Pruning, Flowers

Much of Pruning is About Renewal

Why am I spending so much time pruning these days? To keep plants manageable and healthy, of course. But also so that flowering and fruiting trees, shrubs, and vines keep on flowering and fruiting. “Renewal pruning” is what does this.

Pruning apple spur

As plant stems age, they — like all living things — become decrepit, no longer able to perform well. But any plant’s show or productivity can be kept up if stems that are too old are periodically lopped back, which promotes growth of new, young, fecund stems. That’s all there is to renewal pruning.

Ah, but the devil is in the details. One important detail is how old is “too old.” That depends on the flowering and fruiting habit of the plant.

Near one extreme would be pear trees. Along pear stems grow stubby growths, called “spurs,” which bear the tree’s flowers and fruits.

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AMUSING MUSINGS

(The following is excerpted from The Ever Curious Gardener: Using a Little Natural Science for a Much Better Garden, available here.)

Write the Name Right!

With little pressing, gardenwise, this time of year, why not muse about plant names — their common names and their sometimes intimidating-looking botanical names? Take the tree commonly named dawn redwood for example. ”Dawn redwood” admittedly reads more easily than this tree’s botanical name, Metasequoia glyptostroboides.

Wait! don’t stop reading! Instead, speak the Latin name aloud slowly: me-ta-see-KYOY-a GLYP-to-stro-boy-dees. It’s delightful, tonal poetry vocalized by a smooth dance of the lips, the tongue, and the upper pallete. 

Sensual pleasure aside, botanical names have a practical side. That woolly-leaved plant that sends up a candelabra of creamy yellow flowers each summer has a hundred or so common names. I call it mullein but other names include Aaron’s rod, Adam’s flannel, bullock’s lungwort, and velvet plant. This plant has only one botanical name, …

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Keep on Composting

One Problem in Cold Weather

I don’t let cold weather put the brakes on my composting, at least my role in it. For the bacteria, fungi, and other workers in my compost pile, it’s another story. Come cold temperatures, and their work come screeching to a halt or near halt (which depends on the degree of cold, the size of the pile, the mix of ingredients, and moisture).

But that’s no reason for me to abandon composting.

The main problem, as I see it, with composting in winter is not the workers not working. Pile up food scraps another organic materials winter, and composting will re-convene when warm weather arrives again in spring. The problem is that those food scraps offer a smorgasbord of tasty, easy calories for rodents. Which is not good.

(Lest you’re feeling fuzzy and warm to these furry creatures, a short list of what they could bring along to you …

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To Shred or Not To Shred, That is the Question

Organic Matters

My friend Margaret Roach (https://awaytogarden.com) is a top-notch gardener but not much of a tool maven. She recently said she considers me, and I quote, “the master of all tools and the king of compost” when she asked for my thoughts on compost shredders. (I blushed, but perhaps she was just softening me up for questioning. In fact, her tractor is better than mine.)

Of course I have thoughts about compost shredders.

Climb with me into my time machine and let’s travel back to the early 1970s, to Madison, Wisconsin, where you’ll find me working in my first garden. Like any good organic gardener, early on I appreciated the many benefits of organic materials in the garden, an appreciation bolstered by my having recently began my studies as a graduate student in soil science.

I was hauling all the organic materials I could lay hands on into my 700 square foot …

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Rosemary Tips

Secrets to Survival

I’ve killed plenty of rosemary plants over the years, typically in late winter. At least that’s when I’d discover that they were dead. Casually brushing against the plant would bring dried leaves raining to the floor.

Problem is that rosemary has naturally stiff leaves. They don’t wilt to broadcast that the plant is thirsty. And then it’s too late; the plant tells you it’s dead as it’s leaves flicker down.

Perhaps like you, I knew that rosemary is native to the Mediterranean region. The picture in my mind is of the plants thriving on a sun-drenched, dry, rocky hillside in poor soil. True enough, except below ground the roots are reaching deep or wide for water. Which my potted plants can’t do.

Following this latter realization — duh! — I haven’t lost a rosemary plant in years. The secret to keeping a potted rosemary plant happy is to keep it well …

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I Think My Vegetables are Nutritious

Nutrient Declines in Fruits and Vegetables

Growing vegetables is really quite simple. You put the seeds or transplants into sunny ground, you water and weed, and then you harvest your bounty. For that small effort, you can put on your plate food that is organically, sustainably, and (very) locally grown. Perhaps even richer in nutrients than food you can buy.

Studies over the past 15 or so years have documented a general decline in nutrients in our fruits and vegetables. Some people contend that our soils have been mined for their nutrients, worn out from poor farming, and therefore no longer able to provide us with nutritious food. The cure, according to these “experts,” is to sprinkle mineral-rich rock powders on the soil to replenish and rebalance that which has been lost. It all sounds very logical.

You might have sensed a big “but” looming. Here it is: But . . . further …

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What Midwinter, Spring-like Weather Will Do

My Garden’s A Mess!

After some really frigid weather a month ago followed by more or less seasonal cold, temperatures did a loop de loop and we’ve had a couple of days in the high ‘60s. Very unseasonal, to say the least, and perhaps another indication of global warming, but welcome nonetheless. Those temperatures, coupled with brightening sunshine, made me want to get my hands in some dirt.

A large, second-story bedroom window overlooks my main vegetable garden. The weather made me see it in a different perspective — it looked messy. 

I pride myself on putting everything in order each fall so that (quoting from Charles Dudley Warner’s 1886 My summer in the Garden) “The closing scenes are not necessarily funereal . . . A garden should be got ready for winter . . . neat and trim. . . in complete order so that its last days shall not present a …

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Catalog and Weather Watchin’

Armchair Gardening

Pretty much the only “gardening” I’m doing now is thumbing through the seed catalogs arriving in dribs and drabs in my mailbox. I’ve ordered and received what I thought I’ll need, but you never know; maybe there something else interesting out there to grow.

Among the most fun of these catalogs, and strictly for the plant-crazed, is “The 2020 Ethnobotanical Catalog of Seeds,” which used to be called Hudson’s Seed Catalog. The catalog originates in the Santa Cruz mountains of California (once home to Ken Kesey) but offers seed from all corners of the world. Only recently have they come online, at www.jlhudsonseeds.net.

I’ve ordered from this catalog for decades, each winter pleasurably and slowly wading through the almost 100 black-and-white pages of small print listings of botanical names and descriptions. For this first run through the catalog, I sit poised with red pen, ready to make a star next to …

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SEED TIME

Late this Year

This year I’m late, but not too late, with my seed orders. Usually, I get them in by a couple of weeks ago.

The only seeds that I’ll soon be planting are those of lettuce, arugula, mustard, and dwarf pak choy. They’ll fill any bare spaces soon to be opening up where winter greens have been harvested. No rush, though, because I have seeds left over from last and previous years of these vegetables, and they keep well if stored under good conditions.

I’ve usually sowed onion seeds early also, in flats in the greenhouse in order to give plants enough time to become large transplants. Large transplants translates to large plants out in the garden before long days force them to shift from growing leaves to, instead, swelling their bulbs. More leaves before that shift makes for larger bulbs.

Last year, because of poor onion germination in the flats, I …

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PRETTY BARK AND TASTY NUTS

Bark Giveaway

Walking in the woods or an arboretum this time of year is a good time to play a game of tree identification. You say, “But trees are leafless!” No problem. Often, all you need is to look at the bark.

You might think a white-barked birch would be an easy identification. Not necessarily. A white-barked birch might be, instead, a European birch (Betula pendula). This one is distinguished from our native paper birch (B. papyrifera) by the dark, diamond shaped fissures on its bark. Or Himalayan birch (B. jacquemontii) or Asian white birch (B. platyphylla). Of course, these last three species aren’t likely to turn up in our woodlands.

I’m often snagged by cherry birch (B. lenta), whose bark isn’t white at all, but whose young bark resembles young cherry bark, then morphs with age into longitudinally elongated plates. The giveaway for cherry birch comes with breaking a small twig and …

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