Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The kindest cut...most gardeners are well acquainted with the concepts of pruning and dead-heading. These tasks have always made me uneasy, however, and not because I'm lazy or anything (I am, but that's not the point.) It's just that I'm afraid, rather irrationally so, that the plant will up and die on me. But with all my wild animals "pruning" without permission, I'm coming around. So this year, the slicing commences! First, my new hydrangea "Little Lamb"...very impressive first year with its healthy branches and enthusiastic blooms. Too enthusiastic for its own good, as the branches are sagging under the weight of the blooms...


....so I lobbed off all but one small bloom-much better! Poor thing has to contend with drought as it is, along with some creature digging around the roots (prompting the placement of the recycled rubber "tree guard"), so now it can save energy for getting established.


This nice dianthus was a blooming machine in the spring, so how about some scissor-action to promote re-bloom?
And here it is....not as pretty as in spring, and the foliage is suffering from the dry weather. Likely more blooming than I'd have seen without dead-heading though, so what the hey. Late one evening....I got to looking at my sneezeweed (helenium), and thought-"What if I cut this back early in the year...will it still bloom?" Never tried it before, but why not?




Whack! Down to half its size! Sure hope it still blooms....
....and happily, it does! It still got fairly tall (3 feet or so), but not the 5 feet tall like usual, and there look to be just as many blooms as last year! This is good information for me, cuz' I added several more heleniums this year, and some are sited rather foolishly in front of plants that won't like the shade. Now I can just prune back the heleniums to give everybody a fighting chance. Cool!More dianthus....I have quite a few of these, and I seem to get more every year...hmm...."Dianthus Anonymous"? (Yea, and hosta anon., sedum anon., etc., etc., ha!) Anyhow, off with its heads!
This time, re-bloom is almost as good as first bloom...super! Now friends, this here story doesn't end quite as well. This purple beauty is "Husker Red" penstemon, minding its own business doin' its growing thing this spring...
.....dig the nice flowers....
....I mean, pretty and very contrasty...nice! So "Lisa the executioner" decides that some cutting-back is appropriate here..........and for the rest of the season, my penstemon pouts.....no more blooms! Crap! Note to self: leave the penstemon the hell alone! More pretty dianthus....this one was purchased as an "annual", yet returned from root for the 3rd year. Looks awfully naked after the pruning....
........second bloom here is rather enemic too. Oh well, can't win em' all! So I pruned it back again... ....and got a 3rd flush of bloom....still less than the first, but that's to be expected anyhow.
These two "Charlie Brown" looking trees to the left of the photo were wild-acquired natives, and I'm not exactly sure what they are...hemlocks? They drop their needles in fall, then green up in spring (my tree ID skills ae sorely lacking). Anyway, I want the one to the right to be shorter, so.....
....off with your head! I have an "Olga Bay" larch that was pruned for me by some-one or some-thing, and it's all bushy and kinda cool, so that's what I'm after here. Looks sort of pitiful at first, though.

What a difference a couple months makes! Bushing up just fine....now these two can be "me and mini-me", and the locust tree that I want to plant behind it will get plenty of sun.
Here's one more pruning experiment gone wrong...baptisia from Plant Delights which has bloomed very well for the past 2 years. However, it's planted in front of a hops vine which is struggling in the shade. So I cut back baptisia earlier in the year, and this is how it stayed...*sigh*. Got some new top growth, but no blooms....next year the hops vine is on its own!
And who could forget the most reliable and worthwhile pruning subject-phlox! My mom says you can cut these back to about 8" tall until the fourth of July (she's in zone 5, but I'm close enough), so then they stay bushy and don't flop over with blooms. Sucess!

12 comments:

mmw said...

Yeah, I've found appropriate pruning the hardest thing about learning to garden. But my penstemon (species unknown) seems to rebloom whether or not I cut it back.

lisa said...

Funny I'd get a bad result from DOING something, usually it's the other way around!

Blackswamp_Girl said...

Very cool--I love the cause-and-effect photos you included, Lisa. (I can never plan that far ahead with my blog posts to take the "here's what it looked like when I first did this" photos.)

With the baptisia, if you let it bloom first you can cut it back a bit after bloom. You won't get the cool-looking seedpods, but it would stay shorter... of course, if that hops vine takes off next year, you may not need it to be too short. :)

Bob said...

Lisa, Good to know about the Helenium. I in fact just posted about them.
happy gardening, Bob

EAL said...

Yes, these are the lessons of one of my favorite gardening books, but I don't follow them nearly enough. I'll try--next year.

chuck b. said...

Gotta prune.

I don't understand why your penstemon didn't come back. I don't think that makes sense to blame it on pruning. Could it be something else?

lisa said...

Kim-I'm sure hoping the hops takes off, I amended with horse manure last winter and it did better, but not that much. As for pictures, I take lots of them but they aren't very well organized so my posts can get rather time-consuming just trying to find them.

Bob-I like your helenium post, I never knew why it was called sneezeweed...that would be some crazy "snuff"!

EAL-Heh...I've said that for years, but just finally got more courage this year. Seems like there are as many tasks as there is time for, and then some! It was so hot this year, that pruning and watering were about all I managed to do.

Chuck-I thought it was fairly odd, too...but I cannot imagine any other cause. It was just wierd, it didn't die, but also didn't grow at all, either. Definately the strangest response to pruning that I've ever seen.

Annie in Austin said...

Just a guess, Lisa, but some of the plants that make a 'rosette' at the base might do better if you prune out the stalk and let a new one come up. This works on stuff like my Coreopsis Creme Brulee and might work on your penstemon... but I'll let you do the experiment!

Cutting plants like Asters and Balloon Flowers to one foot when they're 20"-24" inches tall also seems to make them bushier and stand up better. Some years I remember to do it, some years I forget.

The dianthus thing is fun, isn't it? Mine live in containers - croak in the ground - and I keep snipping them.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

chuck b. said...

Annie's right; I prune my cineraria like that. Does the penstemon grow from a rosette? If it does than I less about penstemon than I thought. I only know a few CA native species in that genus, but of course there are many, many more.

~Becky said...

Good for you to be brave and do the dead-heading thing.
I must do a lot of that before winter sets in. Last year i did not and my garden was a big mess come spring!
Now, where are my scissors and pruning shears?

LostRoses said...

Lisa, we live and learn, don't we? Except I have a hard time remembering what I learned for the next time! I'm really impressed that you have all the before and after photos too. Yum, does that pink phlox smell as good as it looks?

lisa said...

Annie-I'm not sure why my penstemon acted that way, but I will definately treat it differently next year!

Chuck-I don't know about rosette, but the leaves do clasp the stem...that penstemon family is nearly as large as the asters, and culturally I'd bet there are quite a few variables.

Becky-Yea, if it weren't for the overly hot weather, I may not have kept up with it so well.

Lostroses-I keep a "garden log" on paper to help me remember stuff, and the blog assists me as well, but many things still slip through the cracks ;-) Oh yea, that phlox smells even better than it looks!