Cloud Pruning—A Conceptual Approach to Shaping Plants

From last week’s article, we know that a concept is a collection of questions that haven’t been asked. Let’s ask a few…Julia Maloney who lives a bit south of Atlanta I think, asked me to direct her to some information about cloud pruning so that she could use this treatment on her overgrown boxwood. And before you ask, January and February are the best times of the year to prune boxwood in the south eastern U.S. Julia sent me a picture.

Some boxwoods and what looks to me like dwarf yaupons. How do we cloud prune them?

Some boxwoods and what looks to me like dwarf yaupons. How do we cloud prune them?

I started looking all over the web and then decided that cloud pruning directions were not as important as just the basic concept.  The first part of the concept would be developed by understanding just what happens when we prune something. One of my oldest and most popular posts is Pruning as an Art Form–The Basics of Pruning. I think this article will answer most of your preliminary questions if you are a pruning novice. After figuring out what happens during the pruning process, the next question to the cloud pruning concept will be, “what does cloud pruning look like?”

I’m not an expert on the subject but I am an admirer of Jake Hobson who lives in England and studies a bit in Japan. According to Jake, the Japanese call cloud pruning “Niwaki” and I think he made note of the fact that the word is becoming used as a verb as in, “I’m agonna niwaki that there row of plants.” I’ve taken the liberty of stealing a few pictures from Jake but I’m going to send him a lot of traffic so it’s ok. Here’s one of his pictures:

Cloud pruning picture by Jake Hobson showing beautiful abstract shrubbery shapes

Cloud pruning picture by Jake Hobson showing beautiful abstract shrubbery shapes

So, I assume that cloud pruning, as opposed to traditional or topiary pruning, is to turn the plant grouping into sweeping imitations of clouds. This, to me, is a really neat concept. I don’t see how you could mess up on something like this. You take pruning shears, hedge clippers, electric or gas motored hedge cutters, or even a saw in some cases and go to work. The idea is to get the basic shape but to go lower than you desire the finished art form to be when it grows out. Keep in mind that it is never “finished.”

Here’s an extreme example of a mix of topiary and cloud pruning at Chateau de Marqueyssac in Dordogne, France. (It’s an interesting garden to read about)

Château de Marqueyssac, A magnificent garden well pruned with topiaries and clouds

Château de Marqueyssac, A magnificent garden well pruned with topiaries and clouds

Back to cloud pruning the Maloneys’ boxwoods which is what this article is about. I think the next step is something that I routinely do when renovating a planting and that is to draw a pruning diagram. This diagram may be complex or simple, to scale or free hand—whatever, its purpose is to enhance the pruning concept with a visual.  A freehand diagram would look like this

A free hand diagram will organize the cloud pruning shapes in your mind.  Also good for any hired help.

A free hand diagram will organize the cloud pruning shapes in your mind. Also good for any hired help.

Take the diagram and your new found knowledge of pruning and go for it. Cut and cut and stand back to check your progress periodically. Check it often and move in short steps because you can cut it off, but if you cut too much you will have to wait for it to grow back on.  Remember, you will never be finished and if you get in a hurry and mess up there’s always next year or the year after to rectify things.

I found an article of Jake Hobson’s in which he does the beginning pruning on an over grown boxwood. Here are the pictures or the link is Here

Jake Hobson--before pruning over grown boxwood

Jake Hobson–before pruning over grown boxwood

Jake Hobson. Picture of after cloud pruning over grown boxwood

Jake Hobson. Picture of after cloud pruning over grown boxwood

For a couple of other articles of Jake Hobson’s, Click HERE and HERE. Be careful wandering about Jake’s blog, he’s addictive.

And there’s your cloud pruning concept. Now get your cutters and other implements of destruction and go to work.  Use the comments section of the blog to send me a comment and/or pictures on how your project comes out.

Here’s one last picture of Jake’s that I really loved.

For lots of johntheplantman articles on pruning click here

As Usual, I would just love for you to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free app to load Kindle books on your iPhone. Is that cool or what?

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Nell JeanN
    Jan 19, 2014 @ 21:02:53

    I feel much better now about my boxwood pruning methods which are not always the ‘square box, meatball’ school of thought mostly seen around here.

    Reply

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