Assignment: Design and Build An Attractive Mail Box Planter That Is Both Drought Tolerant and Deer Proof.

Nancy has a beautiful home and yard in a very nice subdivision. She had decided that she wanted to maintain the wooded lot and to have a yard that would echo the statement of a lovely home to be crafted with stone and timbers. Years later she decided that it was time to deal with the “ugly mailbox.” She called and said, “This is a job for john the plant man.”

mailbox 1

We need to build a planting bed that will make this look better and that will fit into the landscape concept.

Nancy had given the project a lot of thought. We talked about it. She had bought different varieties of thyme—four varieties, six pots of each—to plant the project with. She had learned some things about living in her house

  • Deer like wooded lots and eat up landscaping plants
  • Deer do not like thyme
  • Thyme, once established, is a hardy, drought resistant ground cover.
  • Thyme prefers a prepared, raised bed in order to thrive.

We decided to build a raised rock-bordered garden. We started laying the rocks to form the enclosure for the bed:

mailbox 2

A row of rocks doesn’t look right. We can do better.

At this point, the job didn’t look quite right. We decided that we didn’t want just a row of rocks around a pile of dirt.

Nancy said, “I don’t know quite how to describe what I’m looking for.”
I smiled and said, “I think we want it to look like God dropped a handful of rocks and they fell in just the right places.”
“Yes, that’s it,” she agreed.

So, we took it all apart and started over. I had been looking at bags of cheap “topsoil” that were being sold in the box stores. Lowe’s had some on sale for a dollar a bag and when I examined it, I found it to be ground and mostly decomposed pine bark. If you add lime to this, it is a rather good growing medium. We looked around the property (which was blessed with stones) and carefully, one at the time, chose the stones to fit the concept. We added the “topsoil.”

mailbox 3

After working on the layout, we got the stones to look purposefully random.

The rock job was now totally different looking. The new design fulfilled the purpose of holding the soil together, and it looked a lot more natural. Nancy looked at it, smiled, and said, “And praise His Name, they all hit the ground without denting the mailbox.”  We spread a mulch of wood bark and started planting.

mailbox 4

This is going to look good. A topping of small pine bark will hold everything in place.

The mailbox garden fit right in with the natural front yard.

mailbox 5

The garden fits right in

We ran a few hundred feet of hose out to the road and watered the plants. The different kinds of thyme looked happy in their new home, and the fragrance was delightful.

mailbox 6

Different varieties of thyme will grow well and safely in this environment

A couple of weeks later, I stopped to check on the project. I found that all was well and the plants were growing as they should. The deer had turned up their noses and moved on to other treats.

 

mailbox 7

A couple of weeks later everything looks happy.

Thank you for visiting Johntheplantman’s blog. There are a lot of helpful articles on this site. WordPress has included a very efficient search engine which you will find at the top of the page. Give it a try—type in the main words for your gardening questions and see where it takes you.

Pruning Azaleas in May-June. Follow These Instructions For Better Shape and Many More Flowers.

Azalea two years later for blog

Two years after shaping, cleaning, and fertilizing our neglected azaleas we were rewarded with quite a show

Late May to early June is the time to work on azaleas. If you prune them, clean them up and fertilize them during this period, you will have beautiful plants with more blooms the following spring. Here’s the rationale:

  • Proper pruning will encourage the stems to branch out
  • Branching forms new stem tips—and lots more of them
  • Azaleas bloom on these new tips, so—more tips makes more blooms.
  • Most azaleas form new growth in the summer.
  • Fertilizer will help them to form the new growth.
  • They form flower buds for the following year in August and September.
  • The flower buds on azaleas must go through a cold period followed by a warm period in order to flower.

Years ago I wrote an illustrated article that explains “The Basics of Pruning.” The article is short, to the point, and informative. You will learn about what happens when we trim a plant and then you will have the ammunition that you need to become an expert on the subject.

Click Here To Read “Pruning As an Art Form, The Basics of Pruning.

Two years ago, Dekie and I pruned and shaped some large azaleas on the edge of our driveway. I wrote an article about it then. The picture at the beginning of this article shows the results of our azalea renovation.

Click Below to see the article on how it is done.

Prune Azaleas in May-June. Fertilize Azaleas, Avoid and Kill Poison Ivy

Azalea before pruning:

azalea before pruning

Not long ago the azalea pictured at the start of this article was all straggly and falling over. There were very few blooms.

Nice Plant, no Tomatoes? Cure or Prevent Blossom End Rot.

Sometimes you will have a nice looking tomato plant that is not setting any tomatoes. Like this:

Healthy looking tomato plant not producing many tomatoes?

Healthy looking tomato plant not producing many tomatoes?

Blossom end rot is a plant disease that attacks the blooms of the tomato plant as they attempt to set fruit. Just in case you need to explain it to a friend, when the bee fertilizes the flower, the base of the flower (containing the ovary) makes seeds. The fertilized ovary houses the seeds, makes nutrients for them and turns into the tomato that we eat. Blossom end rot causes the flower to turn brown and get droopy. The base of the flower (the ovary) will eventually drop off. It looks like this:

Blossom end rot on tomatoes looks like this. The disease attacks the blooms and the place where the ovary is attached to the plant

Blossom end rot on tomatoes looks like this. The disease attacks the blooms and the place where the ovary is attached to the plant

The problem is caused by a calcium deficiency. Long ago farm ladies would save egg shells and put them around the tomato plants. This takes a long time to react, though, so at the first sign of this problem on our plants, I went to my friendly hardware store and purchased the two items shown below:

You will need a spray apparatus and a bottle of blossom end rot treatment, the active ingredient is calcium

You will need a spray apparatus and a bottle of blossom end rot treatment, the active ingredient is calcium

The main ingredient is calcium. The product label says it has 10% calcium derived from calcium chloride. As with most chemicals, brand names don’t matter, read the contents on the label.

Here is a close up of the label.

Here is a close up of the label.

Mix the product at a rate of 2 tablespoons per gallon. Apply it in the morning while it is still cool. Spray the foliage and particularly the flowers of the plant(s). Repeat the treatment once a week for three weeks. Make sure the plant is well watered and not stressed before application. You will see a dramatic difference in tomato production.

If you see the problem on your plants, get right on it. It won’t heal itself.
Happy Gardening
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Gardening in Bales of Straw

My friend Joel loves his vegetable garden. He works in it nearly every day. I went to see him the other day and he showed me his latest project of interest—growing vegetables in bales of straw.

“That’s straw,” Joel explained, “as in wheat straw, not hay as in ‘animal feed that contains every weed seed you don’t want in your garden.’”

Joel takes pride in his gardening

Joel takes pride in his gardening

I had heard before about the practice of growing vegetables in straw bales—my brother tried it one year but he lives far away and I was not able to see the results. I was, however, rather impressed with the lush growth of Joel’s straw-bale garden. Joel, of course, was having a good time showing off. The plants looked large, green, and lush for the first of June.

“It’s best,” he said, “to get the bales in the fall and place them where you want them. This way they will have the benefit of the nutrient-rich winter rain and snow.

He told me that it takes a lot of water to get the necessary initial moisture into the straw bales, but after they have been wet it is easy to keep them that way. I saw a soaker hose laid out down the row of bales. “I sprinkle the straw with organic fertilizers, too,” he said, “because the wheat straw doesn’t really have much in the way of nutrients in it. The straw is really just a porous and sturdy base and planting medium. I try to add nutrients every few weeks throughout the growing season. The plants really love it.”

It looks like a bumper crop

It looks like a bumper crop

I could tell that the garden was about to produce a bumper crop of tomatoes. The plants looked good and I noticed a good fruit set. Some of them were about big enough for some ‘fried green tomatoes’—mmmmm.

I can almost taste the fresh squash

I can almost taste the fresh squash

One of the advantages that I immediately saw was that the plants are (of course) up off of the ground and, therefore, less prone to become infected with as many types of mold, fungus, and insects. I think that the main problem with this kind of gardening would be getting the necessary balance of nutrients (fertilizer) to the roots of the plants. I would also think that a good sprinkling of lime would be beneficial.

Swiss chard is a pretty plant

Swiss chard is a pretty plant

Joel and I both stopped to admire the Swiss chard. I will admit that I don’t know much about eating chard, but it sure is a pretty plant. Actually, I guess just about any garden vegetable and most flowers could be grown in this manner. As we looked through the straw-bale garden, I noticed one other benefit—there were only a few weeds and those were easy to pull. Joel bent over and pulled a few weeds and then stood up and held them aloft with a grin on his face that reminded me of a small, devilish boy showing off his trophy snake. It made me smile.

"I don't see many weeds and those that show up are easy to pull."

“I don’t see many weeds and those that show up are easy to pull.”

There are books on the subject of growing in straw bales, but I really don’t think there is that much to learn about the subject. I noticed that the bales had been placed sideways with the strings to the sides instead of to the top and bottom. This would keep the bales from falling apart. A vegetable garden, of course, needs a lot of sun and that would be a necessity. I thought the soaker hose was a good idea—both for effectiveness of application and for water economy. You could do this on the side of a hill, also, if you turned the bales so that the ends went down hill. That would keep them from turning over.

One other benefit—at the end of the season, the bales should be pretty well used up but the straw will have started to rot and will be full of good nutrients. This is the main ingredient in good compost. I’m going to keep watching to see what Joel does as the project continues.

A year or so ago we built a designer herb garden for Joel. I wrote an article that gives the construction details that you will find here: Building an easy-to-tend raised herb garden.  The herb garden is really looking good and I will write an article about it next week.

If you are a follower, you will know that I took a bit of a vacation from the gardening blog. I was working on two related projects. The big one was finishing a book from my cancer experiences about facing cancer with humor and optimism. The name of the inspirational book is “Sweetie Drives on Chemo Days” and it has been well-received as a good read, a comfort, and a thoughtful gift.

The other project has been the writing of what I call “quotes and notes.” I started last October writing with the promise to myself that I would write one a day for a year. You can actually sign up to get these short pieces of inspiration delivered to your email every morning. Check it out here: http://johnschulzauthor.com/

Thanks for visiting John the Plant Man
Everything is going to be all right.
John P. Schulz

What’s Wrong With My Gardenias? Yellow leaves, spots, rust…

Most people enjoy the beauty and fragrance of gardenias. My mother loves gardenias and that’s good enough for me. Gardenia plants are usually quick growers and easy to care for, but they do suffer from a few problems that crop up now and then. One of the reasons I write the johntheplantman articles is to answer frequently asked plant questions. A conversation came up on Facebook the other day and I am including it here. The conversation is edited and names changed for privacy.

Gardenias are beautiful and fragrant but they do have some peculiarities.

Gardenias are beautiful and fragrant but they do have some peculiarities.

Sandra: Why are my gardenias turning yellow?
Roberta: Uh, oh, If it’s just a few leaves, they’re probably all right. If it’s all turning yellow, is it too wet?
Jo Ann: They almost died last year from the snow so they’re still fragile. A few yellow leaves and some with ‘rusty’ spots…
Dekie: johntheplantman can help you. I learned about it yesterday.
Jo Ann: johntheplantman, please help me save my gardenias! Any tips? I already know about wooden nickels.

I’ve been dealing with these and other problems with gardenias for years. I remember my grandmother telling me about the problems years ago. She was old (a young 70) and I was young then. (Now I am about to enter my seventies and I don’t think it’s old any more) Here’s a picture showing some of the problems:

What's wrong with my gardenia plant?

What’s wrong with my gardenia plant?

The first thing we see is yellow leaves. Yellow leaves on any green plant immediately shows a lack of nutrients—mainly nitrogen. This does not necessarily mean that we need to fertilize, though. Roberta’s comment above asking if it was too wet was a good one. When the plants are too wet, a root fungus could set in and the plant cannot bring nutrients into its system.

Gardenias are funny in this department. They do need the nitrogen. If you study the picture you will see a few totally yellow leaves but you will also see a yellow cast and yellow veining in other places. This is definitely a lack of nitrogen—but what causes it and how do we treat it?

Gardenias are picky in that they like to have their nutrients presented to them in a most particular manner. My grandmother told me to stir up the soil around the drip line of the plant, mix 3 tablespoons of Epsom salts with a gallon of water and then pour the mixture around the plants. I tried it. I found out that the old lady knew what she was talking about. The plant regained its vigor and color. I found later that I could also pour the Epsom salts mixture over the leaves and get even better results.  Try it.

A week after applying the Epsom salts, you will want to mix up a balanced water soluble plant food like Miracle Grow and pour it over the plant and around the plant’s roots.

Now, let’s look at that leaf a little closer.

Close up showing fungus on gardenia

Close up showing fungus on gardenia

Notice the hole in the leaf that has brown margins. Below and to the left you will see a leaf with a stripe that is brown fading into yellow. These are signs of a leaf fungus. There is probably nothing you can do to restore the infected leaves, but you can spray with a fungicide (not insecticide) that will keep the fungus from spreading. A fungicide with Daconyl is a good one. A good organic fungicide is sulphur, and your nurseryman may be able to suggest something else.

I don’t have a picture of it, but sometimes the gardenia plant will become covered and spotted with a black powder. If you look on the undersides of the leaves you will more than likely see evidence of aphids. It seems that the aphids excrete a substance which attracts and supports the fungus life. In this case, you need an insecticide and a fungicide. It is most difficult to get rid of aphids on gardenias. Check with your extension agent or a University near you.  With any insecticide you use, remember the bees.

If you really want to get organic with aphid control, you can import some ladybugs. Ladybugs eat aphids like pie. I think Auburn University has done some research on ladybug availability. I’ll have to check on it unless one of my wonderful readers beats me to it.

Thanks for visiting John the Plant Man. Do try the Epsom salts. You will get almost instant gratification. Of course, you may be one of those people who find “instant gratification” a bit too slow. Sorry about that.

One of the reasons I have been gone from this blog for a while is that I have been finishing off and polishing my new book, Sweetie Drives on Chemo Days. It is a funny, optimistic, and inspirational account of dealing with cancer. You may read about it here.

Humor and Optimism help the cancer victim.

Humor and Optimism help the cancer victim.

Repairing a Drainage Problem

Repairing poorly installed drainage can be a lot of work but it can also be a bit of a fun job. We must be flexible, also. For instance, I had to change my approach in the middle of this job. The problem I needed to tackle was that runoff was flowing through a carport that had not been designed for handling heavy rain.

The carport had apparently been added on after the original driveway was built. Water flowed across the driveway, around a front corner of the carport and down the inside edge. We studied the area and found that a low place in the concrete allowed this to happen. I originally thought we would need a concrete saw and a catch basin. So, I bought a catch basin (that’s that black box in the picture below) and rented a concrete saw. I learned long ago that an expensive part of the job is that you can rent the machine but you have to purchase the blade. Concrete blades do not have a very long life expectancy.

It's a slow and careful job to cut concrete but sometimes you just gotta do it.

It’s a slow and careful job to cut concrete but sometimes you just gotta do it.

There was a crack in the existing concrete right at the low spot. We decided that we needed to take out the entire portion in order to make the finished job as it should be.  Anyway, we cut the concrete. It was a nice job.

We had to cut it into three pieces to remove the offending concrete. It was rather heavy.

We had to cut it into three pieces to remove the offending concrete. It was rather heavy.

Whoever had poured the concrete for the walk to the back door had fortunately put a four inch pipe under it. I was going to take the water to that pipe and channel it down the hill. That’s when I discovered that the water outlet on the catch basin would be too low to allow me to hook up to the pipe under the walkway. An old man told me one time, “Here in Georgia the water always runs downhill.” I have always remembered that. So, I had to go find some other way to channel the water downhill. I really liked the way things turned out. Below is the drain system.

A good drainage system for use in driveways and around buildings

A good drainage system for use in driveways and around buildings

I found that I could purchase just the components I needed at my concrete supply place. We lay the drain in just the right place and, before pouring the concrete around the basin,  fooled around with a couple of levels, making sure that the water would run into the drainage and not go around it. It pays to be careful when setting something in concrete.

When fitting drainage boxes to be poured in concrete, use the level over and over just to be sure.

When fitting drainage boxes to be poured in concrete, use the level over and over just to be sure.

The drain was fitted with a special piece that was designed to fit corrugated black pipe. There are two kinds of corrugated black pipe: “solid” and “perforated.” The solid pipe is used to move water from one place to the other and the perforated pipe is used to pick up and re-distribute ground water. Two things to remember when installing this pipe are:  1. The stripe goes up and, 2. The holes go down. In the picture below I have used the solid pipe to move the water to the back corner of the walkway. I then put in an eighteen inch piece of perforated pipe to pick up any moisture from the shrub bed itself. This is placed in a bed of gravel.

Driveway drainage system being hooked up after concrete pour

Driveway drainage system being hooked up after concrete pour

We filled around the pipe with pea gravel and raked the soil out to shape the planting bed. The gravel will keep the dirt from coming in contact with the siding on the building. Notice the rock at the corner where the driveway meets the drain. That rock has been carefully chosen and carefully placed to enhance the water flow.

drainage pipe covered with pea gravel for a good transition. perforated pipe is used at sidewalk

drainage pipe covered with pea gravel for a good transition. perforated pipe is used at sidewalk

The next job was to replant the roses, clean the bed well, smooth out the pea gravel, and spread pine straw. It was extremely cold at this point and I didn’t get a finished picture. Perhaps I’ll sneak one in here at a later date.

smoothing, planting, and mulching the improved shrub bed.

smoothing, planting, and mulching the improved shrub bed.

Thanks for checking out John the Plant Man. If you have a landscape problem that requires deep, analytic thought and amazing skills, get in touch with John by emailing me at wherdepony@bellsouth.net

An Ivy Plant Goes to Heaven

I rescued an ivy plant the other day. It had obviously been a gift from a florist at one time but had been relegated to a refuse heap. I made up a story about it:

After many adventures the ivy plant is happy

After many adventures the ivy plant is happy

A creative wholesale plant grower had decided to see if he could shape an ivy plant. He worked on it for a while and after a year or so it started looking good. A discerning florist visited the grower’s greenhouse and took a fancy to the plant.

A lady needed to get a gift for a friend “who had everything.” She entered the florist shop and decided that surely her friend didn’t have an ivy plant that had been so lovingly shaped. She bought it and the florist delivered it to her friend who also loved it.

The plant eventually “died” and was thrown away. An over-worked garbage truck worker accidentally dropped the plant on the side of the road and, instead of picking it up, kicked it into the gutter. A puppy that had gotten out of its fence found the plant, shook it around, and took it off to the woods.

After these and several other adventures, the plant ended up in a pile of leaves under an oak tree in some far-distant woods. It turned out that the plant was not all the way dead but was depressed from having to live inside a house so it became introverted and quit growing.

When the plant ended up in some leaves under an oak tree it was happy and it started stretching out its limbs and trying to be pretty again.

A crazy guy named John happened upon the plant and took it home to his wife. He said, “Sweetie, I brought you something that needs fixing.” His wife loved the plant and she knew just what to do and just how to do it.

Sweetie made an educated guess that the plant would like to live under the dappled sunlight of an oak tree and she made a place for it. She cleaned it up and put it in a well-drained pot. The plant was happy.

The ivy copies the oak tree and grows a nice trunk

shape 8

Tune in next week for more adventures of John the Plant Man.

Pruning and Shaping Techniques for Trees and Shrubs

Every year when the first cool front of October rolls in I get lots and lots of questions about pruning their landscape and house plants. For years I have enjoyed shaping plants while picturing what they will look like next year or after several years have passed.

This week I have gone into my daunting list of past articles on pruning to review. Here are a few of the links. I hope they help.

 

 

 

Tree forming-Landscaping from the inside out.

Using Bonsai techniques to prune and shape overgrown shrubs and trees in the landscape.

 

Pruning for Betty. Japanese Maples, Topiaries and Bonsai

I got a text message the other day saying that the Japanese maples needed pruning. I had been expecting this so I shifted my schedule around, sharpened my Felco pruning shears, grabbed my camera and headed out.

 

 

Pruning an Overgrown Topiary

I really enjoy creative pruning.

My friend Tommy called me the other day. It seems that we had planted a large yaupon holly tree in his front yard a number of years ago and I shaped it into a topiary form. Tommy has kept it pruned for a number of years but now he is getting too old to want to get on the ladder any more.  Notice the wording—not “too old to get on the ladder”, but “too old to want to get on the ladder.”

 

 

 

The basics of pruning–What Happens When We Prune a Plant

 

Pruning season is coming up. I wrote this article some time ago in answer to the many questions I receive about pruning. It’s really a very simple process.

Growing a plant is one thing.  Shaping plants well is an art form and adds another dimension to your plant growing experience.  Here is an article that tells you what happens when you prune.  This information applies to just about any kind of shrub or tree.

Design a Landscape To Be Seen Through the Living Room Window

I like to “paint pictures” with plants and I enjoy the fact that there are four dimensions to these paintings—height, width, depth, and time. With time and plant growth the painting is constantly changing. It is very nice, too, to have a “picture frame”—in this case, the living room window.

The "before" picture. What can we do to turn the view into a pretty garden picture?

The “before” picture. What can we do to turn the view into a pretty garden picture?

My brother, Tom and his lovely wife, Sheila live in a hilltop home in Weaverville, N.C. just outside of Asheville. When I visited last May, Sheila asked me to think about how to plant the front yard and hill in a manner that would create a hillside garden which would look good from her comfy couch in the living room. The garden would also need to serve as a screen. Sheila was a bit picky, too. She asked for a collection of evergreens with something silver, and to have some white flowering plants incorporated into the planting. I collected plants all summer and Dekie and I loaded the truck and took them to the mountains on September 13. We timed the trip around the fact that my sweet mother would also be visiting.

When we got there we realized that there was yet another problem that we had to deal with. The original “landscapers” had installed what I often refer to as a “close the loan special” and had planted not one, but three cute little gold mop cypress plants at the front of the walkway. I guess they didn’t know or didn’t care that these plants grow into giant trees. It looked like this:

This gold mop cypress is a pretty plant but it is too close to the driveway and the walkway

This gold mop cypress is a pretty plant but it is too close to the driveway and the walkway

I told Tom and Sheila that they would have three choices, Take the trees out, put in a new walkway, or prune and maintain the trees in a nice tree form shape that would get the foliage up above the pedestrian traffic. They wisely chose pruning. Dekie was a wonderful helper. We determined that there were three main trunks in the planting and we began taking off the lower growth to expose them.

We begin the process by isolating 3 trunks and taking off the lower growth

We begin the process by isolating 3 trunks and taking off the lower growth

Since there had been three individual plants in the original planting we tried to maintain the center trunk from each of them. I stood back to check out the progress.

Checking the progress o the tree pruning.

Checking the progress of the tree pruning.

When we finished Mom came out to give her approval. I explained that at this point in the shaping of the plants, the important part was that the tops of the trees remain uncut. When they reach nine or ten feet high we will trim the tops and the foliage will begin to grow sideways and form a canopy.

The finished pruning job on the gold mops. They can grow taller before they need the tops cut

The finished pruning job on the gold mops. They can grow taller before they need the tops cut

It was time to start on the main part of the design. The first thing I do in such a situation is to use my handy paint gun and paint a line to show where the bed will go. After the line is painted I spray all of the weeds and grasses to kill them. Working with the orange line gives me a good reference for spraying and design.

I love to use my paint gun to draw out shrub bed borders.

I love to use my paint gun to draw out shrub bed borders.

Sheila and I discussed the overall concept of the bank planting as well as the fact that phase two would take out a chunk of the planting by the walk way and replace it with grass.

I love to wave my hands around as I paint verbal pictures in the air.

I love to wave my hands around as I paint verbal pictures in the air.

Then I began laying out the plants. I had chosen a palmatum Japanese maple, dwarf butterfly bushes (buzz series) with white flowers, white hydrangeas (Emily Moliere and white oak leaf), Black Prince cryptomeria, Foster hollies (for red Christmas berries), “plum yew” (cephalotaxus), and for a big splash of silver blue I added an Arizona cypress “Carolina Sapphire.” It’s going to take a few years but this is going to be one fine garden.

Since I am recovering from a bout of carpal tunnel syndrome in my right hand, Sheila made arrangements with someone to come in and install the plants later. My job was to lay them out and then it would be nap time. I got busy. Here is the layout from the side:

Plants set in place and ready for planting

Plants set in place and ready for planting

After the planting, the garden area will be mulched with shredded cypress mulch. The mulch will finish off the design and the view through the window will be delightful. Here’s how I left it:

checking the layout from the inside out.

checking the layout from the inside out.

Another view through the window showing the hydrangeas

Another view through the window showing the hydrangeas

You might also enjoy a previous article Landscaping from the Inside Out. Click here

Thank you for visiting John the Plant Man

As usual, I would just love for you click here 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 Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

The basics of pruning–What Happens When We Prune a Plant

 

Pruning season is coming up. I wrote this article some time ago in answer to the many questions I receive about pruning. It’s really a very simple process.

Growing a plant is one thing.  Shaping plants well is an art form and adds another dimension to your plant growing experience.  Here is an article that tells you what happens when you prune.  This information applies to just about any kind of shrub or tree.

This jade plant has been worked on for several years.  Time for more pruning

This jade plant has been worked on for several years. Time for more pruning

I am using a jade plant for pictures because the buds show up well.  The jade tree is also really good for an indoor bonsai.

To start with, look at the tip of a stem and notice the small growth bud.  This is called an “apical bud”.

The apical bud

The apical bud

At the side of the stem, just where the leaf comes out, you will find a very small growth bud.   This is called the “lateral bud

New growth will come from the lateral bud

New growth will come from the lateral bud

Here’s how plant growth works.  The growth of the stem and buds is regulated by a group of hormones called “auxin compounds.”  The apical bud is dominant and it draws all of the auxins up past the lateral buds.  This enables the apical bud to develop and causes the lateral buds to remain semi dormant.

removing the apical bud

removing the apical bud

When the apical bud is removed by pruning, the lateral buds in turn become apical buds and start the elongation required for turning into a stem.  In a jade tree, the branching forms as two stalks as in the picture below.

This is how the new growth will come out after pruning

This is how the new growth will come out after pruning

Pruning helps the main trunks to develop and get bigger and stronger; this gives you a stronger and healthier plant.  If you remove the lower leaves and/or growth from the stems, the stems will turn into well defined trunks.  This is the principle behind bonsai, topiaries, and other shaped trees and shrubs.

remove lower leaves to enhance trunk formation

remove lower leaves to enhance trunk formation

I haven’t been there for a long, long time, but I once visited a monastery in Conyers, Georgia that specializes in bonsai.  The priest who was in charge said, “you should prune a tree so that a bird can fly through it.”  I have remembered that concept and I use it a lot as I shape such trees as Japanese maples (click here for an article on pruning Japanese maples).  Here is the picture of the jade tree after the pruning is finished.

All of the tips have been removed and it is time to grow it out.

All of the tips have been removed and it is time to grow it out.

One of my next articles will be “how to start your very own bonsai.”  Keep in touch.

Some rather entertaining adventures of johntheplantman may be found in the book “Requiem for a Redneck” by John P. Schulz. Try the Kindle version

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00FOAJCGO

 

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