Shaping Plants of All Sizes. Part one of a series

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 being barefoot applies here). Here’s a picture of Dekie working on a new acquisition:

Sweetie works on shaping a dwarf tree

Sweetie works on shaping a dwarf tree

Someone planted two Leyland cypress in our yard a number of years ago and they are too close together, too close to the property line, and a stupid choice for a small back yard. I was getting ready to take them out 6 years ago when someone told me that if you cut the top out of a Leyland cypress it would die. That didn’t sound right to me so I came home and cut the tops our of ours. That was six years ago. We’ve kept them pruned to the top of the neighbor’s eight foot fence. They ain’t died yet.

Shaping a Leyland cypress for strength, compactness, and size

Shaping a Leyland cypress for strength, compactness, and size

On one of my jobs we kept pruning a Hollywood juniper that was in a large pot. It finally got to the point that it needed to get out of the pot and in the ground so we put it in a place that needed a nice plant. I work on it about twice a year. We are working on turning this location into something nice. I will include that before this series is completed.

I've been pruning and shaping this Hollywood juniper for years

I’ve been pruning and shaping this Hollywood juniper for years

This dwarf cryptomeria has been in a put and used in a foundation planting for over three years. We will trim it this fall and it will begin a process of miniaturization.

A well shaped dwarf cryptomeria

A well shaped dwarf cryptomeria

In my work I really abhor the use of Leyland cypress and/or Bradford pear trees. They are over-used, space consuming, smelly, and problematic. They are famous for growing too rapidly and falling apart in storms. I am being kind here. I could say some bad things about these plants.
However, if these trees are shaped properly, they will serve well. I have told you above about the Leylands in my yard. Here is a Bradford pear that my friend Santos planted in his yard 15 years ago. He prunes and shapes it every year. I have seen this tree withstand snow storms that have torn other Bradford pears apart.

Shaping this Bradford pear has added strength and durability as well as beauty

Shaping this Bradford pear has added strength and durability as well as beauty

And today I’ll finish with a black pine that I plant years ago and have maintained faithfully. This is one of my favorites.

Japanese black pine. I've maintained it for ten years--don't know how old it was when I installed it.

Japanese black pine. I’ve maintained it for ten years–don’t know how old it was when I installed it.

Thanks for visiting Johntheplantman. As I have said, I am currently working on a full-color book on pruning techniques for ornamental plants. My wife and I are excited and we would love your suggestions and recommendations for what you would like to see in it. Leave a comment, if you please—John P. Schulz

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What Happened to My Pretty Christmas Plant?

For the past few years, at Christmas time, The Home Depot here in Rome, Georgia (and I assume elsewhere) has been stocking some impressive Christmas plants. These come in the form of well-grown and healthy rosemary and “Stone pine” plants. Here’s a picture of the display

Well grown plants with a Christmas tree shape on sale for the season

Well grown plants with a Christmas tree shape on sale for the season

To my way of thinking, these plants are a bargain in that they will perform well in outdoor planters for the winter, they will give a Christmas feeling to their location, and with care, they will live for years.  But…But…They will not maintain their shape for years.

The plants that we bought at Home Depot have been carefully shaped as they grew so that they would end up looking like a Christmas tree. This doesn’t mean that they will always grow in that shape—that is, not unless they are properly pruned to maintain their shape. The process uses the principles developed in the growing of Bonsai plants.

A few weeks ago, one of my clients—I’ll call her Susan because that’s her name—asked me, “What happened to my Christmas plants that I put on the front porch last year?” I went around front to check them out and this is what I saw:

After a year the stone pine had lost it's Christmas tree shape and had grown out of bounds

After a year the stone pine had lost it’s Christmas tree shape and had grown out of bounds

Here’s the analysis: 1.The dead that you see in the tree is a natural replacement of needles that we see in any pine tree. 2. the wild looking growth coming from the top of the plant is the natural growth of the plant. I told Susan that with cleaning and pruning the trees could be brought back into shape within a year but with Christmas approaching she made me a gift of them. I’m going to have fun with those trees. I’ll guarantee it.

I was given a couple more of those trees about three years ago and I stuck them in the back of my “plant hospital”. I had gotten one of them out some time around the first of September after three years of total neglect. The stone pine was about five feet tall and strung out all over the place. I’m going to make a wild topiary out of it, so I cut the tips and cleaned it up. A month and a half later the tips look like this

New growth coming out short and pretty a month or so after cutting

New growth coming out short and pretty a month or so after cutting

I’m sure that the stone pine has to be one of the most bonsai-friendly plants ever and I’m going to work on my collection and report back next Christmas.

In the meantime, if you’re interested, your assignment is to read the following suggested articles on pruning and start your own plant-shaping experiment. What plant will you start with? Let me know

Turn overgrown plants into nice topiaries

Pruning For Betty, Japanese Maples, Topiaries, and Bonsai

Pruning an overgrown topiary

And one of my most popular articles:

Pruning as an Art Form—The Basics of Pruning

 

Thanks for visiting John the Plant Man. Remember the next time you want a good read you need to try “REQUIEM FOR A REDNECK”, a kindle ebook from Amazon that features John the plant man with his Georgia mountain friends. It’s quite the adventure. Check it out, buy a copy, and tell ALL your friends about it.

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