Cutting Edge Garden Maintenance: Sharply Defining Beds & Borders . . .

April 10th, 2013 § 3 comments § permalink

BMAC_Garden_michaela_medina_harlow_thegardenerseden.com Cleanly cutting the edge of a border with a half-moon edger, and mulching the “V”, helps with maintenance throughout the growing year {Pictured: a client’s newly planted garden with English-style edging. Pretty vessel is by Vermont artist, Stephen Procter}

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and every gardener has their own, unique preference in garden style. But well-maintained gardens, be they casually designed or strictly formal, alway seem to elicit the most oohs and ahs. So what keeps a border looking neat and tidy all season long? Well, if your gardens connect to lawn, one of the secrets is an English-style edge, and a thick layer of weed-supressing mulch.

english-style-edging-michaela_medina_harlow_thegardeneresend.com

English_Style_Edging_ in-Cottage_Garden-michaela-medina-harlow-thegardenerseden.com Even the simplest, cottage-style garden design is elevated to elegance by cleanly edging and mulching the border {pictured: three of my clients’ newly installed gardens; edged and mulched}

BMAC_garden_edge_late_summer_michaela_medina_harlow-thegardenerseden.com

A classic English-style edge is a simple and clean-looking way to define the line between lawn and garden. Although the look is quite precise, English-style edging is appropriate in most any garden setting; from formal to country casual. Inexpensive to create and blissfully easy to maintain, I just love the way a sharp edged line brings the bold shapes, colors and textures of a layered perennial border into focus. When designing new gardens in landscapes with sweeping lawns, I often opt for the English-style edge to maintain distinct, weed-free boundaries between grassy pathways and perennial borders. Crisply cut edges help to keep a garden looking great all season long.

Penstemon-digitalis-Huskers-Red-Heuchera-Veronica-Coreopsis-Photo-Copyright-michaela-medina-thegardenersedenJust as neatly trimmed ends make long hair look gorgeous, crisply defined edges in a garden highlight the beauty of a well-maintained perennial border {one of my client’s gardens in late spring}

Large landscaping companies often use mechanical edgers to create deep, sharp-lined trenches between a lawn and garden and then dress these trenches with mulch. Mechanical tools work very well on big projects, but they are quite expensive and consume unnecessary fossil fuels. For home landscapes, I have always used a manual half-moon edger and my own elbow grease to create and maintain perennial borders in style. It’s great exercise!

519JmG5+R5L._SL1500_ Forged, Half-Moon Edger by Truper

The line of the garden is measured and, if new, marked out with chalk dust or string. A straight line is then cut (with the half-moon edger or a straight blade spade) through the sod to a depth of about 4-6 inches. When working a new bed, the sod is then removed from inside the cut line, and compost/loam is added to the planting bed. In a renovation of an older bed, re-establish the line by digging a new trench to a depth of at least 6 inches. I rock the tool back and forth a bit to create a “v” shape. New mulch is mounded up from the center of the “v” and into the garden bed to create a weed barrier. If you are trying this method for the first time, be patient with yourself. With a little practice, your edges will become clean, precise and even. I’ve taught many gardeners how to use a half-moon edger. A little patience goes a long way when you’re learning something new! The border pictured below is the very first effort of a new gardener. Not bad for a first shot!

new-gardener's-first-time-edge_effort-michaela_medina_harlow-thegardenerseden This freshly-cut edge on a new perennial border —the first effort of a new gardener— was cut with a hand held edging tool, like the one pictured above

Although some gardeners like to fill the trench with aluminum or plastic strip to hold border edges, this isn’t really necessary. With with yearly maintenance and mulch, the earthen edge will hold back weeds on its own.  In my own garden I prefer to keep the earthen trench filled with mulch, and maintain it twice a year with touch ups from the half-moon edger. The first round of edging happens along my lawn/garden borders every spring during April clean-up, just before seasonal mulch (I use well rotted compost mulch mixed with just a bit of dark, natural bark). The second round of edging usually happens in early to mid July, when perennials borders begin to look a bit blowzy and need a bit of deadheading and primping. But twice yearly maintenance isn’t always necessary. In the cottage garden atop the article and the minimalist garden pictured above and below, a crisp edge is cut and mulched along the borders once a year in early spring. In landscapes with lawn and perennial borders, I’m  very fond of English-style edging. This clean but natural look works well with many different garden styles and it’s both inexpensive and easy to maintain.

Johnson Garden ll - Michaela Medina Harlow - Garden Design - New England - ⓒ 2012 michaela medina - thegardenerseden.comThe edge of this welcoming garden —filled with North American native plants— is looking neat and pretty, even in late summer {pictured: my client’s garden in late summer of 2012}

Photography and 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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Marching Forward to Springtime …

March 12th, 2012 § Comments Off on Marching Forward to Springtime … § permalink

Cerise-Flushed Bodnant Viburnum Buds, Swollen in Morning Sunshine (Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’)

The sleepy garden is slowly rousing now from her long winter slumber. And as she greets the warmth of each early March morning, I slip on my wellies, grab a few tools and a hot cup of coffee, eager to join in her blushing, dawn reverie. Springtime is coming, and the garden is swollen and glowing with annual anticipation …

Bright & Cheerful at Daybreak: Golden Witch Hazel Blossoms (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold’s Promise’)

With late winter pruning completed, my eye turns toward autumn garden remnants in need of removal. Ornamental grasses and withered perennial stalks are cut back with manual garden shears or —in the case of large, tough specimens— a power brush cutter. Where snow has receded and the soil has been dried by sun and wind, I lightly remove debris with a flexible rake and clear pathways with a stiff garden broom; dragging a brown tarp behind me and collecting a heap to be dumped and chopped up near the compost pile. Protective wire cages —set into place to thwart greedy rodents— are removed from young trees and shrubs and returned to storage in the Secret Garden Room …

Late Winter/Early Spring Garden Clean-Up Begins!

I Like to Cut Back Ornamental Grass in Late Winter or Early Spring. After Chopping Up the Grass, I Gradually Add It to My Compost Pile

As Snow Recedes, I Remove the Protective Wire Cages Placed Around Ornamental Trees & Shrubs Last Autumn, and Store Them in the Garden Room for Re-Use Next Year

Of course between garden clean-up and indoor-eden chores, there’s always a bit of time for spring dreaming. As I stroll through the melting pathways, I gather a few budding branches for forcing in vases and begin pulling out frost-hardy garden accents  —such as urns and flower pots— placing them here and there, in anticipation of early bulbs and pretty pansies…

An Annual Pleasure and Bi-Product of Late-Winter Pruning: Forced Branches of Fragrant, Bodnant Viburnum

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina for 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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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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