Shaping Plants of All Sizes. Part one of a series

I have been repeatedly asked to write a book on pruning techniques so I have started the project. To jog my memory, I have been going through older articles. This one is from 2014. I’ve been keeping the leyland cypress under control. Check it out

Johntheplantman's stories, musings, and gardening.

I was pruning a few bonsai trees for a client. This task allows plenty of time for pondering and I got to thinking about the number of ways I apply bonsai techniques to other pruning situations.

Pruning bonsai trees to maintain and enhance their shape Pruning bonsai trees to maintain and enhance their shape

One of my first and most popular articles that I wrote some time ago is about “The Basics of Pruning”(click) which tells about ways in which the plant responds to different pruning actions such as cutting tips and removing side growth. Aside from the fact that I shape and maintain a lot of sculptured plants for clients, My wife Dekie and I enjoy plant shaping as a hobby. I periodically bring home old scraggly plants that nobody wants and we shape them up for our collection. We plan to use our collection for a decorative project in our back yard next spring. (the shoemaker’s children…

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Tree forming-Landscaping from the inside out.

Now we can see the flower beds from inside the living room. It lets in a lot more light, too.

The beautiful view is obscured by the unruly vegetation.

Johntheplantman's stories, musings, and gardening.


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

 I have always thought that a good landscape design should provide pleasing views from the inside out as well as just from the outside. A good landscape garden is a four dimensional “sculpture” that has height, depth, and width, but also has the elements of being viewed from inside. Another dimension has to do with the changing of the landscape sculpture with time.

 I have been studying two arborvitaes at the house on the mountain. They were cute little things when someone planted them there but over the years they had grown and were now blocking not only the pathway, but also the inside view of the garden from the window. I cut the tops out of the trees last year and continued studying. The arborvitaes were also inhibiting the growth and development…

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D’Ann’s Garden—Raised beds with brick borders to grow perennials

Johntheplantman's stories, musings, and gardening.

My friend D’Ann loves gardening. She is good at it too, and she doesn’t mind getting a little dirt under her fingernails. I had built some raised beds for her back yard a few years ago and was impressed with the way in which she planted them and kept them up. Her front yard needed help, though.

Before--D'Ann wanted a rose and perennial flower bed but the project needed definition Before–D’Ann wanted a rose and perennial flower bed but the project needed definition

When D’Ann asked me to build some distinctive yet workable planting beds in her front yard I knew that I would have to be rather particular and produce something that looked right and that would give her a base for growing some healthy and vigorous perennials. I started a drawing and things just didn’t work out that way, so we removed and saved the collection of plants and I took a roll of twine, some stakes, and my paint gun…

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Affection and Happiness

John P. Schulz: Find The Living Room

comic True love and security–by David Cooper

“Affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our lives.”–C.S. Lewis

Affection provides happiness. It begins at home and then extends outward into the world in ever increasing circles. Throw a stone into a lake and watch the ripples traveling outward. Throw an affectionate smile into a group of people and you will find similar results. Today, on Valentine’s Day, instead of confining all of your affection to one place, go forth and share it with everyone you meet. All it takes is a bright demeanor and…and, yes, a smile to share.

Everything is going to be all right
John P. Schulz

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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
Share a smile..

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:

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.

Zen and the art of crape myrtle pruning

It’s pruning time for crape myrtles. Check out what John The Plant Man has to say about the issue.

Johntheplantman's stories, musings, and gardening.

Zen and the art of crape myrtle pruning.

Of all the questions I am asked about landscaping and gardening, I think most frequently asked is about how to prune crape myrtles.  While thinking about the complex answer to this question, I have come up with the idea that we should talk about “shaping” the plant instead of “pruning” or “cutting back”.  Learning to grow a plant is one thing, shaping it is an art form.

A 40 ft. tall uncut crape makes nice shade but few blooms A 40 ft. tall uncut crape makes nice shade but few blooms

I guess that the first part of the answer is that a crape myrtle will grow just fine without any pruning at all.  It may turn out to be a large bush or it may turn out to be a tall tree.  In the deep south, these plants are commonly grown as shade trees.  They will become rather large if left untouched—and if…

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Finding My Voice Through “Quotes and Notes”

In case you need to know where the “quotes and notes” came from, here is the explanation.

Recently, throughout the fall and winter, I have seen some interesting changes in my writing life. I have been finding my voice. As you may know, a couple of years ago I lost my vocal cords to a cancer operation called a laryngectomy. I spent an interesting six months not being able to talk at all and then I was fitted with a tiny prosthesis in my throat that allows me to use other muscles to talk. I have been getting better and better at talking.

I have written a book titled Sweetie Drives on Chemo Days, facing cancer treatments with humor and optimism. The book deals with questions for others who ask, “what happens when I am treated for cancer?”

Our new book is almost ready to print. The publisher is working on the formatting now. I knew the release date was coming and last October, in observance of Breast Cancer Month, I told my Facebook followers that I would post a motivational and annotated cancer quote every day for the entire month. I didn’t know if I had it in me to write such a post every day for 31 days, but I pushed myself. I succeeded.

The effort was well received. A lot of people started following and several cancer victims thanked me profusely for the help they got from the posts. At the end of October I said, “Well, there it is, I hope you liked it. I’m done.” I received a lot of requests to continue writing the motivational posts so I told Dekie that I wondered if I could do a quote and note every day for a year. It’s a daunting project but now I am over two months into it and going strong. I switched from an emphasis on cancer to one of hope, optimism, and happiness.

A lot of my friends do not use Facebook so I started sending them the daily posts in an email. Then it occurred to me that I had set up a blog page before I got sick. Last week I went back and re-worked the John Schulz author blog page and started posting my “Quotes and Notes” articles on there.  The daily articles are short, make you feel good, and leave you with the statement, “Everything is going to be all right.”

Here is my favorite post from that site. (click on the title). If you wish, you may go to the site and sign up to receive the quotes from the site in an email.

I have found my voice.

The only strength that can overcome adversity

Posted on January 9, 2015by John Schulz

Quotes and Notes, January 9, 2015

“One who gains strength by overcoming obstacles possesses the only strength which can overcome adversity.”

–Albert Schweitzer

As one may become stronger by practicing optimism, the same may be said about successfully dealing with ill fortune. When I lost my vocal cords several years ago and had to live for six months without a voice at all before getting a prosthesis, I made up my mind to become a motivational speaker some day. My voice is evident in my writing and last night I gave a successful reading for the Rome Area Writers organization.

What a good feeling that was! Push on and overcome. While you’re at it, share a smile.

Everything is going to be all right.

John P. Schulz


John Schulz gives a motivational talk to the Rome Area Writers.
John Schulz gives a motivational talk to the Rome Area Writers.


By the way, the book will be out in early February. The name is

Sweetie Drives on Chemo Days–Facing cancer treatments with optimism and humor

Thank you for visiting John the Plant Man.

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

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