Blossom XXIX: Buddleia

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Buddleia davidii, or butterfly bush, hosts many hungry pollinators on its abundant, nectar filled blossoms each summer.    I enjoy the beautiful creatures it attracts as much as I enjoy its brilliant blossoms.

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Hummingbird moths are especially drawn to Buddleia.

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These deciduous shrubs tend to be short lived.  They want plenty of sun and prefer rich, moist soil.  We lost several over the last few years, and had only one remaining last fall.

Buddleia want to be frequently pruned.  The bloom on new growth, and produce abundant blooms until frost if you faithfully dead head their spent blossoms.

They also need to be cut back very hard each winter.  If left to grow unpruned, they can soon grow too tall and gangling, falling this way and that from their own weight.  That said, I’ve never had one grazed by deer.

When I pruned our butterfly bush  in the late fall, I was inspired to stick lengths of the pruned stems into a large pot, around a winter blooming Helleborus.  I wasn’t confident that these woody stem cuttings would root, but decided to take the chance.  By early spring, we noticed new buds and leaves appearing and we could tell roots had formed.

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I transplanted most of the rooted cuttings out into the front garden when I refreshed the pot in late spring.  But we left the largest and strongest in place to grow on this summer in the pot.

All of the rooted cuttings have put on abundant growth this summer and are now well-established and blooming.  A seedling Rudbeckia has also appeared in the pot along with a Caladium  I tucked in this May, some Verbena cuttings I planted in June, and a division of Dichondra argentea. 

If this sounds like shamefully haphazard planting, well…. what can I say?

The Hellebore took a long time to die back, as did the foliage of the daffodil bulbs still nestled deep in the pot.  Spreading Colocasia plants have sprung up all around, hugging the pot with their huge leaves.  It may look a bit wild and woolly, but I can promise you that the many hummingbirds, bees, butterflies and this lovely hummingbird moth are happy with the abundance.

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Plants basically want to live.  The magic of simple propagation, whether from stem cuttings, division or saved seeds; is their will to survive against all odds.

The next time you find yourself pruning, consider whether you have space or desire for more of the plant you’re trimming back.  Green stems generally root well in water.  Woody stems will root in soil or a soil-less medium like vermiculite or sand.

There are finer points to it, depending on the time of year you take your cuttings.  But why not take a chance and give those pruning an opportunity to root?  Look at the beauty you have to gain! This is an easy and inexpensive way to give yourself impressive small shrubs for your large pots, too.

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Propagate your way into a full, lush garden filled with plants that you like, and that grow well in your conditions.  Doesn’t it seem a bit magical that a blossom this beautiful will grow from a pruned stem, that would otherwise have been tossed away?

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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A blossom from the mother plant, still growing strong and covered in flowers.

 

Blossom XXV: Elegance
Blossom XXVI: Angel Wing Begonia
Blossom XXVII: Life 
Blossom XXVIII: Fennel 

 

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Blossom II

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“Do stuff.  Be clenched, curious.

Not waiting for inspiration’s shove or

society’s kiss on your forehead. Pay attention.

It’s all about paying attention. Attention is vitality.

It connects you with others.

It makes you eager. Stay eager.”

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Susan Sontag

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Blossom I
Blossom III
Blossom IV
Blossom V
Blossom VI
Blossom VII
Blossom VIII

Garden Blogger’s Foliage Day; But I’m Away….

A stray Moonflower vine snakes across the Begonias.

A stray Moonflower vine snakes across the Begonias.

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It is Garden Blogger’s Foliage Day, but since I’m away I’ll post tomorrow.  Until then, I’ll leave you with a few quick photos captured this morning.

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Canna, still alive, with Heron's Pirouette hardy Begonia

Calla, still alive, with ‘Heron’s Pirouette’ hardy Begonia

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I’m exceptionally happy to show you this photo of the first leaf of our new hardy Calla, ordered a couple of months ago from Plant Delights Nursery, which died back and completely disappeared in less than two weeks from planting.  A mystery…. 

But I dug the bulb and moved it into a large pot in the nursery with good potting soil.  A new leaf emerged last week, and I planted it up yesterday with the beautiful gift of ‘Heron’s Pirouette’ hardy Begonia we received last Saturday from a generous gardener.  The pot sits here in the shade of the house all day after a little morning sun.  I don’t expect the Calla to bloom  this fall, but it will give its beautiful spotted leaves.  It lives!

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Caladium is another survivor. Last summer's plant hibernated in the garage all winter. Finally a leaf... in August?

Caladium is another survivor. Last summer’s plant hibernated in the garage all winter. Finally a leaf… in August?

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On the subject of gardeners and sharing: next week, I plan on sharing some of the baby Colocasia multiplying in our garden .  I’m also committed to sharing some Iris with friends far and near, and also some of the perennial Blue Mist Flower. 

If you live nearby, please send me a note if you’d like to try some of the Colocasia “China Pink.”

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August 21, 2015 butterflies 025~

Woodland Gnome 2015

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Unusual Leaves: More Texture

'Silver Lyre' Afghan Fig

‘Silver Lyre’ Afghan Fig

Unusual leaves bring a wonderful texture, as well as interesting colors, to the garden.

Coleus

Coleus

 

The variety available to an adventurous gardener feels infinite… and probably is infinite when one considers how many interesting new cultivars of plants like Coleus,   Heuchera, Begonia, Hosta, fern, and Caladium come on the market each year.

 

Heuchera

Heuchera

In addition to these perennials, there are a few new introductions of trees and shrubs with interesting variegation or unusual leaf color each season.

‘Black Lace’  Eldeberry, Sambucus nigra; ‘Ruby Falls’ Redbud, Cerceis canadensis; and ‘Maculata’ Lacecap Hydrangea come to mind immediately.

‘Black Lace’ Elderberry is on my “wish list” at the moment.

 

A variegated Lacecap Hydrangea

A variegated Lacecap Hydrangea

 

Some of these perennials, trees, and shrubs also offer beautiful flowers.

But the flowers are just a little something “extra,” compared to their beautiful leaves.

And while the flowers may add interest in their season, the fabulous foliage brings beauty to the garden month after month.

 

Buddleia, "Harlequin" sports beautiful variegated foliage all season long.

Buddleia davidii, “Harlequin” sports beautiful variegated foliage all season long.

 

Do you experiment with unusual  foliage in your garden?

So many residential gardens rely on a few standard, well known plants commonly available in “big box” shops.

This Begonia, purchased from The Homestead Garden Center several seasons ago, is similar to Plant Delight's "Pewterware" Begonia, hardy to Zone 8B.

This Begonia, purchased from The Homestead Garden Center several seasons ago, is similar in appearance  to Plant Delight’s “Pewterware” Begonia, hardy to Zone 8B.

 

These commonly used plants are easy to find, and we have a pretty good idea of what to expect from them.

They bring their own beauty, but overuse can also dull our appreciation of them.  Like white paint on a wall, we hardly ever notice them after a while.

 

A Begonia Rex, with fern.

A Begonia Rex, with fern and other Begonias.

 

Searching out a variety of plants with interesting foliage adds novelty and a touch of the unexpected to our garden.

 

Scented Pelargonium

Scented Pelargonium graveolens

 

Most any gardening “need” can be filled, whether we are creating a drought tolerant garden nourished only by a few inches of rain each  year, or a Forest Garden, unappetizing to deer and rabbits!

 

Collection of succulents.

Collection of succulents.

Small local nurseries, web nurseries, and specialty nurseries offer the most interesting varieties.

( I’m writing this within just a day or so of receiving Plant Delights Nursery’s fall 2014 catalog!  Yes, I’ve been closely studying it!)

 

 

It is the thrill of the hunt, and the fun of curating a collection, which fuels my search for unusual foliage plants.

 

This interesting Sedum, which I've not noticed before this year, was purchased at The Homestead Garden Center.

This beautiful Sedum, which I’ve not noticed before this year, was purchased at The Homestead Garden Center.  It will grow much like an Autumn Sedum, but with more interesting leaf color.

Plants with unusual leaves often grow best in  shady gardens.

Heuchera, ferns, Hosta, and Hydrangeas generally perform best in partial shade.

 

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Newer cultivars can often withstand more direct sun than older varieties; but shade, especially during the heat of the day, is lit up by the outrageous foliage of these  flamboyant plants.

 

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Layering them creates interesting and complex compositions; dynamic living sculpture in the garden.

 

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But wonderful foliage plants grow in full sun, also.

 

Siberian Iris, a gift from a dear friend, in a sunny garden

Siberian Iris, a gift from a dear friend, grow in a sunny garden area with Lavender, Comfrey, variegated iris, Eucalyptus, Artemisia, and other herbs.  Planted this season, the area is still filling in.

 

All of the amazing varieties of succulents enjoy sun to partial shade.

 

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Variegated  Cannas, Hibiscus cultivars like ‘Kopper King” and nearly all of the herbs thrive in sunny beds.

 

Sage Officinallis, "Tricolor"

Sage Officinalis, “Tricolor”

 

Whether you search out the most interesting varieties of a particular group of plants, like Hostas or Ferns; or amass a collection of silver foliage plans, variegated plants, or purple leaved plants; you may discover that the more you work with foliage in your own garden, the more satisfied you feel with your efforts.

Gardening is a matter of your enthusiasm holding up until your back gets used to it.

Author Unknown

 

Staghorn Fern with Begonia

Staghorn Fern with Begonia

 

As for any artist, an expanded palette of plant possibilities inspires new ideas and presents novel solutions to site based problems.

 

Caladiums and other poisonous plants can grow mostly in peace in gardens plagued by deer.

Caladiums and other poisonous plants can grow mostly in peace in gardens plagued by deer.

 

It helps me to remember that,  “Gardening is the slowest art form.”

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Wonderful effects can be created in the garden using just foliage; and they just keep getting better and more fully developed over time.

 

I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way — things I had no words for.

Georgia O’Keeffe

 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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Always Evolving

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Why do you choose certain plants to add to your garden, and not others?  What drives your selections?

My answer shifts from garden to garden, year to year, and even season to season.  Perhaps your priorities for your garden shift, also.

 

Basil, "African Blue" grows in a bed of plants chosen to be distasteful to deer.

Basil, “African Blue,” Catmint, and scented Pelargoniums  grow in a bed of plants chosen to be distasteful to deer.

 

We garden to fill a need.  Some of us need to produce some portion of our own food.  Some of us want to grow particular ingredients or specialty crops, like hops or basil.

Some of us want to harvest our own flowers for arrangements, or produce our own fruit or nuts for cooking.

 

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Once upon a time I focused on growing flowers, and am still struggling to grow decent roses in this wild place.

And our garden is filled with flowers; some already growing here, some that we’ve introduced.

But our current inventory of flowers is driven more by the wildlife they will attract  than by their usefulness as cut flowers.

Lantana attracts many species of nectar loving wildlife to our garden.

Lantana attracts many species of nectar loving wildlife to our garden.

 

Although I could still walk around and clip a decent bouquet most any day from February to November, we rarely harvest our flowers.  We prefer to leave them growing out of doors for the creatures who visit them whether for nectar or later for their seeds.

Purple Coneflower, a useful cut flower, will feed the goldfinches if left in place once the flowers fade.

Purple Coneflower, a useful cut flower, will feed the goldfinches if left in place once the flowers fade.

 

Our gardening  focus is shifting here.  It began our first month on the property.  I moved in ready to cut out the “weedy” looking Rose of Sharon trees growing all over the garden.

I planned to replace them  with something more interesting… to me, that is.

And it was during that first scorching August here, sitting inside in the air conditioning and nursing along our chigger and tick bites, that we noticed the hummingbirds.

 

 

Hummingbirds hovered right outside our living room windows, because they were feeding from the very tall, lanky Rose of Sharon shrubs blooming there.

The shrubs didn’t look like much, but their individual flowers spread the welcome mat for our community of hummingbirds.

And watching those hummingbirds convinced us we could learn to love this Forest Garden.

This butterfly tree and Crepe Myrtle, volunteers growing along the ravine, normally attract dozens of butterflies each day during the weeks they bloom each summer.

This butterfly tree and Crepe Myrtle, volunteers growing along the ravine, normally attract dozens of butterflies each day during the weeks they bloom each summer.

 

Our decision to not only leave the Rose of Sharon shrubs, but to carefully prune, feed, and nurture all of them on the property marked a shift away from what we wanted to grow for our own purposes, and what we chose to grow as part of a wild-life friendly garden.

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After a year or two of frustration and failure, hundreds of dollars wasted, and a catastrophe or two; we realized that we had to adapt and adjust our expectations to the realities of this place.

A dragonfly and Five Line Skink meet on a leaf of Lamb's Ears.

A dragonfly and Five Line Skink meet on a leaf of Lamb’s Ears.  Lamb’s Ears is one of the ornamental plants we grow which is never touched by deer.

 

What had worked in the past became irrelevant as we had to learn new ways to manage this bit of land.

And how to live in a garden filled with animals large and small.

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The other major shift in my plant selection has been towards interesting foliage, and away from flowers.

Fig, "Silvre Lyre" and Sage

Fig, “Silvre Lyre” and Sage

 

Although the garden is filled with flowers loved by hummingbirds, butterflies, bees of all sorts, wasps, moths, and who knows what else; the ornamentals we choose for our own pleasure run more towards plants with beautiful and unusual leaves.

 

Huge Cannas and Colocasia chosen as a screen between home and road have interesting leaves.  The Cannas also produce wildlife friendly red flowers.

Huge Cannas and Colocasia chosen as a screen between home and road have interesting leaves.  The Cannas also produce wildlife friendly red flowers.

 

If they produce flowers, those are secondary to the foliage.

There is such a wonderfully complex variety of foliage colors and patterns now available.

 

Begonias in a hanging basket are grown mostly for their beautiful leaves.

Begonias in a hanging basket are grown mostly for their beautiful leaves.

 

And leaves are far more durable than flowers.  While flowers may last for a few days before they fade, leaves retain their health and vitality for many  months.

Begonia foliage

Begonia foliage

 

We enjoy red and purple leaves; leaves with  stripes and spots; variegated leaves; leaves with beautifully colored veins; ruffled leaves; deeply lobed leaves; fragrant leaves; even white leaves.

 

"Harlequin" is one of the few variegated varieties of Butterfly bush.

“Harlequin” is one of the few variegated varieties of Butterfly bush.

 

While all of these beautiful leaves may not have any direct benefit for wildlife- other than cleansing the air, of course –  they do become food now and again.

These Caladiums are supposed to be poisonous, and therefore left alone by deer.... But something ate them....

These Caladiums are supposed to be poisonous, and therefore left alone by deer…. But something ate them….

 

It’s easier to find plants with distasteful or poisonous leaves, than with unappetizing flowers.

Our efforts to grow plants the deer won’t devour may also drive our move towards foliage plants and away from flowering ones.

Scented Pelargoniums offer pretty good protection to plants near them.  This pepper has survived to ripeness.

Scented Pelargoniums offer pretty good protection to plants near them. This pepper has survived to ripeness.

 

Our interests, and our selections, continue to evolve.

Gloriosa Lily, new in the garden this year, is hanging down off of the deck.

Gloriosa Lily, new in the garden this year, is hanging down off of the deck, still out of reach of hungry deer.

 

We choose a few new plants each year to try; and we still seek out a few successful  varieties of annuals each spring and fall.

The garden never remains the same two seasons in a row.

 

Spikemoss is a plant we've just begun using as groudcover in pots and beds.

Spikemoss is a plant we’ve just begun using as ground cover in pots and beds.

 

It is always evolving into some newer, better version of itself.

As I hope we are, as well.

 

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Photos by Woodland Gnome, 2014

 

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Summer Still Life

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Summer Still Life

July ends today, and tomorrow we greet August.

The garden is still building towards autumn, the busiest, “blooming-est” time of all.

It is a fine time to pause and take a deep breath; to appreciate the beauty which surrounds us now.

 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

July Remembered…..

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Lantana

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Lantana

Here we are in the second week of February, with another major winter storm sweeping across the United States.  Every weather forecast sounds more dire, with snow projections rising and temperatures dropping.

Our neighbors to the south, across Georgia, and the Carolinas, are bracing for another blow of winter snow and ice, having just dug out from the storm two weeks ago.  Normally temperatures are moderating for us here in the Southeast by mid-February.

But, we still had leftover snow in Williamsburg until today, sulking in shady spots and parking lots.  We have two fresh bags of ice-melt stacked in the garage, ready for what is apparently on its way.

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It is time to remember July.  It is time to dig out photos of summer flowers and butterflies, green, leafy trees and a garden alive with activity.  Spring feels very far away at the moment, and I just need a reminder of what lies ahead.  Perhaps, you do too.

A volunteer sunflower, growing happily in a pot from, feeds a happy bee.

A volunteer sunflower, growing happily in a pot from, feeds a happy bee.

So here are some of my favorite photos from last July.  I hope you enjoy a brief  “summer vacation” as much as I do, even as we shiver through this very frigid February.

Stay warm! 

Winter Pruning

december 15 2013 Santas 008

When winter days turn warmish and dry in the afternoon, many of us like to get outside and do some small thing in the garden.

This is the perfect time to begin pruning hardwood trees and shrubs to shape them up for the coming season.  Why prune at all?

Pruned shrubs have put on new growth and buds by mid-May.

Pruned shrubs have put on new growth and buds by mid-May.

– Improve the plant’s shape and general appearance

-Control the plant’s size

-Improve the plant’s health

-Increase the plant’s vigor and bloom in the coming season

This little Crepe Myrtle put on a lot of growth after its June damage in a storm.  Now is the time to prune and shape the new growth.

This little Crepe Myrtle put on a lot of growth after its June damage in a storm. Now is the time to prune and shape the new growth.  Much of the new, twiggy growth needs to go so energy is channeled into growing a new structure for this tree.

Many small trees, like Crepe Myrtle and Rose of Sharon, produce lots of chaotic, twiggy growth during the summer season.  With the leaves gone, we can take a moment to examine each one and determine what to leave and what to prune.

Before pruning any flowering shrub, please make sure you know whether it blooms on old wood left from the previous season, or on new wood.  Shrubs like Forsythia, Azalea, Hydrangea, and Lilacs set buds for the coming spring blooms during the previous autumn.  Any late winter pruning removes the branches set to bloom in the coming spring.  A hard pruning will sacrifice that season’s bloom.

The same Crepe Myrtle, after pruning.

The same Crepe Myrtle, after pruning.

An unpruned shrub is a confusing mass of little twigs and larger branches.  Before making the first cut, take a few moments to study the plant.  Look for its structure; the  main skeleton which gives it shape and form.  If you are new to pruning, take photos of the plant and spend some time studying them on your computer before making any pruning cuts.  As you examine the plant you’ll begin to see what should be left behind to support the new season’s growth.

Here are the general things to consider before beginning to prune any woody plant:

Size:  Is this plant at its mature size?  If a plant is still growing into itself, you want to help it develop a strong structural skeleton of branches.  Consider whether you want one main trunk with side  branches, a main trunk which forks and bushes out into several main branches as it gets taller, or whether you want a clump of main stems which branch out into a large canopy of branches.

Roses respond to pruning with abundant bloom on new wood.  These English shrub roses don't require the same hard pruning a tea rose requires.

Roses respond to pruning with abundant bloom on new wood. These English shrub roses don’t require the same hard pruning a tea rose requires.

Any time you cut the tip off of a branch, you will activate the buds lower on the branch so they grow into new lateral branches.  If you cut the tip off of a main vertical stem, two, three, or more new man stems will grow from the buds below that cut in the coming year.  A “fork” will develop, multiplying your one main stem into several.  The canopy will grow broader.

Crepe Myrtle will "sucker" with new vertical growth around the main stem.  Remove this new growth to grow a single trunk.  Leave only a few strong stems to grow as a clump.

Crepe Myrtle will “sucker” with new vertical growth around the main stem. Remove this new growth to grow a single trunk. Leave only a few strong stems to grow as a clump.

If you want to keep a clumping shrub, like Crepe Myrtle, to a single trunk; remove the new smaller vertical growth coming from the base.  If you want a ‘ clump”, remove all but the strongest few vertical stems.

If grazing deer attack your garden, as they do mine, remember to “limb up” trees as they grow so the lowest limbs are too high for the deer to reach.
This is especially important if you have any fruit trees, so tasty leaves and fruits are out of reach.  If you don’t do it, deer are attracted to graze in your garden and will do the pruning for you…

Thin Rose of Sharon, and remove seed heads at the ends of branches any time now through early March.  These shrubs bloom on new wood, so light pruning increases the number of blooms.

Thin Rose of Sharon, and remove seed heads at the ends of branches any time now through early March. These shrubs bloom on new wood, so light pruning increases the number of blooms.

Density:  Most shrubs and small trees need light to penetrate through the canopy to the interior of the shrub.  Keeping the branch structure somewhat open will increase flowering and improve the plant’s health.  Air circulation allows the plant to dry faster after a rain, reducing fungal disease.  An open structure allows strong winds to pass right through, limiting damage in storms.

Remove branches growing towards the plant’s interior.  Keep all lateral branches growing outward towards the periphery.

Where branches cross, select one to keep and one to remove.  Don’t leave branches touching one another, or crossing in the interior of the shrub.

January 1 2014 Parkway 005

Very old, and damaged trees and shrubs might need heavy pruning. All damage and dead wood should be removed, then the remaining branches thinned. In extreme cases rejuvenate by cutting the tree down to a stump. New growth will come from the stump in most cases.

Where many tiny twiggy branches have grown, especially on a vertical stem, remove all but a few strong ones placed where you want new branches.  If the shrub is small, and these twiggy branches are close to the ground, you can safely remove them all.  Remove up to a third of the wood on most small trees and shrubs.

If a shrub must be pruned to keep it smaller than its natural size to fit its spot in the garden, keep in mind that every cut stimulates new growth.   Cut the main vertical stems shorter than you want the plant to be by mid-summer, since the pruning cut will stimulate new vertical growth.

This Josee Lilac is still young and requires little or no pruning.  Its buds are set in autumn and should be pruned in early summer after its first bloom.  Removing spent blossoms will cause it to rebloom several times during the summer.

This Josee Lilac is still young and requires little or no pruning. Its buds are set in autumn and so it should be pruned in early summer after its first bloom. Removing spent blossoms will cause it to rebloom several times during the summer.

It is better to remove a branch all the way back to a main stem than it is to “head it back” part way, unless you intend to stimulate new lateral branches.  If you prune off the tip, all of the buds below the tip are activated to give new branches.

Appearance:  Remove any branch or stem which is obviously dead.  Cut back any broken or damaged branches to an inch or so below the damage.  Remove or head back any branch which ruins the silhouette of the plant, or conflicts with the general lines and shape you have established.

“Dead head” seed heads left from last year’s flowers.  Remember that when you cut back a branch, you stimulate growth of new wood, and therefore new spots where flowers will emerge.

Butterfly bush, Buddhleia, blooms on new wood.  Cut the plants hard, within a foot or two of the ground, to control the shrub's size and get abundant bloom.  This shrub will continue to bloom until frost if you cut the dead flowers away throughout the summer.

Butterfly bush, Buddleia, blooms on new wood.  Cut the plants hard, within a foot or two of the ground, to control the shrub’s size and get abundant bloom. This shrub will continue to bloom until frost if you cut the dead flowers away throughout the summer.

A fine point:  Examine a branch before making the pruning cut.  Notice the tiny buds along the branch.  Choose the bud you want to stimulate to grow and make the pruning cut just above it.

January 9 pruning 007

Notice three new stems are left in addition to the original trunk of this Crepe Myrtle tree, cut off when the tree was crushed in June. I could remove all of these, but left them to form a clump to eventually hide the damage. Notice how little wood is left after pruning. All of the plant’s energy will pour into these branches in spring, and the tree will grow by several feet in the coming season.

Notice the buds are positioned all around the circumference of the branch.  Some point inwards, others outwards.  Choose a bud growing in the direction you wish the dominant new branch to grow, and cut just above this bud.  Make a diagonal, angled cut just a millimeter or so above the chosen bud.

Your newly pruned plant will look very clean and open when you are finished.  Remember this is just the plant’s skeleton.  Spring will clothe these branches not only in leaves, but also in new wood.  The shrub will fill out very quickly through spring and early summer.  Vigorous new growth is a hormonal response to pruning.  A pruned plant will actually grow larger and more vigorous in the following season.

Exceptions to the rules:

Some shrubs, such as Butterfly Bush, want to be cut back nearly to the ground.  Use heavy pruners or a small saw to cut the entire plant back to only a foot or two tall.  This is called “coppicing,” and this form of pruning is used to rejuvenate many species of shrub and tree.  New growth from the remaining trunk will be fresh and vigorous.  Butterfly Bush often grows too large for its space, and flower production declines when it is left unpruned or is pruned too lightly.  Do this in late winter, but after the worst of the freezing weather is over.

Forsythia buds were set by late autumn.  Winter pruning removes the spring flowers.  If you must trim a Forsythia back in winter, save the branches to force blooms inside in a vase of water.

Forsythia buds were set by late autumn. Winter pruning removes the spring flowers. If you must trim a Forsythia back in winter, save the branches to force blooms inside in a vase of water.

Roses are often coppiced.  Tea roses respond well to hard winter pruning, giving more blossoms on the newly grown wood.  Climbing roses and
English shrub roses shouldn’t be pruned so hard.  Shaping, removing dead or damaged wood and crossed branches are all that is required.  An old, thick rose may be rejuvenated by pruning up to a third of the older stems back to just above the bud union.  Younger plants don’t require such drastic treatment.

Spring blooming shrubs, like Forsythia, should be pruned in late spring, after they bloom.  If you do tidy up a Forsythia with light pruning in late winter, bring the pruned branches inside in a vase of water and enjoy them indoors as cut flowers.  I’ve had these forced branches eventually form roots, and have planted them outside where they grew into new shrubs.  All woody spring blooming shrubs can be forced to bloom early indoors in this way.  If you have fruit trees to prune, you might want to bring some of the branches indoors, in a vase of water, to enjoy their early blossoms.

Beauty Berry responds well when it is pruned hard in winter with abundant summer growth and flowers, followed by autumn berries.

Beauty Berry responds well when it is pruned hard in winter with abundant summer growth and flowers, followed by autumn berries.

Tools:  There are many brands and styles of hand pruners on the market.  Choose pruners which feel comfortable in your hand, have a sharp blade, and are sturdy enough to trim the shrubs you need to prune.

Keep the pruners cleaned by disinfecting the blade from time to time, and keep them sharp.  Ragged or torn cuts allow disease to enter a stem.  Make sure your pruners make clean, sharp cuts.  Use loppers or a pruning saw for larger branches.

Gather your cut branches on a tarp on in a large bag and remove them from the garden.  There are many traditional uses for larger branches.  Some may be used to build trellises, small fences, stakes, or may be used in building a raised bed.

Grape Mahonia shrubs need no pruning at all.  Their winter flowers will open sometime in the next month.  These shrubs remain compact and neat.

Grape Mahonia shrubs need no pruning at all. Their winter flowers will open sometime in the next month. These shrubs remain compact and neat.

Use or dispose of all your trimmings.  Just leaving them lying about on the ground encourages disease and insects.

Pruning can be done a little at a time over the next two months in Zone 7b.  Further north, it pays to wait until February or March so plants aren’t stimulated to grow too soon.  Further south, pruning is an ongoing task in the garden.  Winter allows us to see the bones of our gardens, and the structure of our plants.  It is a good time to shape, refine, and lay the ground work for the garden we will enjoy this coming spring.

All photos by Woodland Gnome 2013-2014

Sumac berries are still an important food source for wildlife.  However, cut away the old to make way for new growth by early spring.

Sumac berries are still an important food source for wildlife. However, cut away the old to make way for new growth by early spring.

After the Frost

November 16 2013 after the frost 001

The ginger lilies were hit by frost early Thursday morning, and will bloom no more this season. The Lavender will remain green and beautiful through much of the winter, blooming in early spring.

Our first heavy frost came Wednesday night into Thursday morning, with a low in the 20s overnight.  We were greeted with a sparkling white lawn on Thursday morning and obvious frost kill on the ginger lilies and Lantana.  The garden does, indeed, look like a very different place than it did early in the week.  In fact, there was a distinct “seedy” air to it when friends visited yesterday to adopt a half dozen Mahonia seedlings.

The garden looks a little "seedy" at the moment...

The garden looks a little “seedy” at the moment…

Looking around the garden one might wonder where to even begin with the clean up.

And I would ask, what needs to be cleaned up, and why?   Since the garden is a wild place, and is designed to shelter birds and other small creatures, we tend to look more to maintaining the balance of the garden than to pure aesthetics.

Lambs Ears will stay green through most of the winter.  Remove any dead foliage, and keep tree leaves from accumulating on top of the plant.

Lambs Ears will stay green through most of the winter. Remove any dead foliage, and keep tree leaves from accumulating on top of the plant.

Our goal is to let every bit be used, nothing thrown away, so much as we are able.  We try to allow one season’s growth to nurture the next.

With that in mind, here is an overview of what we will do, and not do, over the next three months.

Tender perennials

Ginger lilies are left alone to collapse and mulch their how roots until at least February.

Ginger lilies are left alone to collapse and mulch their own roots until at least February.

We push the limits of hardiness by growing ginger lilies and Lantana here as perennials.  Technically, they aren’t hardy to zone 7, and in an especially cold winter, might not be.  We have found that leaving the plants in place after frost kills back the foliage helps them survive winter.  Although not beautiful, the dying leaves and stems provide insulation to the roots and so increases the chances of them living through the winter.

The ginger lilies will collapse after another few cold nights, fall to the ground, and provide a thick mulch; along with the leaves falling from the trees.  I’ll move this around so the rose roots are also mulched and simply let it be until late January or early February.  On a warmish day I’ll cut and remove the stalks, exposing the growth tips of next summer’s lilies; dig the rhizomes growing forward into the roses, and vacuum out the accumulated leaves from the surrounding trees.  The roses will get pruned back and the entire bed will get a fresh cover of compost.  I’ve already vacuumed and shredded leaves from this bed once this week, but its hard to tell that now.

Lantana are left in place until at least March to protect their roots and provide food and shelter for songbirds.

Lantana are left in place until at least March to protect their roots and provide food and shelter for songbirds.

The Lantana have grown into large woody shrubs over the summer.  The largest are over 6′ tall now.  They were in full bloom when the frost came, and so are still covered in flowers and berries.  This is a favorite spot of our songbirds who appreciate the ready food supply and the dense shelter of the Lantana.  We’ll leave these in place, just as they are, until at least March.

No, the Lantana aren’t pretty anymore.  I suppose we could string white lights over them for the holidays, but we’ve never done that.  By patiently leaving them in place through winter and into early spring we’ll protect the roots and have a better chance of enjoying them again next summer.  When the time comes to trim them back, we’ll cut them to 6″-12″, depending on the plant, and remove all of the old leaves and branches from the bed.

I generally set Violas into this bed as I remove them from pots during spring planting.  They’ll live here for another few weeks, and then die off as the Lantana fills in again.  This bed will also get a thick covering of fresh compost, some Rose Tone, and general re-working in March.  Patience is required with Lantana because they normally don’t show new growth until late April or May.

Bright rose hips form when spent roses aren't deadheaded.  These are pretty during autumn, and provide food for birds who will eat them.

Bright rose hips form when spent roses aren’t deadheaded. These are pretty during autumn, and provide food for birds who will eat them.

Roses

Roses have not died back with the frost.  We still have both leaves and buds.  They may even bloom some more over the next few weeks.  Trimming roses always stimulates growth, and so it is important to wait until early spring to prune them.  Hard pruning now could kill the plant if tender new growth dies off in a hard freeze.  Deadheading spent blooms is even optional this time of year.  Of course, in our climate, roses will continue sending out new growth over the next few months with only a short break in late December and early January.  I’ll wait until February to prune them, and will begin giving Rose Tone and Epson salts by early March.

Hardy Perennials

Seeds from hardy Hibiscus pods provide food for many birds.

Seeds from hardy Hibiscus pods provide food for many birds.

Hardy perennials like Peonies, Rudbeckia, Echinacea, Iris, Hibiscus, and Chrysanthemum are often the first targets for fall garden clean up.  Browned foliage is simply cut off near the ground, tossed into a trash bag, and “Voila”, the garden looks much neater.

That is certainly one approach, but isn’t mine. 

Peony leaves are definitely unsightly now.  Since the flowers bloomed in May, they haven’t looked good for a while.   The frost finished them off, and the foliage definitely needs to get cut back before spring growth begins.

Peony foliage should be cut back in autumn, supports removed, and stored.

Peony foliage should be cut back in autumn, supports removed, and stored.

Peony crowns don’t need insulation from their own leaves, and leaving them in place can certainly encourage disease.  This is the first foliage I’ll cut on the next warm day.  I don’t bag such trimmings and add them to the trash pick up, but neither do I add it to a compost pile.  We’ll throw these trimmings  into the ravine, away from our perennial beds, along with other old foliage.

The Iris are still blooming, and their rhizomes will continue to grow all winter.  Dead leaves and finished stalks may be removed, but it is too late in the season to dig or divide the plants. 

Iris, "Rosalie Figgee" will continue to bloom into December.  She'll take a break, and bloom again in the spring.

Iris, “Rosalie Figgee” will continue to bloom into December. She’ll take a break, and bloom again in the spring.

Chrysanthemums are just finishing.  Spent flowers should be deadheaded, and in fact the plants can be cut back after the leaves are killed by frost.  If protected, new buds can still open in the weeks ahead.  Any new, potted chrysanthemums should be planted as soon as possible if you intend to keep them as perennials.  Otherwise, add them to the compost pile.

Echinacea seeds are enjoyed by many birds.  The dried cones also make nice additions to autumn wreathes and arrangements.

Echinacea seeds are enjoyed by many birds. The dried cones also make nice additions to autumn wreathes and arrangements.

Echinacea finished flowering weeks ago.  Their seeds are loved by goldfinches and other birds.  They can be left standing in the garden deep into winter.  They are sculptural, attractive to some, and definitely appreciated by the birds.

The  same is true of any Hibiscus or Rudbeckia seed pods still standing.  They can be left in place until March or April if you wish.  Collect seeds to broadcast in areas you would like new plants, or leave them to the birds.  You might even cut some Echinacea or Hibiscus to use in winter wreathes, pots, or arrangements.  It can be sprayed gold to add a little sparkle, if you wish.

Other perennials, like lambs ears, daisies, Rosemary, Sage, Lavender, and other herbs will stay green through most, or all of the winter.

This daisy should be dead headed, but the foliage left alone until new growth appears at the base in spring.

This daisy should be dead headed, but the foliage left alone until new growth appears at the base in spring.

I’ll deadhead the daisies, but leave the foliage standing until new growth appears in spring.  Herbs should have already been harvested and trimmed.  What is left can be lightly harvested all winter, or simply left alone.

Shrubs

Hydrangea needs to be deadheaded before spring.  Cut carefully above any buds so next season's flowers are left on the shrub.

Hydrangea needs to be deadheaded before spring. Cut carefully above any buds so next season’s flowers are left on the shrub.

Hydrangea blossoms dry easily.  You can collect them now for a fall arrangement.   Already dry blossoms can be sprayed gold or used as is in wreathes and winter arrangements.  There is no value to the plant in leaving them, and in fact they just look worse as the season progresses.  And, they don’t harbor any seeds for the birds.When you trim them, be careful to cut above where new buds are forming so you don’t prune off next year’s blossoms.

Wait to trim Rose of Sharon until the worst winter weather has passed.  Songbirds will enjoy their seeds through the winter.

Wait to trim Rose of Sharon until the worst winter weather has passed. Songbirds will enjoy their seeds through the winter.

Rose of Sharon is covered in little dry seed pods at present.  These can be left as an important food source for the birds as long as you wish.  I generally prune back Rose of Sharon in early spring.  Most need to be thinned and shaped before new growth begins.  Since this shrub blooms on new wood, pruning only increases the following season’s bloom.  Althea tend to be tender sometimes, and may die for no apparent reasons.  So I don’t cut them, leaving wounds exposed, until after the worst winter weather has passed.

Buddleia, butterfly bush, should also be left alone until early spring.  Not only is it covered in seeds, but it will have a greater chance of survival if left unpruned until early spring.  Cut back hard in February, almost to the ground, as it blooms each year on new growth.

This Camellia was grazed by deer sometime in the last day or so.  Although protected with Plant Skydd, after the rain it must have been palatable enough...

This Camellia was grazed by deer sometime in the last day or so. Although protected with Plant Skydd, after the rain it must have been palatable enough…

Camellias, as evergreens, are in their glory at the moment.  Many are either blooming now or preparing to bloom.  They enjoy a mulch of chopped leaves, so mulch freely as yard clean up progresses.  Their main need at the moment is protection from grazing deer.  Deer love the flower buds and will even eat their leaves.  I have sprayed mine with Plant Skydd multiple times, and will continue to do so.

Another concern is with damage done by bucks during “rutting season” in autumn.  They go a little crazy during their mating season, and rub their antlers against trees and shrubs.  The damage to this little magnolia happened last night.

Magnolia tree damaged overnight by a rutting buck.

Magnolia tree damaged overnight by a rutting buck.

  I have no idea why a buck chose to damage this particular tree, since it’s small, pliable, and not a favorite to eat.  But, he did.  Despite hours and hours spent this week reinforcing deer fences and protecting individual plants, somehow a buck  got in and stripped the bark down much of the Magnolia’s trunk.  I taped up one of the branches left hanging, and will hope for healing.  This Magnolia is special to us as our neighbor gave it to us.  Ironically, I sprayed Plant Skydd, even on this Magnolia, earlier this week.

Figs are also losing their leaves now.

Figs survivie our winters without special winter protection.  Remove fallen leaves and give the roots a little mulch.

Figs survivie our winters without special winter protection. Remove fallen leaves and give the roots a little mulch.

The plants are covered in buds for next season’s growth.  Although they need winter protection further north, the figs seem to overwinter very well here with no particular care.  Other than gathering their leaves, and possibly adding some compost or shredded leaf mulch around the roots, they will make it through winter just fine.

Hollies, Pyracantha, Cedar, Forsythia, Viburnum, and other shrubs won’t need any particular care over the next several moths.  All will appreciate shredded leaves mulched over their roots.  Forsythia still have their leaves, but I noticed a few yellow blossoms on some of our shrubs yesterday.  They normally bloom in February, so this November bloom is a mystery…

Annuals

Annual Ageratum should be clipped at the soil line and discarded.  It could be replaced with Violas for bloom through the winter.

Annual Ageratum should be clipped at the soil line and discarded. It could be replaced with Violas for bloom through the winter.

Annual flowers and herbs are past their season now.  Unless they are covered in ripe seeds, like the Basil, there is no reason to leave them any longer.  Clip at the soil line, leaving the roots  to enrich the soil.

Some annuals, like Cleome reseed freely and can become invasive.  These should definitely be removed.  Others, like this basil, will feed many hungry birds.

This basil is covered in ripe seeds.  I'll remove it, but throw the plant into the ravine where the birds will still enjoy its seeds.

This basil is covered in ripe seeds. I’ll remove it, but throw the plant into the ravine where the birds will still enjoy its seeds.

But it doesn’t have to be here.  This whole plant can be removed in the interest if tidiness and thrown into the ravine, where the birds will still enjoy the seeds.  Seeds should never be added to a compost pile, for obvious reasons.

Fallen Leaves

Living in a forest, we have leaves everywhere at the moment.  They are still falling.  Some of our neighbors are so concerned with the leaves that we hear their blowers running daily.  In fact, we shake our head in disbelief at neighbors out blowing leaves off their walk or driveway on a windy day, with leaves continuing to fall all around them.

November 16 2013 after the frost 009

Hardy Hibiscus seed heads stand out against the leaf covered forest floor.

It must be a deeply held cultural fetish to manicure the lawn and remove every fallen leaf; a concern we don’t share.   And so we have made only small efforts so far to sweep the porches and steps, clear the driveway, and remove leaves from newly planted Violas.

When most of the leaves have fallen, we’ll use a combination of broom, lawn mower and our leaf blower/bagger to tidy up around the house.   We do our best to maintain the peace and quiet by using hand tools, like a rake, when possible.

Wet leaves underfoot are definitely a safety hazard, especially when they freeze.  And wet leaves on masonry do bad things to steps and porches.  Our reality, living among deciduous trees, is that leaves blow around from place to place all winter long.  We accept them and appreciate the good things they do for the garden.

Leaves around porches and walkways can be swept, and then shredded.

Leaves around porches and walkways can be swept, and then shredded.

Leaves are extremely important  for building good soil.  As they decompose they release many important nutrients to the soil, feed earthworms and other soil dwelling creatures, insulate the ground, and hold moisture.  We either shred the leaves with the lawn mower, allowing them to mix with the grass clippings for speedier decomposition,  or suck them up with our blower.  In both cases we catch them in the appliance’s bag, and pour them out around shrubs where the mulch is needed.  Leaves are far too valuable to an organic gardener to bag and throw away. Carbon and nitrogen, along with many minerals, accumulate in the leaves throughout the summer.  These are released and enrich the soil as the leaves decompose.  When earthworms feed on the leaves, even more of their nutrient content is made available to feed other plants.

My friend has begun working on a new hugelkultur bed and will fill this area with shredded leaves, fallen branches, and other organic materials to prepare for spring planting.

My friend has begun working on a new hugelkultur bed and will fill this area with shredded leaves, fallen branches, and other organic materials to prepare for spring planting.

Shredded leaves are an important ingredient for new hugelkultur beds and for  compost piles.

Any spot where you plan to plant in spring can be covered in a layer of shredded  leaves now.  First lay down cardboard, grocery bags, or sheets of newspaper in new areas to kill off any grass or weeds over the winter, pour on the shredded leaves, and then water the pile to keep the leaves from blowing away.  This method is called “sheet composting”.   Throughout winter add coffee grounds, tea bags, vegetable scraps, rinsed egg shells, and used potting soil under the leaves.  Top this mound off with a few inches of topsoil or finished compost in spring, and plant directly into this new bed.

Shredded leaves used as mulch around shrubs enrich the soil, conserve moisture, encourage earthworms, and prevent erosion.

Shredded leaves used as mulch around shrubs enrich the soil, conserve moisture, encourage earthworms, and prevent erosion.

So work done in the garden, now that we’ve had our first frost, will focus on conserving our resources and preparing for the coming season.  As we clean up what remains from this year’s growth, we will provide protection from winter’s cold, allow food and shelter for our birds to remain in place, build the soil, and prepare our beds for the coming season.  Recycling nature’s gifts enriches the garden, and makes it more beautiful and abundant with each passing year.

All photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

“A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself.

Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people. ”

Franklin D. Roosevelt

After the frost, the garden is still beautiful.

After the frost, the garden is still beautiful.

Late Summer Purple Haze

We’re a week into September, and finished with the holidays of summer.   Everyone is back in school, from the kids at the College to the home schoolers. You can almost here the hum of brain activity between the diesel rumblings of the school busses each morning and afternoon. Our  mornings are cool and brisk, with … Continue reading

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