tripod ladder

Preparing to Amputate

Have you ever noticed a suburban garden in which the house is pretty much hidden behind overgrown shrubs, hulking trees, or an out-of-control hedge? Have you wondered who lives there, and why they’ve allowed all this overgrowth? Maybe they’re no longer capable of trimming and pruning. Maybe they’re reclusive weirdos. Maybe they just like living in a small private jungle.

I find such scenes a bit depressing. Which is why I don’t want my place to look like that. Nor would I want the post office to cut off service because the letter carrier doesn’t want to bushwhack their way to the door. Neither would first responders in case of emergency.

All right, things aren’t nearly that bad here right now, but some shrubs in this garden do need serious pruning. Editing, you might say.

  • Magnolia. Needs a major limb removed that is shading part of a perennial bed.
  • Ceanothus. Needs a major limb removed that is crowding the front walk.
  • Rosa glauca near front walk. The three or four oldest stems must be removed because they lean into the walk opposite the impinging Ceanothus, thus narrowing said walk unacceptably.
  • Cotoneaster franchetti. Needs to be lowered and reduced in bulk. Don’t want to cut it down altogether because it’s a big berry producer for birds in winter.
  • Photinia in front garden. Needs its annual trim to maintain the desired ice cream cone shape.
  • Small holly in back garden. There are too many hollies here already. Best to remove this one before it turns into a monster. Update: this one is DONE. Except it was two hollies that were a lot taller than I thought. Now cut down.
  • Big hollies in back garden. Already monsters that need to be beaten back.
  • Apple tree. Too tall and too wide. I seem to recall it was a “dwarf” when I planted it.
  • Smoke bush. Also too tall and too wide. This one can be cut down drastically, whereupon it will regrow with appalling vigor. I did that several years ago, but you’d never know it now. Some judicious trimming may be better.
  • The rampant shrub rose that has climbed into two maple trees and a couple of hollies on the west side of the back garden. It needs to be reminded that there are limits to growth, despite its cascade of fragrant white flowers in June.
Three-legged ladder and Photinia

I’ve already admitted I’m a reluctant pruner. Cutting off a limb, whether of an animal or a plant, is final. You can’t glue it back on. Mistakes aren’t easily fixable. And I get depressed at the sight of a perfectly good, nicely branched limb lying on the ground. Even when I know it had to be removed.

So I need to get into the right frame of mind, now that pruning season is about to start. January through March is the best time. Plants are dormant, it’s not too warm for the physical exertion needed, and I don’t have to worry about trampling smaller plants underfoot. And in March there’s the one day per year when the municipality picks up the trimmed-off material.

I have the right tools: two pruning saws, sharp secateurs, long handled loppers. A really good tripod ladder. Even a chain saw (for the magnolia job) and someone (i.e., the Spouse) to operate it. The subjects, (i.e., shrubs) are nicely anesthetized by winter dormancy, so will never know what happened. At least, I hope not.

Silky Gomtaro Root Saw

So go forth and prune, gardener! Seize the saw, climb the ladder, and cut! Amputate those darlings!

Crocuses along front walk

Spring Again

My garden to-do list for February and March

  • Finish winter pruning and haul brush pile to curb for collection
  • Clean up beds, cut down dead stalks, etc.
  • Uproot or cut suckers of lilac, snowberry, and Oregon grape from spots where they’re not wanted
  • Dig up or at least cut down plants of invasive Italian arum (aka Arum italicum or lords-and-ladies)
  • Pull up maple and laburnum seedlings, shotweed, and other weeds
  • Lay out soaker hoses. (They won’t be needed until June, but it’s much easier to wrestle them into place when plants are small)
  • Edge the beds that adjoin lawns
  • Acquire materials for mulching mix: bagged manure, lime, slow-release fertilizer, kelp meal, bone meal, alfalfa pellets
  • Mix above materials with compost to make Alfa-Omega* mix for mulching, and distribute among the beds
  • Repot potted delphiniums and hostas to larger pots; ditto the rose “Fragrant Cloud,” which was grown from a cutting and therefore is on its own rather feeble roots, rather than grafted onto a vigorous rootstock
  • Seed tomatoes
  • Execute the colchicum-clematis move as per plan.

*Alfalfa plus the “end product,” i.e., manure.

I’ve already done some of these things; others are in progress. Pruning was easier this spring due to the acquisition last fall of a ladder designed for use in gardens, as opposed to home maintenance.

Three-legged ladder and Photinia
This ladder is way more stable than the four-legged type, and can be adjusted for uneven terrain. Pruning the Photinia was much easier this year! (Photo taken Feb. 27/21)

While racing around doing the tasks on the to-do list, it’s nice to stop and admire something that looks wonderful.

Iris reticulata
Iris reticulata (Photo taken Feb. 19/21)
Hellebore "Pirouette"
Hellebore “Pirouette” in its new pot (repotted last September)
Hellebore "Pirouette"
Hellebore "Pirouette" flower closeup

Hellebore photos taken Mar. 6/21