February Jobs For the Winter-Weary Gardener

If you’re knee-deep in snow can spring be far behind? The snow went away, the sun came out and we got busy. It’s time to get things done. Nelson Magee likes for his yaupon hollies to look good all the time. They were getting a bit shaggy.

Normally neatly kept yaupon holly needs attention in February

Normally neatly kept yaupon holly needs attention in February

We practice a modified version of “cloud pruning” in this yard and sometimes the growth gets pretty tight. This tightness keeps the light from entering the growth canopy which, in turn, forces all of the growth to the outside of the plant causing the inside stems to weaken. Every year or two I like to prune all the way to ugliness and open things up to let the light shine in. I guess that’s sort of what we need to do for our psyche as the end of winter approaches—Let some light shine in.

The yaupon holly is pruned in a manner that will allow light to the inside

The yaupon holly is pruned in a manner that will allow light to the inside

The pruning will grow out in a month or two as spring approaches, giving the plants the undulations and smooth curves that are so visually pleasing:

Cloud pruning on yaupon hollies will grow out to nicely shaped contours.

Cloud pruning on yaupon hollies will grow out to nicely shaped contours.

The two snows combined with zero degree weather have caused a bit of damage to the pretty loroetalum plants. Here’s a picture of the damaged plants. They get cut way back—again to let the light shine in. I scraped a bit of bark back from some of the lower trunks and everything is green instead of brown and mushy so the plants should come out all right.

Freeze damage on loropetalums. We need to cut them back so the light can shine in.

Freeze damage on loropetalums. We need to cut them back so the light can shine in.

If you haven’t pruned the Knockout roses they probably look like this, all strung out with dead leaves and dormant growth buds. Those buds need to be exposed. Pruning will help them to emerge when the time is right.

It's time to prune the knockout roses for shape and more blooms

It’s time to prune the knockout roses for shape and more blooms

When pruning the roses, I like to carefully reach in and cut just above a dormant bud. This gives strength and compactness to the plant. The more care I take, the more the job stays away from the bloody realm of self sacrifice.

Pruning the knockout rose. Be careful of the thorns!

Pruning the knockout rose. Be careful of the thorns!

Oh, yes—things to do in February—I need to finish up and make it to The Last Stop Gift Shop in Rome, Georgia for Dekie Hicks’ book signing (She happens to be my wonderful wife). Her book of poetry, “These for Me are Therapy” was published in January.

Dekie Hicks presents her recently published poetry book, "These for Me are Therapy"

Dekie Hicks presents her recently published poetry book, “These for Me are Therapy”

Here are some links that will help with your winter-time pruning projects

Deadheading and pruning hydrangeas—It says January, but February is all right, too

The basics of pruning—one of my most popular articles ever.

Pruning Knockout roses—This is more for summer time but the concept is good

 

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?

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A Small, Private Back Yard With Tea Olive and Roses

I often refer to landscaping as a four-dimensional art form. When questioned about this observation, I reply that “the fourth dimension of the art form is time. The landscape planting is an ever-changing entity.” For this reason I never know what I will see when I walk into a yard several years after its installation. The site may meet my expectations, exceed them, or in a few cases it may be a dismal failure.

Helen and Jack Runninger had invited Dekie and me over for a Friday night pizza dinner. Our delightful friend Ginger Grant was also invited. I was looking forward to seeing our friends as well as being curious about the fate of the privacy back yard that I had put together four or five years earlier. I was pleasantly surprised. The garden truly exceeded my expectations.

A privacy wall with tea olive, Knockout roses, and lantana.

A privacy wall with tea olive, Knockout roses, and lantana.

Jack and Helen got married later in life—much later. They sensibly downsized their living accommodations by moving to a very nice retirement community with one level floor plans and small yards. If I recall correctly, Jack was head over heels in love and gave Helen a johntheplantman back yard as a housewarming gift. I started by laying a slate patio with stone that had been donated by one of Helen’s friends.

The yard started with this grey slate patio

The yard started with this grey slate patio

When the patio was finished we pulled up chairs, looked around, and discussed the rest of the back yard planting. There was no privacy. To the left was a very nice yard with flower beds but no real privacy. To the right we could see yard after yard after yard. The ugly part, though, was the rear border of Jack and Helen’s yard. There was a hill-or a large terrace- that went down into the yard behind them and the house at the bottom of the hill was situated so that from the Runninger’s new patio, all one could see was an ugly roof. I thought long and hard about the design. It had to be beautiful, effective, and low maintenance.

I had to put in some complicated drainage and then a raised bed with some good compost. I planted tea olives on the back property line for a high evergreen screen. (The tea olives were about three feet high when I planted them.) I put Knockout roses to the front of the tea olives and prepared a raised flower bed in front of the roses. The first year of the flower bed we had pansies but the deer and rabbits brought their own salad dressing to that feast. The following summer we planted lantana and Helen said that the lantana come back reliably year after year.

This is funny. I told the ladies that I was going to take pictures of the garden for a blog article. They asked me what I wanted them to do and I said, “act like you’re talking about something in the garden. Maybe one of you should point at a feature.” This is the wonderful picture:

Dekie, Helen, and Ginger discuss remarkable parts of the garden

Dekie, Helen, and Ginger discuss remarkable parts of the garden

I used Cleyera japonica for the side yards with a few nandinas thrown in for texture, color, and winter berries. I liked the way the cleyera had grown in.

Cleyera as a screen. It's hard to believe there's another house 10 feet behind this.

Cleyera as a screen. It’s hard to believe there’s another house 10 feet behind this.

Back to the present, we ate dinner on the patio and everyone remarked about the lack of mosquitoes. Helen said that she thought it was because of the birds—especially the hummingbirds. It seems that the colors and fragrances of the garden attract the birds. The tea olives bloom two or three times a year and provide a true olfactory treat.

 A bird bath for accent and utility in a private back yard

A bird bath for accent and utility in a private back yard

While we talked about birds a beautiful yellow goldfinch visited the feeder. It’s in the picture. I promise. Look really close

yellow bird in a private back yard

yellow bird in a private back yard

And that’s the story of the Runninger’s private back yard. Sweet Helen just raves over it.

Helen Runninger raves about her back yard.

Helen Runninger raves on and on about her beautiful back yard.

****************

Thanks for visiting John the Plant Man. Here are a few  related posts:

Summertime care for Knockout roses:  Click Here

A privacy screen with Arizona Cypress and Knock out Rose:  Click Here

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?

Plants in containers for summer color

 A couple of weeks ago Lovely Christine asked me to write about mixed plantings in containers. She wanted to do something outside the front door. At the time I was only prepared to do an article about window boxes. She liked that one, but I kept looking at container gardens wherever I went and got some good pictures. I will add to these as I visit more gardens.

The most important thing to remember in planting container gardens is plant compatibility. This means that the plants you use all require similar light and water conditions. A good dose of liquid fertilizer every week during the summer will ensure outstanding success.

Here is a combination of red begonia and yellow lantana. It should be magnificent in a month or two.

container color 1, begonia and lantana

container color 1, begonia and lantana

Sometimes a single plant is all that is needed. This is a specimen variety of angel wing begonia in a shady location.

container color -Angel wing begonia in urn

container color -Angel wing begonia in urn

A well pruned Knockout rose in a barrel will last for years.

container color 3 knockout rose in a whisky barrel

container color 3 knockout rose in a whisky barrel

.Here is a dragon wing begonia set so that it gives scale to a magnificent view.

Dragon wing begonia adds scale to a wonderful view.

Dragon wing begonia adds scale to a wonderful view.

For a shady location, begonias and impatiens work very well

container color 5-begonias and impatiens for shade

container color 5-begonias and impatiens for shade

Instead of planting several plants in one container, I have used three containers with single plant varieties. The triangle and plant sizes cast an ikebana illusion of Heaven, Man, and Earth-The three levels of existence. Ikebana always works.

container color 6-A grouping of container gardens for an ikebana effect.

container color 6-A grouping of container gardens for an ikebana effect.

Impatiens and begonias mixed in a hand made concrete planter.

container color 7-begonias and impatiens for shade

container color 7-begonias and impatiens for shade

Bonsai and other trimmed evergreen plantings can stay outside all year. Topiaries would also fit into this category. If well maintained, they last for years and grow in beauty and interest.

Container color 8-evergreen bonsais on the patio

Container color 8-evergreen bonsais on the patio

Herbs do well in containers and you can cut from the plants for culinary purposes. Here is a mix of rosemary, sage, and thyme.

container color 9-A compact herb garden

container color 9-A compact herb garden

I revisited a window box from a few weeks ago. It is growing in well. This is a mixture of verbena, bacopa, begonia, and angelonia.

container color 10--A multi color window box

container color 10–A multi color window box

In this planter for part sun, we used ivy, begonia and coleus. The ivy will, of course, remain through out the year.

container color 11--coleus, begonia, and ivy

container color 11–coleus, begonia, and ivy

And last week Kroger had white phaleonopsis orchids on sale for $9.99. Here are a couple of them in an urn with fresh moss around the base. They will bloom for a long time.

container color--phaleonopsis in container

container color–phaleonopsis in container

I plan to take more pictures of container gardens throughout the season. I think they will be of great interest earlier in the season next year. Stay in touch.

My book, Redemption for a Redneck has been nominated for a prestigious award. Read about it HERE

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?

If you want a consultation in your yard in N.W. Georgia, send me an email at wherdepony@bellsouth.net

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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