (no worries about stabbing myself!)

Sometimes —when a branch is split or badly mangled by a storm, weak or crossing and rubbing a near-by branch—  it’s necessary to completely remove the tree limb. Knowing how to properly make this type of pruning cut is very important to the long term health of trees in your garden. Cut too far from the trunk and you are left with an ugly stub, which invites disease and further breakage. Cut too close to the main trunk, damaging the branch collar, and you risk exposing the entire tree to disease and opportunistic parasites. But, fear not. This cut isn’t difficult to make when you take your time, follow a patient process and use the right tool. To remove the damaged limb on my Japanese maple, first, I made a preliminary cut on the branch, removing the weight and leaving a long stub. Next, I undercut the remaining limb with a short 1/4″ deep cut. This will prevent cracking and tearing of the limb when I make my final cut from the top. Carefully observe where the ridge meets with the main trunk, and look for the wrinkly collar’s edge. Just beyond this spot is where the limb should be cleanly and neatly cut. Find your line and cleanly cut through as shown. Any ragged edges should be cleaned up with a sharp pruning knife. Soon the open area on the Japanese maple trunk will grey up, callus over and blend right in with the rest of the tree. At this time of year in cold climates, a Japanese maple (And other maple trees, and sap running species like birch) will weep when cut. This will not harm the tree. This wounded tree was weeping sap from the jagged break anyway. However, I do try to limit my cuts on trees with actively running sap at this time of year. I only remove what I absolutely need to, in order to prevent disease and speed up the ‘healing’ process.

When removing a long limb, particularly a heavy one, I begin by taking off some of the weight and making room to work with an initial cut farther out on the branch. Reducing the weight also decreases the likelihood of tears in my final cut near the branch collar.

Next, I make an undercut on the branch. This cut will be approximately 1/4 through the branch. This is another insurance cut; preventing a crack in the wood or tear in the bark when I remove the stub branch from the top.

This photo is little bigger, because I want you to really see the wrinkly edge of the branch collar. Do you see the ridge just to the left of the blade, where where the main trunk meets the limb and the wrinkly ‘collar’ just past that? Well, it’s important to get nice and close to that wrinkly collar with a clean, flush cut. But, it’s equally important NOT to saw into the branch collar. The cleaner and straighter the cut, the faster and easier it will be for the cells to quickly cover the open wound and for the callus to protect the tree from insects and disease.

Cut clean and close, this wood will quickly callus over and soon blend in with the surrounding trunk. Sometimes, a limb will break right at that collar margin. If the tree injury is located in this area, carefully cut as straight a line as possible, and clean up any ragged edges of wood with a pruning knife. The more even the wood, the less area will need to be covered by new cells, and the faster the tree will callus.

Felco’s Folding Saw is the right tool for pruning branches and limbs up to 3″ in diameter, particularly in tight places. You can order one from Amazon.com by clicking on the image or text link here. Or….

In honor of this blog’s second anniversary this month, I will be giving away several gifts at random, starting with a pruning saw, like the one pictured above. For your chance to win this handy tool, simply comment on this blog post before 12:00 pm, noon Eastern Time, April 11, 2011. Be sure to leave your email address (will not be visible here, nor will it be shared or sold) so that I can contact you if you win. And, one last thing… Let me know what your favorite thing is about this blog, and what you’d like to see more of this year! I’d love your feedback. Thank you for following The Gardener’s Eden ! xo Michaela

The winner will be chosen at random from comments received prior to noon ET 4/11/2011. One entry per household, per giveaway please. Drawing will take place and winners will be announced here, on Facebook and Twitter, on Tuesday, 4/12/2011. Saw will be shipped to the winning reader at the end of the month. Due to shipping constraints, this giveaway is open to US and Canadian readers of The Gardener’s Eden only. All taxes, tariffs, duties or fees not directly associated with shipping and handling will be the responsibility of the winner.Good luck!

The Winner of the Folding Pruning Saw is: Michelle Kraetschmer! Congratulations, Michelle.

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Article and photographs are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent. Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links here. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Spring Clean-Up, Part One: Pruning Winter-Damaged Branches Continues With a Tutorial on Cutting to Alternate & Opposite Buds…

April 7th, 2011 § Comments Off on Spring Clean-Up, Part One: Pruning Winter-Damaged Branches Continues With a Tutorial on Cutting to Alternate & Opposite Buds… § permalink

Spring Clean Up Begins in My Garden with the Removal of Winter-Damaged Branches and Limbs on Woody Plants

I’ve been tending other people’s gardens for more than a decade, and although I am officially eliminating maintenance from my professional services this year —making more time for design work, teaching and writing— that doesn’t mean I won’t be doing physical work in gardens. Quite the contrary. I love gardening, particularly garden maintenance. The physical part of gardening is exactly what attracted me to horticulture in the first place. Gardening —digging, planting, raking, weeding, pruning, etc— is great fun for me! But as with most things, people tend to enjoy tasks that they are good at doing. So, my new goal is to help other gardeners gain more confidence, and have more fun with maintenance, by sharing some of what I’ve learned in my years of experience as a professional gardener.

Pruning is one of those tasks that tends to intimidate both new and experienced gardeners, and even some seasoned pros. With all of the dos and don’t associated with pruning, it’s easy for me to understand why gardeners avoid this chore. Knowing when and how to prune the trees and shrubs in your garden can be confusing. So, I’m going to start this spring’s tutorial sessions with the absolute basics. In my previous post, I mentioned the importance of using clean, sharp tools when pruning. This point can not be over-stated, so if you haven’t read the first post, stop here and go back to review pruning tools and how to care for them.

For our first lesson, lets start with the most important pruning a gardener can do: cutting to clean up damaged and diseased wood. This type of pruning can and should take place whenever you notice it. However, at this time of year —late winter and early spring— damage tends to be most evident. Removing damaged wood trumps concerns about when a shrub or tree flowers (we will get to the issue of old and new wood, and timing cuts for flowers and fruit a bit later in this series). When cleaning up broken branches, the key is to make your cut with very sharp pruners, just above a healthy strong bud, or set of buds, aiming in the direction that you want to train the new growth. There are two main types of buds on branches: opposite and alternate. Opposite buds are, exactly as the word sounds, opposite from one another on the branch or stem (see photo below). When you need to cut branches with opposite buds, make your cut as close as possible to a healthy set of buds —without bumping or grazing the tender nibs— cleanly cutting straight across the healthy wood. Never leave a long stub, as this wood will die-back; decaying, rotting and inviting disease. If you cut clean and close to a new set of buds, they will quickly develop strong, healthy new shoots in both directions. If you only want growth in an outward-facing direction —to open up a shrub for example— then gently rub off the inward-facing bud with your finger. Here’s how a simple cut is made on opposite-facing buds…

Cutting to a pair of opposite buds on Hydrangea paniculata. The cut is made as close as possible —leading with the sharpest part of your blade closest to the bud— without touching and damaging the buds themselves. I like to use the line on the thick blade (backside of the pruners) as a spacing guide when making this kind of cut.

After the cut, only a small amount of wood remains above the two untouched buds. The two buds will develop into healthy shoots.

Alternate buds look like rungs on a pole ladder. They alternate from side to side, instead of opposite one another (see photo below). If the branch of a shrub or tree with an alternate bud pattern has been damaged, it should be cut back to an outward-facing bud on solid, healthy wood. With alternate buds, it’s also important to make the cut as close to —but not touching— the bud itself. With this type of growth pattern, gently slope the cut away from the bud, so that water will drain away from the developing shoot (aim for a 20-25° angle).

Alternate buds on Buddleja alternifolia argentea (Fountain Butterfly Bush). Unlike B. davidii, which flowers on new wood, B. alternifolia blossoms on old wood. In spring, I remove damaged wood only, carefully cutting to a healthy bud. After flowering, I will prune this shrub for shape (it can be trained to a standard, or allowed to follow its natural ‘fountain’ form).

Position the sharp part of the blade near the bud —but not touching— and make the cut, sloping gently away from the bud. This will help water shed away from the new shoot, preventing rot. Never leave a stub longer than 1/4″, as it will die back, and invite disease. Again, with this type of cut, I use the line on the thick part of the blade as my guide. By holding the pruners with the thin blade nearest the bud, I can watch the distance and avoid cutting too close.

The way this branch is cut will direct growth outward, away from the shrub. The gentle slope —starting just above the top of the bud— allows for water to shed away from the new shoot, preventing rot. Again, never allow a long stub to remain above the bud, but take care not to injure the delicate new growth when you make your cut. With practice, this will become easier.

When I teach pruning, I always encourage gardeners to build confidence by practicing cuts on undesirable scrub, broken branches or discarded limbs on a brush pile. This way, if your cuts are less-than-acceptable, you can keep cutting until you get it right, without worrying about mutilating your precious garden plants! Look for alternate and opposite bud patterns to practice your cutting skills. Once you feel confident in your ability to make steady cuts, begin working on the broken branches of ornamental shrubs in your garden. Roses and hydrangea are frequently damaged and suffer die-back in winter. Learning these basic cuts will help you to maintain attractive and healthy woody plants.

Stay tuned for more pruning tutorials. Next, we will tackle small tree limbs with a Grecian (folding) saw, and learn about the join between tree trunks, branch-collars and tree limbs! And if you happen to be gardening in New England, and would like to attend my April 16th pruning seminar —a free event sponsored by Walker Farm in Dummerston, Vermont— please visit Walker Farm’s website for details, and reserve your seat now… Space is limited!

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Article and photographs are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent. Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links here. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Spring Clean-Up, Part One: Pruning Winter-Damaged Branches…

April 5th, 2011 § 4 comments § permalink

Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ blooms early in the season. These flower buds were formed on old wood, last year. In general this shrub is only lightly pruned for shape, right after it has finished blooming. Damaged wood can and should be pruned anytime, as soon as it is observed.

After a long, tough winter, it sure is wonderful to see snowbanks finally receding from the garden and to sample the fragrance of a few early spring blossoms. As the weather cleared this afternoon, I spent a couple of hours looking over the emerging landscape, and while it was fun to get back in the garden, I made a few sad discoveries. Those sparkling ice storms were beautiful to behold this past winter, but it seems they left quite a trail of destruction in the garden. I will be spending the next few weeks checking for damage on ornamental trees and shrubs; pruning and cleaning up snapped limbs and branches.

Beautiful But Destructive: The Scene from My Hilltop Earlier in the Year (see more ice photos here and here)

Pruning is a large subject —one I will be discussing throughout the growing season— but I have a few basic tips to share today, which are useful at any time of the year. Winter often takes a toll on woody garden plants, and it’s important to clean up splintered wood and ragged bark as soon as you notice it; before insects and disease move in. Take a close look at your garden now that the snow has (hopefully) melted back, and see how your trees and shrubs are doing. Spot any cracked limbs or branches? Now is the best time to address those problems. Later on in the season, flowers and foliage will hide structural damage, making it difficult to spot and much harder to tackle.

Pruning a young Halesia tetraptera limb at the edge of the branch collar — branch broken by heavy icing— with a pair of sharp, clean bypass pruning shears. I use Felco #8 pruners for most small pruning tasks. Felco #6 pruners are a better model for those with very small hands.

But before you set off to begin cutting, the first —and most important— step, is to start work with clean, sharp pruners of the right type. Small branches and stems are easily tackled with bypass pruners and/or a pruning knife. Larger branches or small limbs —particularly those with tight or awkward angles— usually call for a Grecian saw (sometimes called a folding saw). And for all but the very largest limbs (which may require an arborist’s chainsaw) I recommend use of a bow saw. You can read more about these tools in my previous post (click here). In addition to these basic pruners, I also keep a few supplies for sharpening and sterilizing my tools close at hand. Rubbing alcohol, cotton rags, a can of household oil and a whetstone are the four most important items in my pruning tote. Before the season begins, I clean, sharpen and oil all of my pruning shears. And after pruning each tree and shrub, I carefully wipe down blades with a rubbing-alcohol-soaked rag. This step is key to preventing disease (often invisible to the naked eye) from spreading from plant to plant.

The broken branches on this Fothergilla gardenii invite disease and insect infestation. Snapped in an awkward place along the main framework of the shrub, they are pruned down to the ground. Although it was a tough amputation to make, new growth produced this season will quickly fill in the gap.

Knowing how and where to make a clean cut on damaged wood is often what prevents gardeners from approaching pruning chores with confidence. This is a shame, because the basics of pruning are relatively simple, and once a gardener gets the hang of it, pruning often becomes a favorite —and even meditative— horticultural task. I love the art of pruning, and from a maintenance standpoint, the annual spring clean-up of woody plants is my favorite time of the year. Hands-on training is the best way to learn pruning techniques. If you have the opportunity to work with an good pruner, I highly recommend it. But if an experienced teacher is not on hand, there are several excellent resources available in print. For beginner to mid-level gardeners, I always recommend Lee Reich’s The Pruning Book. Straightforward and simple, but descriptively written and well illustrated, this is really the best title I have found on the subject.

Lee Reich: The Pruning Book

I will be covering a few key pruning cuts in part two of this post (and also presenting a seminar on the subject at Walker Farm in Vermont, April 16th)In the meantime, take a look at the woody plants in your garden. See winter damage? If a limb is particularly large, high or near power lines, call a qualified arbortist for help. But if the damaged limbs and branches are on the small side, and low enough to the ground to be within your comfort zone, there’s no reason you can’t take care of this seasonal maintenance yourself. So pull out your tools and get them ready. We’ll be making some cuts in part two…

Remember, always clean, dry, oil and sharpen tools both before and after each use. Disinfect pruners with rubbing alcohol after pruning is complete on each specimen.

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Article and photographs (excepting book link) are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent. Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links here. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Indoor Eden: Simple,Verdant Beauty… Twisting & Twining English Ivy

January 22nd, 2011 § 3 comments § permalink

Hedera helix ‘Glacier’ – English Ivy Twists and Twines Round a Metal Chair in the Secret Garden Room

Busy about the Secret Garden Room this morning –potting, pruning and moving plants around to make room for new seed starts– I suddenly found myself driven to delightful distraction by my gorgeous friend, Ivy. Positioned as she is –right inside the double French doors– I routinely pass my lovely Hedera helix ‘Glacier’, whenever I enter or exit the garden room. But today, something about the way the light flickered behind her verdant, porcelain-edged leaves made me stop right in my tracks. Simply beautiful…

Hedera helix ‘Glacier’ catches winter sunlight in the Secret Garden Room

English ivy likes to twist and twine, making it the ideal plant for wrapping around old metal chairs, bed frames and other ironwork. There are many ivy cultivars available, in all shapes and sizes. The colors and leaf patterns of Hedera helix range from the simple to the bold; in endless shades of gold, cream and green. I have a great fondness for the subtly variegated ivies; leaves with beautiful mottling and shadowy color combinations. Grown from a small softwood cutting, my durable H. helix ‘Glacier’ thrives in the filtered light and cool temperatures of my Secret Garden Room. Feeding –with a low-nitrogen organic fertilizer– will begin in spring and continue every two weeks through late fall. Ivy prefers slightly dry soil year round, and in winter, I reduce watering even further to prevent rot. I like to prune longer stems –especially those with large gaps between leaves– taking them back to a node located amid lush growth. This bit of regular maintenance helps keep the plant looking full and healthy. My lovely English ivy is currently insect free, however aphids, mealy bugs and scale are common ivy-pests, and can be controlled with insecticidal soap, neem and horticultural oil. And although regular misting usually keeps them at bay in my Secret Garden Room, spider mites can sometimes become a problem for ivy –indoors or out. Clip off and destroy mite infested parts where possible, and/or treat the ivy with a horticultural oil/soap mix.

Ivy is easily trained along walls with hooks and wire or fishing line. Here, Hedera helix ‘Glacier’ creeps along the rough-hewn hemlock between the double French doors.

English ivy may be common, but she’s also a stunning and remarkably versatile houseplant. In this dimly-lit indoor garden, the variegated leaves of ivy capture filtered rays of sun and enliven plastered walls. In summer, this plant lives just outside the garden room door, and in late autumn –before the hard freeze– I move her back inside. Over time, my variegated ivy has become one with her pedestal; winding her tendrils ’round the back, legs and seat of an on old metal chair. Because the seat is constructed of light weight metal, I can easily move the entire vignette back an forth with the seasons.  Ivy is easy to propagate. When pieces break off, I simply stick them in a pot of moistened soil and begin a new plant for a friend.

Much as a well-worn pair of blue jeans or fine old leather bag with a perfectly-aged patina adds character to a basic wardrobe, a lush pot of English ivy lends classic style to a low-lit room. Looking at my lovely old ivy in the sunlight today, I’m reminded to never underestimate the beauty and power of simplicity…

I love to watch sun spots dancing around the Secret Garden Room –the low light illuminating Ivy’s wild tendrils– while I’m tending to plants or working at my desk.

Discover more extraordinary ivy cultivars and find information on ivy culture at the website of The American Ivy Society.

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A Tough Broad for all Seasons: This Sulfur-Tipped, Ice-Blue Chameleon Really Knows How to Wear the Pants…

January 14th, 2011 § 7 comments § permalink

Juniperus squamata ‘Holger’ atop the Secret Garden Steps in January

It’s easy to get gardeners excited when I talk about big stars like hydrangea, azalea and viburnum. And most everyone swoons over those voluptuous and intoxicating bombshells: the roses, French lilacs and tree peonies. But junipers? Why they’re a lonely and oft-neglected group of garden workhorses who’s only claim to fame seems to be gin. It’s sad really, because once you get to know them, they’re such a great bunch of broads to hang around with in the garden…

Juniperus squamata ‘Holger’ atop the Secret Garden Steps the Morning After a January Snow Storm

Take single-seed juniper ‘Holger’ for example. What a stunner. Like all great broads, she’s tough as nails, a bit cool-looking and often prickly when you try to push her around. You’d best put your gloves on if you want to mess with her. But she has a soft side of course, and in this case it comes in a gorgeous shade of mellow, sulpur-yellow; which she shows off against her icy needles in the springtime sun…

Sulphur-Tipped New Growth Glows Atop Ice-Blue Needles – Juniperus squamata ‘Holger’ and a Carpet of Thymus

All the year round, Holger juniper offers stunning blue-green color; a gorgeous, cool and soothing contrast to almost anything planted nearby. A medium-sized, moderately spreading conifer (3-5′ high and wide), Juniperus squamata ‘Holger’ is easy to care for and drought resistant once established. All this tough shrub (USDA zones 4-8) requires is full sun, well drained soil, and good air circulation. Useful as a ground cover, wind break, slope stabilizer and outdoor room divider, the design possibilities of Holger juniper are limited only by a gardener’s imagination. Looking for a way to enhance blue or violet hued flowers in springtime? The sulphur-yellow tips of this conifer are the perfect contrast. Want to show-off bold autumn colors in the landscape? Plant Holger juniper near deciduous shrubs and the icy-blue needles will bring out the electric orange and red of fall. Need a reliable, deer-resistant screen for a less-than-attractive air conditioning unit or other household utility? This year-round beauty could be the answer…

Holger juniper not only stabilizes this slope, but it also gives structure and soft definition to the lines of this hillside planting surrounding the Secret Garden Steps

The Ice-Blue Tips of Holger Juniper Stand Out in the Landscape, and Contrast with Other Warm-Toned Plantings Throughout the Seasons

In Autumn, Holger Juniper’s Blue-Green Needles are a Gorgeous Contrast to Red, Gold and Rust (Here with Hydrangea quercifolia and Solidago)

Sunny, cloudy, rainy or dry; Holger juniper looks clean, fresh and pulled together. Like all members of the juniper clan, Holger can be occasionally troubled by insects or disease —spider mites, scale or aphids, or perhaps cedar-apple rust, twig blight or wood rot— but such problems can usually be avoided when her humble requirements (listed above) are met. She’s got great style and requires only the occasional bit of pruning from artfully handled secateurs to maintain her shape here at the edge of the path. A great conifer like Holger juniper helps to give a garden year-round structure. Consider a grouping of juniper as an evergreen wall or low, living fence; a way to define the garden in addition to hard-scaping…

And later, during the quiet season, when most other garden plants have shed their leaves and withered to the ground, juniper carries on the show; shrugging off the ice, the snow and the cold. I have many juniper species and cultivars in my garden, but for season-spanning beauty, ‘Holger’ truly tops the list. She’s tall enough to rise above a drifting white blanket in winter, and interesting enough to hold her own beside the most vibrant of garden companions. Never underestimate the tough broads –they’ll never let you down…

Holger Juniper Holds Her Own, Draped in a New White Cloak on a Cold Winter’s Night

Holger Juniper Atop the Stairs with a Light Dusting of Snow in December

And Like Most of Her Cousins, This Tough Lady Can Carry a Heavy Load

A True-Blue Beauty Throughout the Seasons – Juniperus Squamata ‘Holger’

Come to think of it… If she were human, I think Holger juniper would be Katherine Hepburn. She’s a tough, bristly beauty and she really knows how to wear the pants. Photograph Alfred Eisenstaedt/Time & Life Pictures via Lifetsyle.MSN.com

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Article and Photographs are copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, with noted exceptions, is the property of The Gardener’s Eden Online Journal, and my not be used or reproduced without express written permission.

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Prune in June? Well, Sometimes. Wondering What, When and How to Prune? The Basics of Pruning: A Weekend Workshop and a Giveaway…

April 28th, 2010 § 28 comments § permalink

Horizontal juniper, (photo © 2010 Michaela at TGE), pruned to highlight stonework and clay pot focal point…

Japanese maple, (photo © Michaela at TGE), pruned to arch over the Secret Garden doorway…

Microbiota decussata, (Siberian cypress), (photo © Michaela at TGE), pruned to highlight the edge of a walkway…

Pruning: Why, when, how and what? Oh the frustration and confusion on the gardener’s face when given their first red handled Felco pruners. And you know what? I understand completely. I wasn’t born with scissor hands – though I sometimes feel like it. I love to prune, and I love teaching gardeners about pruning. This weekend, I will be presenting a free seminar on ornamental pruning at Walker Farm – please come on by if you are in southern Vermont this weekend, (call 802-254-2051 or visit walkerfarm.com for more information). For me, what began as a loathsome task many years ago, has become one of my greatest passions. Pruning is indeed an art, but it is also a science. To train a tree or shrub artfully is to create living sculpture, and to correctly prune away damage is to prevent disease. Think of the great bonsai of Japan, and the masterful topiary in Europe. Oh the beauty and skill – oh the intimidation!

Oh yes, I understand. Not every gardener wishes to create a maze of boxwood hedges, (mmm, but wouldn’t it be fun?). The truth is, all master pruners begin their craft with a simple pair of bypass pruners or other secateurs, and an introduction to the effects of various kinds of cuts on plant growth. In fact the most basic type of pruning, pinching, requires only a pair of fingernails! Curious to learn more about pruning? Travel back a bit on this site to a post I wrote last year on pruning. There you will find an introduction to the hows and whys of this craft.

A few simple tools and supplies are needed to get you started: a good pair of bypass pruners, (I use Felco 8 or Felco 6 for smaller hands, but there are higher end pruners, and also less expensive types); a quality Grecian, (or Felco Folding Saw), saw; a Bow Saw for tackling large limbs; and a pair of basic, manually operated hedge shears will come in handy for tackling hedges or large clumps of ornamental grass…

My pruning tools after a day of work, (photo © 2010 Michaela at TGE) ready for cleaning, sharpening and oiling…

Although major structural pruning usually takes place during the dormant season, (here in Vermont, this tends to be in February and very early March), there’s always a need for the occasional snip, trim or cut in the garden. Damaged branches should always be removed as soon as noticed, and spent flower blossoms, especially on roses, are best removed when they fade. I will be writing more about pruning, and caring for your tools of the trade. But for now, I encourage you to begin with the introductory article I posted last year. And of course, please enter this week’s giveaway contest…

Thinning horizontal juniper, (photo © 2010 Michaela at TGE)…

Felco Classic Pruner (available at Amazon Home/Garden)

The right tools are key to success in every garden task, and for pruning jobs, one of my favorite tools is the classic Felco 6 or 8 bypass pruner. And at the end of this month, one lucky reader will receive a complimentary pair of Felco 6 or 8 pruners, (depending upon hand size), from The Gardener’s Eden! In honor of our first anniversary, The Gardener’s Eden is giving away one last, special gift. In order to enter, simply answer the question below in the comment section of this article. Be sure to post your answer prior to 11:59 am Eastern Daylight Time cut-off. Only one entry per reader, per give-away please. The winner will be chosen at random from all of the correct entries received, and will be notified by email. Gift recipients will also be announced both here on the blog and on our Facebook Page, and all gifts will ship at the end of the month. So now…

The question is: No quiz today! Simply state whether you wear a small, medium or large size glove, (to help determine Felco pruner size). In order to enter the contest, please post your answer in comments here on the blog, (not on the Facebook page). All email addresses will remain unpublished and kept in complete confidence. Your email will only be used to notify you if you have won. Good Luck!

* In order to provide each reader with an equal chance to win, your comment/ entry will not appear until 4/29*

Entry must be posted by 11:59, Eastern Time, 4/28/10

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Article and photographs are copyright 2010, Michaela at TGE. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Waking Up the Garden in Spring …. Free Seminar at Walker Farm in Dummerston, Vermont – Tomorrow…

April 16th, 2010 § Comments Off on Waking Up the Garden in Spring …. Free Seminar at Walker Farm in Dummerston, Vermont – Tomorrow… § permalink

Early risers: Glory of the snow blooming this month in my garden…

Will you be in the Southern Vermont area this weekend? If so, please join me this Saturday morning at 9:30 for the first in a series of free gardening seminars at Walker Farm in Dummerston, Vermont. “Waking Up the Garden in Spring” covers the perennial garden maintenance chores that should be on your early season checklist. Don’t let the raindrops stop you! Come on by beautiful Walker Farm and enjoy an hour of fun in their lovely ‘Grand Central’ greenhouse. Seating is limited, so please call ahead, (802-254-2051) to reserve a spot: click here for more details on upcoming spring seminars.

Narcissus Rip van Winkle blooming in my Vermont garden this week…

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Photographs copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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A Rhapsody in Blue: Selecting and Planting Vaccinium corymbosum, (Highbush Blueberry), Plus a Favorite Recipe for Blueberry-Lemon Bread…

March 31st, 2010 § 11 comments § permalink

A Rhapsody in Blue 

What would you say if I told you that I know of an amazing cold-hardy shrub, with creamy, bell-like spring flowers, glossy green leaves, brilliant fall foliage, colorful winter stems and an attractive, well-rounded form? Interested yet? It may come as a surprise that the shrub I am describing is none other than the common highbush blueberry, (Vaccinium corymbosum). Of course, the highbush blueberry is widely cultivated for its delicious fruit, but it’s often overlooked as a useful addition to ornamental gardens. Native to eastern North America, this gorgeous shrub can be found growing wild in acidic soil from central Canada all the way down to Florida, with a western range from Minnesota, south to Louisiana. Typically reaching a mature size of 8-12 feet high and wide, highbush blueberries are most commonly found in USDA zones 3-7. Although lowbush blueberries,(Vaccinium angustifolium), are also a fine and quite hardy shrub -famously grown for fruit in the state of Maine- they too are are rarely grown in ornamental gardens. This is a shame, as lowbush blueberries make a fine ground cover, producing pollinator-friendly blossoms and very sweet fruit. They also display beautiful autumn color.

If you live in a climate with lengthy cool seasons, highbush blueberries are easy to cultivate either in the vegetable garden, berry patch or mixed border. This is a relatively long-lived shrub, with few pests and diseases. When provided with the proper conditions, blueberry bushes make fantastic garden plants. Although Vaccinium corymbosum are generally trouble-free, a few growing tips will help increase berry yield and plant health…

Vaccinium corymbosum autumn color

In life, I often find that a group of diverse, mixed company creates great culture. With blueberry varieties this is especially true. When buying plants, keep in mind that for best pollination and fruit set, you should choose two different varieties of blueberry bushes that bloom at the same time. If you would like fruit throughout the season, try growing several different varieties in the same patch. When choosing plants, ask a local grower which varieties grow and produce best in your area. Some excellent early to midseason varieties include ‘Blueray’,’Duke’ and ‘Berkeley’. For later fruit try ‘Jersey Blue’ and ‘Elliot’ varieties. Again, ask your local grower for some recommendations. Remember that every variety will have a slightly different flavor.

When growing blueberries, one of the most important aspects of cultivation to consider is soil acidity. All blueberry bushes prefer a pH below 5, with an ideal range between 4.5 and 4.8. Be sure to test your soil pH with a kit. If your soil is more alkaline (even neutral is too alkaline for blueberries) you may lower the pH by adding sulfur, pine needles and/or other naturally acidic materials both to the soil and as a regular top-dressing in mulch. Blueberries are shallow-rooted plants and they require moist, but well-drained soil. Unless your garden receives at least an inch or two of rain per week, you will want to water your shrubs. The best way to keep soil moist and plants weed-free is to apply a wood chip/pine needle mulch. When planting new blueberry bushes, be sure not to plant too deeply. Keep the top of the pot level even with your existing soil, and add 1/3 peat moss to the planting mix when you backfill the dirt. Be sure to saturate the soil and peat, as well as the planting hole, with water. Do not fertilize your blueberry bushes for 2-3 months after planting. Once the plants are established, use an organic fertilizer in spring at bloom time, and again 3 weeks later while fruit is setting. Plants should not be fertilized later than this, and never in summer  or fall as the shrubs may suffer winter damage on soft wood ….

Fresh washed blueberries from the garden

In general, when grown for fruit, highbush blueberries should have 5-10′ of spacing, (depending upon variety). But if you are planting in rows, space plants 4-5′ apart in rows with 8-10′ separation. Some growers recommend removal of flowers in the first season for a better crop the second year. This is optional. No pruning is needed in the first three years, but in the fourth season, thinning may begin during dormancy, (late winter/very early spring). Remove weak branches, and any branches restricting sunlight and airflow at the center of the shrub. If fruit is your primary goal, aim for 12 healthy, strong canes per plant. The younger wood will produce the best fruit, so choose a good mix of branches, removing older sections each year.

By following these simple tips, delicious and health fruit will soon be on the way! But beware: birds love to eat blueberries too. If you grow Vaccinium corymbosum solely for ornamental value, then maybe you will leave the fruit on these shrubs for our birds to enjoy. However, if you are growing blueberries as a crop -perhaps as a hedging plant in your potager- you must cover the shrubs from the time of fruit set ’til the point of harvest. My father always used tobacco netting on his highbush blueberries, and I tend to recommend it or the modern-day equivalent, Remay. Plastic netting is hazardous to birds and other creatures, and I find Remay or tobacco netting work as well, or better.

And now, what do you say? Shall we use up some of those plump and delicious blue fruits? Oh, of course! Why not? A couple of weeks back, I featured a favorite recipe for Blueberry Hill Hotcakes and Syrup. They are scrumptious. Over the weekend, I was feeling the blues again, (maybe it was all the rain?). So I took to the kitchen. But this time around, I whipped up my favorite blueberry-lemon bread. This versatile recipe can also be used as a muffin mix, if you’re in the mood for a tasty-treat to-go. The lemony-sugar-syrup is optional, but I find it provides an extra bit of moisture and an added kiss of sweetness – plus I love the shimmery-effect on top. And although frozen blueberries work well here… there’s nothing quite like the fresh berries we will be enjoying later in the year. On a quiet weekend morning, I’m always in the mood for a rhapsody in blue…

Blueberry-Lemon-Bread-Muffins-thegardenersedenBlueberry Lemon Bread / Muffins, photo © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Blueberry-Lemon Bread with Lemon Syrup (or muffins)


Ingredients for one loaf of bread or one dozen average sized muffins:

2          cups all-purpose flour

1          teaspoon baking powder

1          teaspoon baking soda

1/4       teaspoon salt

1/4       cup sugar

2          eggs

1 1/4   cup sour cream

1/4      cup melted butter

1          tablespoon fresh lemon zest

2          cups of fresh or frozen blueberries

Lemon Syrup:

1/2      cup fresh squeezed lemon juice

1/2      cup of sugar

4          tablespoons water

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375°. Butter one 9″ x 5″ x 3″ bread pan or two muffin tins.

To make batter: Toss flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, combine eggs, sugar, sour cream, melted butter and lemon zest and beat until well mixed. Add dry ingredients to wet and mix until just blended. Add blueberries and stir lightly to combine.

Pour the batter into the bread pan or muffin tins, (each muffin tin should be filled to 2/3 full). Bake bread for 50 minutes to 1 hour or until top is golden brown and a wooden stick comes out clean after inserted at center. If baking muffins, 15-20 minutes in the hot oven should do the trick.

To make the optional lemon syrup: combine the ingredients in a small saucepan and boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and set aside.

After removing bread or muffins from the oven, prick the top with wooden stick, (all over for bread, or in 3 or 4 places per muffin). Drizzle the lemon-syrup slowly over the surface. Allow the lemon-bread or muffins to cool for 10 or 15 minutes before slicing or removing from the tins.

Serve warm with Earl Grey tea and fresh blueberries if they are in season. If you skip the syrup, the muffins also taste great with a bit of butter and honey.

Mixy, mixy…

 For further inspiration, there’s always…

Gershwin: Rhapsody In Blue/An American In Paris

Photography & Text ⓒ Michaela Medina Harlow/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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Selecting Quality Gardening Tools to Last a Lifetime: Part One…

March 29th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Looks like it’s finally that time of the year: Gardening season! Time to pull out the tools and get to work. Most of my gardening equipment is in pretty good shape, but there are a few repairs and replacements I need to make this year. I can still remember shopping for gardening tools with my father when I was a kid. We bought our tools at the not-so-local hardware store, (this was the 80’s, and where I grew up, it was an hour and a half drive, round trip, to the nearest big town). There was considerable grumbling involved. My dad has always been frustrated with the declining quality of tools, and he still complains about the mass-procuced, cheap new “bargains” pushed alongside the fairly-priced , but more expensive, “good-value” tools. A country boy to the core, my father grew up working on farms and in orchards, and he’s always favored hand forged tools with good blades, and rakes, forks and shovels with time-worn wooden handles. He’s never been fooled by flimsy spot-welds and cheap plastic handles. But during the recession years, in an effort to pinch pennies, he bought a few of those tools and he quickly regretted it. When you buy cheap tools, I fast learned, they tend to break, and you soon need to buy replacements. No money saved there.

These days I turn my compost pile with an old farm fork I inherited from my father, and I have a few of his other handmade tools in my garden room. My folks live in a condo now, and although they still have a small vegetable garden and modest flower beds, their bigger garden tools have been passed on to the next generation. When I started shopping for my own hand tools, I knew that it would make sense in the long-run to buy the best quality I could afford, and take good care of my investment. As any New Englander will tell you… frugal and cheap are not the same thing! I started with the basics: Felco bypass-style pruners, and both folding and bow saws for pruning; a digging spade and fork for vegetable and perennial gardening; several good quality rakes in three styles and a basic shovel; a classic New England Cape Cod weeder, and of course the Gardener’s Supply Company garden cart and a good wheelbarrow…

Felco F-6 Classic Pruner For Smaller Hands

Felco Classic Pruner with Comfortable Ergonomic Design #F-8

Every year, I help gardeners learn how to prune their trees and shrubs. There is an article based on my pruning seminar notes you can read here, explaining the kinds of cuts you will make and the types of tools you will need, (there is another on June lilac pruning here). Bypass pruners are the most important tool in my shed. In fact, I usually have a pair in my car and/or pocketbook. Some gardeners use anvil pruners. I dislike them because they pinch-cut instead of clean-cut. So, I recommend the bypass style. There are more expensive and less expensive pruners, and I have a few other brands, but Felco is still my favorite. For smaller hands, start with the Felco #6, (top link above). For longer or wider hands, go with the #8, (lower link above). For larger trees and shrubs, you will also need a folding, (or Grecian), saw and a bow saw for big limbs…

Felco Classic Folding Saw with Pull-Stroke Action #F-600

Spear & Jackson R681 County 24 Inch Bow Saw

Many of the tools pictured here may be found in your local hardware store, but I have also linked them to two of my favorite online tool resources: Amazon.com Home and Garden and Gardener’s Supply Company. I buy many of my working tools from Gardener’s Supply Company online. This employee-owned store is located here in my home state of  Vermont, (to the north, in Burlington), and they ship tools all over the country via orders placed on their website. They carry many of the high-quality brands I know and trust, as well as some excellent products of their own. In fact, their sturdy garden cart has been such a fixture in my life that when I began building my place 8 years ago, a friend told me that she knew she found the right clearing when she saw my little wood wagon in the drive! Oh how I love that cart. I have had it for years and I constantly use it to move heavy perennial divisions, (like big clumps of ornamental grass); to tote bulky items like dog food from the car;  and to haul firewood to the back terrace. The removable back makes dumping debris easy and the entire cart tilts back for easy storage. I have never seen a better utility-wagon design. And although I have a variety of poly-bed wheelbarrows for taking with me on jobs, I prefer the two-wheel-barrow design linked below for stability when carting heavy loads of mulch and compost. And good-grief, I so prefer tires that can be filled with a bicycle pump. The other kind – what a pain!

These are the best versions of tools you will need to create and maintain your garden. I won’t lie to you – I have a few cheap shovels, rakes and wheelbarrows that I take with me to work, (where they might get lost or crushed by a dump-truck). But for pruning and work around home – I don’t mess around. I have invested in good tools, and I take good care of them. I will be reviewing more gardening essentials in April and May, and sharing some tool-maintenance tips from the old-time farmers and orchard keepers in my life. I learned a thing or two in college, yes it is true, but when it comes to everyday common-sense, it sure is hard to beat the wisdom of a farmer! Let me know if you have any time-worn favorites of your own… or new fangled discoveries I can share with my dad. I do love a good garden gadget!

DeWit Cape Cod Weeder, Right-Handed

(may be out of stock, if so, try the Amazon link below)

DeWit Dutch Cape Cod Weeder – Right Hand

DeWit Perennial Planter
(for digging and planting on your knees)

Spear & Jackson Stainless Steel Digging Spade

Spear & Jackson Stainless Steel Digging Fork (essential for dividing plants and loosening soil)

Large Gardener’s Supply Cart, Red (also available in natural color)

Poly-Tough Cart

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Article and top photo © Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. All rights reserved.

Images in this post appear courtesy of Amazon.com and Gardener’s Supply Company.

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