Pruning as an art form–The basics of pruning

The Simple Basics of Pruning — pruning as an art form.

Growing a plant is one thing.  Shaping plants well is an art form and adds another dimension.  Here is an article that tells you what happens when you prune.  This information applies to just about any kind of shrub or tree.  I am asked lots of questions about pruning.  This article will be the first of a series on pruning practices and techniques.

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 it 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 visited a monastery in Conyers, Georgia that specialized 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 and crape myrtles.  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 ve5rsion

Or, read the reviews on Amazon:

The Lake–Part Two

The Lake—Part Two. John gets lessons on the food chain. Christmas, rain, and cold weather were rapidly approaching as we finished the lake repair job.  We found a few little places that needed work and then decided that the job was as complete as it was going to get for the year.  After a lunch of tuna fish and saltines we took on the job of shutting off the massive antique drain valve.  As we worked, we kept looking up at the rain clouds moving in from the Gulf of Mexico.  Lots of rain was expected. (If you missed part one of this article, you may wish to go there now and then come back)

After two or three months it was nice to see it again
After two or three months it was nice to see it again

Just as we finished closing the drain we started feeling small raindrops and we grinned and laughed because we knew the job had been completed just in time.  We all guessed at how long it would take for the spring to fill the lake. Judging from experience I said at least a week.  Santos guessed four days, and Victor Hugo picked up the middle with five days.  It was raining harder, so we packed up and left for home.  The rain started coming in torrents with high winds.  It rained all night. To my total surprise the next morning when I went to visit the project, the water level was within one inch of the overflow.  I guess the four inches of rain combined with the spring and the runoff to fill it right up.  It was a pleasant surprise.  I planted a flower bed or two, turned on the aerating fountain, and stood back to admire the site – instant gratification at the end of a two month project.

I had planted some flowers waiting for the lake to fill
I had planted some flowers waiting for the lake to fill

While I was planting the flowers the water had risen so that it cascaded over the little waterfall that I had built for the overflow.  Little creek like noises finished off the peaceful feeling, adding another dimension to the visuals.

We turned the over flow from a ditch to a babbling creek bed.
We turned the over flow from a ditch to a babbling creek bed.

Betty came down to the lake to look at it with me.  She was pleased with everything.  She told me that the duck from the week before was happy in its new home on another more protected duck pond and that the hawk was alive, well fed, and healthy.  This was good because when it comes to a respect for life, Betty is a bit of a Buddhist. She doesn’t want any hurt to come to any living thing.  I respect that.

Filled with the fountain running--in time for Christmas, 2009
Filled with the fountain running–in time for Christmas, 2009

So, I asked, “Betty, do you want me to get you some more ducks for the lake”? She replied, “No, I really love the ducks but something always seems to happen to them.” She paused for a bit in thought and continued, “You know, John, I love the animals, both tame and wild.  I know there is a food chain and all of them have to eat, but I can’t stand the thought of a big animal killing and eating a smaller one.  I think that rather than worrying about the ducks as part of the food chain, I would prefer to not have any of them on the lake to remind me of the natural process.” While Betty and I were thinking about the food chain, I noticed a slight movement in my peripheral vision.

The heron scouts it's territory
The heron scouts its territory

I turned and looked and grinned and said, “Look, Betty, the blue heron is back.  I haven’t seen it since we drained the lake”.  The heron stood stately and imperious surveying the water.  Betty was excited. She exclaimed, “OH, I love it.  I have missed the heron”.  Then she paused “John, do you think the heron is hungry”? I told her that I thought the heron was just exploring or surveying its territory. And that’s when Betty said, “Do you think we need to put some fish in the lake for it to eat”? And I’m still trying to figure that one out.  I know it has to do with the food chain. For more adventures of John the Plant man, try the kindle version here: Or, on Amazon read the comments by visiting

Watching the train go by

Watching the train go by

Watching and wondering and remembering
Watching the train and wondering and remembering

As the train passed

I remembered my friend in Cave Spring

Who would be next to hear it

She is a mature person

Having seen many more years

Than I.

And I remembered

What she told me,

“Boy” she said.

(She always called me boy)

“I know I am old.

And I am definitely a lady

But, Boy”

She said, shaking her finger at me

“If you call me an old lady, I shall slap you.”

And she paused and her mind wandered.

A part of our southern heritage
A part of our southern heritage

“When I was a little girl”

She said softly

“When I was a little girl, I loved the train

And I came out every morning and jumped

Up and down and giggled”

She jumped up and down and giggled

Just to show me.

“And then, during the war,

I watched the cars go by with the young men

On their way to the other ocean

And the horrors of the war

In the Pacific.

And I knew I had loved ones there

And I stood and cried for them.”

And she shed a tear.

“And the not then but now

Father of my children was over there.

And no one came on the return train.

But I watched the train and waited.”

“To this day”

She said

“To this very day, I watch the train go by

In the mornings

And I think of all the days

And all the years that I have watched it

And.”  She paused.

“And I stand and wave

Even though there are no more passengers

To wave back.”

 “Maybe everyone thinks I’m crazy

Maybe they are right.

I don’t care.

You hear that, don’t you?

You hear me, don’t you, Boy?”

on to the coast
on to the coast

Now, every morning,

I remember her.

I wave at the train as the dawn breaks

But no one is there

To think I’m crazy.

And that’s all right with me.

the end
the end

John the Plant Man is the narrator of the book “Requiem for a Redneck.”

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?


I have learned to like pink


Today, we have a story from my friend Bill Amos, “I have learned to like pink.”  I think you will enjoy it.  I met Bill thirty five  years ago.  Bill is an amazing artist, a potter, an old geezer, and a philosopher.  I liked the story and thought I’d share.  –john


By Bill Amos

 My mother-in-law, Miss Mary, never liked me all that much. I sensed that from a remark I overheard before the marriage. “He will never amount to anything,” she said.

 The wedding had to be in pink.  Her house was pink, and the whole city of Miami seemed to be pink. I didn’t much care for pink because it reminded me of stomach medicine.  We both loved flowers but she was always talking about masses of color. “To be effective they must be massed,” she lectured on all occasions. I always liked individual plants and planted beds of different plants and colors. 

 Miss Mary had built the house when she was in her late seventies, and even though the old gal was well off financially, she had to have a co-signer, and that had to be me. Now, she would rather chew on toad frogs than have to ask me to co-sign or to find out anything about her finances, but that was what she had to do. 

 We bought a small corner lot on the back side of one of the old Victorian houses about thirty miles from Savannah. This section was at one time the formal garden of the estate and the entire lot was covered by 150 year old azalea bushes eight feet high and twelve feet round, and in seven different colors. The little four room cottage was nestled in among the plants with as little cutting as possible.  It is quite a sight in the springtime. 


Miss Mary was quite a gardener.  She loved the small house and planted her flowers everywhere. Miss Mary planted the same color—always pink.  Time passed—she died—and I inherited her house and moved in.

 “Now I’ll plant what I want,” I told my wife, and I did.  Guess what happened? 

  My zinnia bed of many colors only bloomed pink!  I told my wife.  “Miss Mary is still messing with me.”

 I bought my first rose bush, a “blaze” rose, and waited patiently for it to bloom.  It bloomed pink. Everything I planted came out pink.

 After a lot of pondering I went to the corner of the property, in a nice shady area, and i planted an all pink flowerbed of begonias and impatiens. I named it “Miss Mary’s garden”. Miss Mary’s garden flourished and she left the rest of my plants alone after that.

 After planting Miss Mary’s garden, I was able to enjoy the reds and oranges of my zinnias. Later, I managed to get a very small hybrid camellia, “faysia.” This camellia was pink but I wanted a big blooming bush like my neighbor’s.  I made a deal with Miss Mary. “Help me with this and I’ll keep that corner garden going.”  She did, and I have a bush eight feet tall and full of the most delicate orangey-pink flowers in the neighborhood.

 Now I have learned to like pink. I can get along with it better now, though I still catch a little movement from Miss Mary out of the corner of my eye.

 I get  the feeling, though, that Miss Mary is still around and announces herself by making strange sounds in the other room or helping silverware slide off the counter or setting the spices so that when the cabinet is opened an entire rack of spices falls out—nothing harmful, just aggravating,

 But, I have learned to like pink.

 Bill Amos

December 13, 2009

Repairing the lake–and the duck

The Lake, the duck and a story

Betty can see the lake way down the hill from her upstairs bedroom window.  Every morning for the last few weeks when I have shown up to work on rebuilding the lake she has called me and asked if the duck was all right, and every morning until today I have been able to tell her all was fine.  Today, however, I just said, “uh-oh”

After weeks of work, the leaks are patch and the lake is ready again for water
After weeks of work, the leaks are patch and the lake is ready again for water

It is a rather pretty duck.  It’s mostly white with some red and some black in its wings.  We don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl, but the duck doesn’t bother anyone and it is nice to watch.  Two other ducks have disappeared without a trace and this one was the only duck left.  Actually, they were going to take this one to a more sheltered place but it got out of the duck cage and went out in the middle of the drained lake where no one could get to him.  He got in a little trouble today.

 But, first, let me tell you a little about the lake.  I’ve been working around it off and on for a number of years, keeping the algae growth down, patching a minor leak or two, or planting something here or there. Other than admiring the general workmanship, I never paid it a whole lot of attention until this year.

 The lake is filled by a strong spring at one end and the water runs over a spillway on the other.  This fall, the water quit running over the spillway and in trying to find the reason I not only found some major leaks, but I also found a lot of places where the 140 year old masonry was falling in.  A major overhaul was called for and since I was more familiar with it than anyone else, I was asked to do the job.  That’s when I really got into it.

We drained it and started to work.

 I guess the part I like the best is where the water comes out of the spring up through holes in the bottom of a bowl which was hand carved out of a piece of limestone.  I cannot imagine how it was done, especially as it was done without any of our modern equipment.  The plaque on the rockwork at the head of the spring tells us it was “fecit” (built) in 1867.  I asked about it.

I looked up "fecit"-- this is telling us that the project was built in 1867
I looked up "fecit"-- this is telling us that the project was built in 1867

I was told that the area was a popular picnic place before the turn of the 20th century and that the lake had been built as a wading pool.  I can picture horses and buggies, dressed up men and women enjoying a picnic while children frolic in the pool and teenagers sneak out to hold hands behind the large oak trees.  I was told that it was once “way out of town.”  Now it is inside the city limits and within a 5 minute drive of the bustling downtown area.

A big sandstone bowl with holes in the bottom sits on top of the spring.  The water bubbles up and runs into the lake
A big sandstone bowl with holes in the bottom sits on top of the spring. The water bubbles up and runs into the lake

 We have worked for weeks hand digging out behind the masonry and rock walls, isolating leaks and cave ins, and backfilling with cement.  As it is difficult to get machinery to the site, all work was done by hand.  This included hand mixing and pouring over 300 bags of cement.  It was quite a job. 

This wall was falling into the creek behind.  We dug behind it, poured in concrete and then patched the front.
This wall was falling into the creek behind. We dug behind it, poured in concrete and then patched the front.

The original spillway had to be totally redone and this time we used a bit of our waterfall building expertise to put in a few “falls” to add a little noise to the overflow.  We were careful to use only rocks left over from the repair work in order to maintain the original look and feel of the project. The cement will be acid stained to a grayish brown.

The addition of falls and a pool will add pleasant sounds of falling water to this area.
The addition of falls and a pool will add pleasant sounds of falling water to this area

 The rebuilding job has been finished and it is time to restore the grass and other plantings around the site.  Our job today was to close the drain valve and to start filling the pond.  We wanted to do it before the imminent rains came.  While we were closing the valve (which is a difficult job requiring two people and a long lever) the phone rang.  I answered.

 “Have you seen my duck?”

I replied, “I forgot to look, let me look around.”

I looked and didn’t see it and almost had a stroke.  Then I saw a flash of white on the other end of the lake.  I answered,

“It’s ok.  The duck is up on the other end.  I see it moving.”

I hung up and we finished closing the drain.

 We started cleaning up the job site and I began moving a hose that was stretched across the lake.  That’s when I saw it. 

A solid white hawk, covered with mud, looking up at me from behind the rock wall.   I almost jumped out of my skin.

 And then I thought about it and went to the other end of the lake to check the duck.  The duck was limping and was also covered with mud.  One of his eyes was shut.  He maneuvered around so that he could watch me from the good eye. It must have been a heck of a fight.  The hawk was obviously too small for that big of a duck and got covered with mud in the battle.

 So I had to call back and report.  She said,

“Well, catch it, John, we’ll have to take care of it.”

I said, “not me, call somebody that knows something about it.”

“All right, I will.” She replied.

 I got in the truck and took off to get my camera.  I was too late, though.  When I got back, the duck was on the way to the vet and the hawk was in a cage.  Jamey Vick will take care of the hawk.  He is a local doctor and bird fixer.  The duck will get well and a safer home will be found for it.

The hawk is comfortably waiting for the doctor in a warm place with a blanket over it.
The hawk is comfortably waiting for the doctor in a warm place with a blanket over it.

The spring and the rain are now working on filling up the repaired lake, the hawk and the duck will be all right.  God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world.

 John Schulz

December 8, 2009

Bubba’s Christmas Letter

Bubba’s Christmas Letter

Merry Christmas, everyone!!  Before my voice problems I was frequently asked to read the following letter to festive groups. These days, even though a voice has been restored, I am more comfortable offering it to you on the internet. You know that if it’s on the internet it has to be true.  Print it out and read it to your gathering with my blessings.  Here’s Bubba’s Christmas Letter: 

Hey, this is Bubba writing.

See, Bev, she’s my wife as you probably know if you know me, and if you don’t know me, you probly wont be getting this letter anyway. We decided we needed to write this letter.  She is helping me telling me stuff to say, but I am working the commuter because I can type better than her.

So many of my friends, maybe you and maybe not, have written me letters at christmas to tell me how good they did in the last year and I always wanted to write one but nobody can reaad my handwriting and then Bev, you know, she runs a cleaning service out of her ford van and you might not know she cleans this lawyer’s office and he likes her cause she has such a nice butt and she always wears tight jeans unless it is summer and then she wears tight cutoffs.  Anyway, she was there one day this past summer and he was changing to a bigger computer and he cleaned this one out and give it to her.  Well, she brought it home and we had to get the ten year old kid in the trailer next door to show us how to use it and I decided that I would write a Christmas letter like everybody else cause we done had a real good does year.

It has been a very good year.  I done caught a bunch of fish.
It has been a very good year. I done caught a bunch of fish.

The only problem is the idiot that built this typing board didn’t go to the same school I did.  I learned abcdefg and so forth.  He learned qwertyuiop and so forth.  Well, I started this letter in september and I am just now finishing it because none of the letters are in the right order and I have to look real hard for them. I hope after this that a cop don’t pull me over and tell me to say the alphabet.  I will be a gonner.  I would probly look him in the face and say “no problem mr. Officer, qwertyuiop and so forth”  I got a callus on my trigger finger. My kids, homer and clete keep laughing at me and started showing me stuff and almost spilled my beer and I had to chase them off.  Bev keeps wanting something called the internet, but it costs as much as the cable tv and you cant get any nascar on them.

 So here is the letter it has been a good year:

Dere Freinds

Well it has been a wonderful year.  Jodie he’s my friend at the carpet mill wanted me to go spotliting with him and I had to work late at the carpet mill and didn’t go and doggone if the game wardens didn’t have a artificial deer in the edge of the woods and jodie saw it and he told me that it had steam coming out from its mouth and antlers and the head moved and he hit it with his spotlight and jumped out of the truck and shot its head off and the game wardens arrested him and put him in jail and took his gun away and all kind of stuff.  While he was doing this, I made 5 hours of overtime.  Just goes to show it pays to be a working man. What a good year I have had.

Talk about luck.  You remember old rufus, the rotweiler?  Some sob shot him and he come home and bev took him to the vet and it costed 50 dollars and rufus died anyway.  While we were being sad—bev and the kids about the dog, me about the fifty bucks, some nice people from town came speeding by and dropped out these two puppies.  We named them rocky and young rufus.  The kids don’t seem to care that young rufus is a girl this time.  Man, these dogs are smart now I know how stupid rufus really was. What a good year.

Bev wanted the ford van painted and I taught the kids, clete and homer how to paint a van and they didn’t hardly leave any brush strokes at all.  What good kids.  They like school, too, and clete liked the third grade so much that he decided to take it again and homer wanted to go to the sixth grade so bad that he went to summer school.  I sure am proud of them.  Clete only got in trouble once last year when it was a rainy day and they were showing Bambi in school to all the kids and when the big stag came on the screen he yelled “bam” and all the little girls started crying.  I guess they thought he was shooting at one of the does but it wasn’t a doe day. And he learned enough from hearing about jodie to shoot one without antlers on the wrong day. Clete is pretty smart about not getting in trouble.

The peppers in the garden did real good and we used them to get the sausage just right.  I learned this thing from this friend of bevs that works in the beauty shop about tying one end of the casing material to a pick up truck bumper and the other end to the barn and blowing them out with a compressor before you do the rest of making the deer sausage. This is better than hand slung chitlins. I thought you would like the part about the pick up and the compressor I am sure you know exactly how to do the rest.  See, I learned something.  What a good year.

This is me and all of my toys.  It has been a very good year.
This is me and all of my toys. It has been a very good year.

And now I  got to tell you about last Christmas because you won’t believe our good fortune. Clete and Homer wanted to get a expensive Christmas present.  They wanted this thing you hook up to the tv and then you got this here rifle and then when the deers run across the front of the tv, you can shoot them. We told them that it was too expensive and they would have to get it together if they got it, and the new motor on the go cart would be totally out of the question.

I love those boys. It was expensive.  We all had to make sacrifices.  We had to practice self discipline.  Bev started getting her make up at the dollar store instead of ekerds and I started drinking Keystone instead of budweiser.  We missed the rassling matches three times, and we stopped dancing at the amvets club which I can go to cause Merle, he was in the national guard and he spoke for me.  Anyway, we made the money up and went to the magic market and bought a money order and sent it off and this box came to the house on a ups truck and bev, she put it up in the closet where homer and clete wouldn’t find it and left it there till Christmas.

Anyway, Christmas morning came and bev gave me a vibrating alarm clock that wouldn’t make any noise and fit in my shirt pocket and would wake me up in case I fell asleep in my deer stand. I love it.  I think I done missed a bunch of deers by falling asleep in my deer stand. I gave bev a really nice venison hind quarter and a tackle box with a make up mirror in the top inside.  She loved it.  Then it came time for the boys to open up their present.  We all got real excited watching them open up the box.  I don’t know why because we all knew what was in it, but the company we bought it from had made a mistake.  I’ll never forget the looks on clete and homers faces when they looked in the box and found it.  It was the thing to hook up to the tv but the rifle warn’t there.  We hooked it up to the tv and these here deers kept running across the screen but there warn’t no way to shoot them.  Them boys near went crazy.  Clete run in the other room and got his bb gun and was going to shoot the deers with that but I stopped him just in time.

What a good year.  I went to the magic market and bought a calling card and called the people that made the mistake and they said they were sorry and that I could quit calling them names and that they would send me a completely new one and I would have two things to hook up to the tv and the rifle too.  It aint got here yet, but I am sure it will.

What a good year.  I couldn’t think of what to do with  the tv deer hook up thing cause we were going to get another one and we only got one tv so it took it to the projects where Jo Sam this guy that works with me lives and his cable got cut off and he can’t watch nothing on tv. loved it and wanted it for his niece so she could watch the deers run across the tv screen and talk about how perty they were, and he traded me not one, but two genuine ROLODEX watches for it.  Man, I bet there ain’t two other brothers in the whole trailer park that got genuine rolodex watches for Christmas and a tv deer hunting kit on the way.

What a good year.  Here it is almost the end of the year and bev came up to me and kissed me and told me that this was the sixth year in a row that they ain’t reposessed our car or kicked us out of the trailer park.  God has really blessed us.

I will write you next year if next year is anywhere near as good as this one was.  If you don’t hear from me, send donations

With all our love

Bubba, bev, clete and homer

Ps  I cant get mail no more because they condemned my mailbox cause I kept watching this low place open up by the ditch and kept telling myself that I needed to do something about it and finally the mail lady slid off in the ditch and she got mad.  So, I use my next door neighbor’s mailbox.  His name is john schulz and you probly know about him cause he wrote this here book Requiem for a Redneck and it is pretty good. Me and Bev, we keep that book on a shelf in the bathroom and we read some of it every day if you know what I mean.  It is about all my friends, Louann, Kickstand, and Ponytail.  Then there is Bud.  Bud is the mayor of Berwin, Georgia and he is right funny.  I hate it that Harce died, but this here book tells you all about it.

I don’t know nothing about that internet thing, but John said you could see about that there book here”  He says it’s a ebook whatever that means.

I hope you enjoyed the letter.  You can leave a comment, too.


Christmas tree or holiday tree? What to call it.

Christmas Tree or Holiday Tree?

Every year about this time there is a discussion about whether we should call it a Holiday Tree or a Christmas Tree.  John the Plant Man not only has an opinion but also a defense for that opinion.  Read on…

A Douglas fir tree carefully decorated for the Christmas season
A Douglas fir tree carefully decorated for the Christmas season

 I guess it doesn’t matter if someone wants to call it a Holiday Tree, but it does make me wonder about their understanding of word meaning and logic. I might even worry about their intelligence, but not to a great extent.. For myself, I choose to refer to it as a “Christmas Tree”.  In this debate, I am however, more concerned about the abuse that we heap on semantics and the English language

For example, you have heard the age old question:  “If a tree falls in the forest, and no one hears it, does it make a sound?”

The answer is different than expected.  It depends on the definition of the word “sound”.  If the definition of the word “sound” requires a sonic disturbance as well as a receiver, then it doesn’t make a sound.  If the definition requires only a sonic disturbance, then it does, indeed, make a sound.

Definitions answer many questions.

This is a frazier fir.  If it fell in the forest, would it make a sound?
This is a frazier fir. If it fell in the forest, would it make a sound?

It follows, therefore, that the tree decorated for the holiday observed on December 25 every year should be called a “Christmas Tree.”  It’s as simple as that. Of course, it has to be decorated for Christmas to be a Christmas tree.  Otherwise, it would be a fir tree or a pine tree or a plastic tree, etc.

The definition in the Merriam Webster dictionary appears as:

“n  A tree, usually evergreen, decorated at Christmas time”

You have probably heard of a “Yule log”

This is defined as “a large log formerly put on the hearth on Christmas Eve as a foundation for the fire.”

That’s what that particular item is.  It is a yule log.  That is its name by definition. We wouldn’t call it a “holiday log.”   Heck, Mike, a log is a log.

President Lincoln was once talking with a farmer about whether or not to call a territory a state.

Mr. Lincoln asked the farmer:  “Sir, how many legs does the cow have?”

The farmer knew the answer:  “Why, Mr. President, the cow has four legs.”

Mr. Lincoln then asked:  “And if we call the cow’s tail a leg, then how many?”

“Why” answered the farmer:  “Then the cow would have five legs.”

“That, sir is where you’re wrong” replied the president.

“Merely calling the tail a leg doesn’t make it one.”

So, taking all religious arguments out of the question (just to level the playing field):

A tree, usually evergreen, decorated for the Christmas season is defined as a “Christmas tree”

You may call it anything else

For instance,

You may call it a “holiday tree”

But that doesn’t make it one.

Here are the choices, side by side:

This would be a Christmas tree.  Any other name would be incorrect.
This would be a Christmas tree. Any other name would be incorrect.
This is a frasier fir tree.  It even has a botanical name for exactness
This is a frasier fir tree. It even has a botanical name for exactness





Now what will you call a tree that is decorated for Christmas?     

   A Christmas tree, a holiday tree, or a  fir tree, or a pine tree, or a plastic tree ?

Join the discussion, leave a comment

John P. Schulz

And for a wonderful present to put under your Christmas tree, Get an autographed copy of the book that is all about the adventures of John the Plant Man and his acquaintances and friends–The outrageous “Requiem for a Redneck” Now available as an ebook

also available at

Continue reading “Christmas tree or holiday tree? What to call it.”

Raised beds for a vegetable garden

Building a raised vegetable garden

I have a jar of peppers on my table that makes my eyes water even though I haven’t opened it yet. I’m going to tell you about raised vegetable gardening and a wonderful project on Maple Street. You’ll find out about the peppers at the end of the article.

A packed turnip patch in a raised bed –almost ready to harvest.

We are coming up on the perfect time of the year to get your vegetable garden ready for next spring.  Over the years of building gardens for myself and others, I have found that the very best way to grow things is in raised beds.  My feelings were reinforced this past spring when we helped the Three Rivers Garden Club build a vegetable garden for one of the Boys and Girls clubs in Rome, Georgia. You may use these tips for your own garden.

In my opinion, raised beds are the only way to go for a vegetable garden.  There is no need for a tiller, maintenance is relatively easy, and the results are amazing.  Raised beds give you all of this and no mud

I was first asked by the garden club to donate a design for the garden.  After a bit of thought, I drew out a design that consisted of a series of raised beds with gravel walkways that would offer not only a growing system but also a walk-through “meditation garden.”  After designing the garden I was, of course, asked to build it.  I was amazed at the results.

We decided to use treated landscape timbers for the frames.  These timbers are easy to work with, and if you use the right techniques it will look really, really good.

Cutting all angles of the timber with a miter saw to a 22-1/2 degree angle keeps you from having ugly square corners

The first step was to cut 22-1/2 degree angles with an electric miter saw and lay out a pattern for the beds.  The pattern was laid out to check for accuracy.  Notice the corners of the frame-a 2 ft mitered joint gives the impression of roundness.

checking for shape and accuracy
The prototype is laid out. After this comes pre fabricating all of the parts. The grass and weeds have been sprayed with weed killer.

After getting the prototype cut and adjusted to exactly what we were looking for, we prefabricated the rest of the frames, cutting all of the parts to exact dimensions so that the beds would all be the same.  A few beds are smaller to fit the design, but the corners are the same.

The corners are put together in place with the use of an electric drill and “Deck Mate” screws.  This is the easiest and most effective way of putting them together.  We checked to make sure that the frames were level and square.

Putting it together with screws
We put the joints of the timbers together with “Deck Mate” screws using an electric drill

I am fortunate to have found Mike Hutchins from Menlo, Georgia, who makes compost from manure, cottonseed waste, and wood chips. In the picture below the beds have been constructed, filled with compost, and the gravel walkways are under construction.  Note that the pea gravel is being installed to the top of the bottom timber.

Installing gravel walkways
The garden should always be designed to accomodate a wheel barrow

On June 15, the garden was ready to plant. The compost had been raked out and topped with a mulch of cypress chips.

Raised bed ready to plant with walkways and cypress chips
Raised bed ready to plant showing walkways and cypress chips. Note the absence of mud and weeds.

Planting the garden was fun.  We were on a fine time line with this one as it wasn’t finished until June 14, and we had decided that the latest date for planting the summer garden was June 15. Right on schedule, on June 15, Bud Sims came to show the boys and girls how to plant.  They planted tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, and other summer garden plants.  A drip irrigation system was installed to allow watering from the soil level and to provide good water conservation.

We bring in my friend Bud Sims for gardening instruction
Bud is a character in “Requiem for a Redneck” and also a wonderful gardener and teacher. He shows the kids what to do as a Rome News photographer records it.

The plants grew rapidly, and here’s what we had a month later on July 15.

One month after planting it is almost time to harvest.
July 15–Organically grown vegetables performing well. This picture is one month after planting

When we started the garden for the Boys and Girls club, I had my doubts as to the effectiveness of the project, but my doubts were proven to be groundless.  In August, I talked with Carrie Edge, the director of the B&G club.  Carrie told me that the kids would go out in groups each morning and each afternoon to harvest.  She showed me boxes and baskets of tomatoes, peppers, and other produce from the garden.

Carrie told me that the garden provided a snack for close to 200 kids every day and that many days the kids had a handful of goodies to take home.  Parents and staff members started noticing the snacks and would bring freshly baked bread or a roast of beef to supplement the meals.  The entire community became involved. The results of my talk with Mrs. Edge made me choke up a bit.  It reminded me of the fable, “Stone Soup” which deals with sharing and has always been one of my favorites.

For the winter garden, the children cleaned out the frost damaged vegetable plants and planted onion, collard and cabbage plants.  Then they planted seed for radishes, turnips, and other greens.

Turnips ready for winter and fall harvest
And now we have a “winter garden” with turnips, onions, cabbage, and collards

All of that brings me to the jar of peppers. The garden club ladies were involved with the project and helped the children preserve part of their produce.  I was presented with a mason jar of pickled peppers that was beautiful, moving, and touching.  Every time I look at it, I get tears in my eyes.

My jar of peppers looks like one of these.  These were entered in the fair exhibitions and won several ribbons.  All done by the children at the Boys and Girls club.  What a learning experience this has been!!
My jar of peppers looks like one of these. These were entered in the fair exhibitions and won several ribbons. All done by the children at the Boys and Girls club. What a learning experience this has been!!

You may not want your personal garden to be quite as large as the one we built, but the principle is a good one.  If you don’t have someone to furnish you with compost as I did, you may make your own by using screened topsoil, peat moss, ground bark, home compost, and such.  If you use a lot of organic material, be sure to add lime. I will write more about composting in an upcoming article.  I love compost.

You can read more from John the plant man in the hilarious and sensitive book REQUIEM FOR A REDNECK. Now available on Kindle.

p.s.  When we were planting for summer, I asked one of the kids if she had ever planted anything before. She replied, “No, we live in an apartment and there ain’t no dirt around nowhere.”

Happy gardening

John Schulz.

The fireplace. A story

The tagline for this blog promises plants-gardening-stories.  Today we have a story about a well crafted beautiful fireplace.  It is a story with a twist to get you in the mood for the upcoming season.

The Fireplace–a story.

the fireplace
Read the story and you’ll see why the picture is fuzzy.

Grandma’s chin was nestled on her ample chest as she dozed through the Christmas eve Bible reading.  Her ten year old granddaughter sat on the hearth, her knees pulled up under her chin as she listened to her mother reading.

Grandma caught herself dozing.  Her head jerked up and she motioned sharply at her grandson.  “Bubba, throw another log on the fire.  I’m cold.”  She adjusted her shawl around her shoulders and her chin fell down again to her chest.

Bubba had been sitting there whittling in front of the fire.  He slowly laid down his piece of cedar, folded his pocket knife, rose with a grunt, and walked to the stack of split firewood in the corner of the room.  He carefully chose just the right piece of wood, walked over and placed it on the fire and adjusted it.  He picked up the poker and stirred up the red embers.

“There you go, Grandma”. Bubba said as he sat back down and resumed his whittling.

As the mother paused in her reading about the Baby Jesus, the ten year old daughter spoke up.  “This is so wonderful.  I want to sit by this fireplace every Christmas of my life.  Just like this.  I love this fireplace.”

Sam put on his hard hat and grinned at Bill.

“Damn, Bill, you oughta been a writer.  You sure do have a good imagination.  I can just picture all of that happening.  I bet it did.”

The both turned and gazed at the freestanding fireplace with a two story chimney– all that was left of the comfortable old house that had been there two days ago.

Sam climbed into his dump truck.  “Let’s tear that sucker down.” He yelled.

store built at the site of the chimney
The fireplace stood just there–right where the front door opens automatically.

By john schulz

On watching the chimney at the corner of Martha Berry and the Bypass.

Pruning Knockout roses

When do I prune my Knockout roses?

 Frances Bonner asked if she should prune her Knockout roses since it was well into November, but they were still blooming prettily.  Lots of people have asked the same question.  Actually, I get a lot of questions about caring for these wonderful plants.

7 foot Knockout
This Knockout rose is planted in a large pot. It was pruned well in March and fed every 2 weeks with liquid fertilizer. Still blooming in mid November.

 There are two main reasons for pruning the roses. The first is to keep them in bounds.  Knockout roses, left uncut, will get really big.  Pruning them will make them bushier and stronger.  The plants flower on new growth. A periodic pruning will give more new growth and therefore a greater abundance of flowers.  So pruning will give you both a stronger, better shaped plant and more flowers.  It’s worth the effort. But the question is when?  Here’s my analysis:

First, I went to the grower and found this picture of hundreds of uncut roses.  This told me something.

Hundreds of Knockout roses waiting to be pruned at the wholesale grower's nursery.  Picture taken mid November.  The grower says it's good work for his crew in January.
Hundreds of Knockout roses waiting to be pruned at the wholesale grower's nursery. Picture taken mid November. The grower says it's good work for his crew in January.

My mother has some magnificent Knockouts in front of her house in Kingsport, Tennessee which are still blooming in November.  I told her to leave them alone except for “deadheading” (taking off the spent flower heads) and to wait until January to prune them.

 There are three reasons for my advice.  One is that sort of “gut” feeling that I get about how to treat plants.  I have developed this over more than thirty years of being a grower and landscaper.  Reason two is because the plants are still pretty, so why bother them?

 The third reason to wait is because it has been a mild winter so far and the plants have probably not had enough time to winterize.  If they are pruned and some warm weather shows up, the lateral buds may be fooled into thinking it is time to grow.  If they start their soft new growth and a freeze comes, the new growth will suffer some damage that will require the plant to form new buds for spring growth.  This is, however, mainly conjecture on my part.  If you have already pruned them, don’t worry.

 When you do get around to cutting back the roses, look for a new growth bud on a healthy stalk and cut just above it.  This will be next year’s growth.  I always try to take off (or at least cut back) the spindly stems that have been shaded through the summer.  I usually cut the plants to about 18 inches from the ground, more or less.

 One thing to remember when the Knockout rose is actively growing and blooming is to cut off the dead flower heads.  This is called “deadheading” and it works with almost all flowers.  If you deadhead the plants, the plants will bloom much more heavily.  This is true of pansies, roses, marigolds, and many more of our beloved flowers.

Ain't it pretty? A rose shining in mid November

 While working on this article, I visited one of my clients, Susan, who showed me that a herd of caterpillars had eaten all of the leaves off her roses in one day.  She said she would like to prune them back but thought it a bit too early. She agreed that new growth may be hurt if they are cut before it gets really cold.  Susan is a knowledgeable gardener.

 What it boils down to is, let the roses bloom as they wish.  Then cut them when you wish.  Everything will be all right.

 And before you work on the roses, remember, get some good gloves.

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