Late January or February—Time to Prune Boxwood and Liriope

I love boxwood. By and large they mind well. I appreciate that trait in a plant, but one does have to respect them. Boxwoods perform best when pruned in the early part of the year. That doesn’t mean that they must be pruned, mind you, but if you plan to prune them now would be the time.

I have been tending to this particular planting for more than twenty years. Last year we didn’t do any pruning—just let the hedge thicken up—but this year it was time for a good manicure. The planting is doing well.

A well-tended boxwood bordered courtyard. Picture taken after pruning on February 7

A well-tended boxwood bordered courtyard. Picture taken after pruning on February 7

Here is another view of this lovely courtyard

A second view of the boxwood-bordered courtyard after pruning.

A second view of the boxwood-bordered courtyard after pruning.

One of the main purposes of pruning the boxwood other than shaping them is to make “holes” to allow light to enter and to help form leaves on the inside of the plant canopy. Without this introduction of light the growth will become weak and droopy. Here you can see inside the plant. In a month or two the new growth will fill in the bare spots and the plant will be happy and healthy.

A second view of the boxwood-bordered courtyard after pruning.

A second view of the boxwood-bordered courtyard after pruning.

If you stand back and look at the completed pruning job, you will notice the holes but they won’t be offensive and will close in rapidly. This makes for a healthy plant.

Recently pruned boxwood showing "holes" to provide light for the inside growth

Recently pruned boxwood showing “holes” to provide light for the inside growth

While we are on the job and have the tools at hand, it is time to prune the hydrangeas. Click here for a previous article on pruning hydrangeas.

Hydrangea pruned first part of February

`Hydrangea pruned first part of February

Mondo grass (ophiopogon japonicus) and Liriope (in the south we refer to it as “monkey grass) enjoy a cutting back this time of year. As with the boxwoods, this allows light in to promote new growth. Here is an uncut mondo grass clump.

mondo grass (ophiopogon) winter growth unpruned

mondo grass (ophiopogon) winter growth unpruned

We have found that even though it makes a mess, a good weed eater is the best way to cut the mondo grass. I like to leave maybe two or three inches of the old growth sticking up. The same goes with liriope pictured below.

Liriope (aka 'monkey grass') cut back in February

Liriope (aka ‘monkey grass’) cut back in February

The job is done and everything looks good—but not as good as it will look by the end of March.

Boxwood topiary with mondo grass border pruned around the first of February

Boxwood topiary with mondo grass border pruned around the first of February

For lots of  other johntheplantman articles on pruning click here.

As usual, I would just love for you 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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Turn Overgrown Front Door Plants Into Nice Topiaries

Sylvia had asked me to deal with the plants by her front entrance some time ago. It seems that the blue point junipers were getting a bit out of hand. I like blue points but they take either a lot of room or a lot of care. There’s definitely not much room in this yard.

Overgrown junipers at the front entrance need tending to. (blue point juniper)

Overgrown junipers at the front entrance need tending to. (blue point juniper)

Randy and Sylvia live on Pear Street which is a tightly-built and tightly-planted gated community. The plantings are nice looking at the moment but, in my opinion, there are way too many plants for the area. I think that sooner or later someone will have to either shape or move a lot of the plant material. I definitely question the planting of a number of Bradford Pears.

Bradford Pear in the wrong place

Bradford Pear in the wrong place

Back to the job at hand, we discussed the design that we were looking for. I had told Sylvia that I could only do the job when I “felt like it” and was in the proper mood. The time was right. We decided that the tops of the pruned plants would be in line with the top of the brick pillar supports. I set my pruning shears down and stepped back to study it.

Determine where the top of the finished topiary will be in reference to the front porch.

Determine where the top of the finished topiary will be in reference to the front porch.

The first cut was major, after due deliberation we just went in and whacked off the top of the tree.

Start the topiary project  by cutting the top of the tree to the desired height.

Start the topiary project by cutting the top of the tree to the desired height.

After the top was gone, I chose a second level that was approximately one third of the distance from the top to the bottom. I started shaping to this part of the concept with my hand pruners. I love the Golden Mean.

Trim the tree to basic shape with hand pruners

Trim the tree to basic shape with hand pruners

We continued cutting until the basic shape became clear.

The topiaries begin to take shape.

The topiaries begin to take shape.

It was time to smooth up the cuts and to “polish” the topiary. The motor pruners are a perfect tool for the job. I always try to keep the blades well-sharpened.

polishing the topiary with motorized hedge trimmers.

polishing the topiary with motorized hedge trimmers.polishing the topiary with motorized hedge trimmers.

I stepped back to check on the progress. A little more tipping and touching up would finish the job. The client was happy and that is important to me.

The finished topiary project. The trees will now need to grow in over time.

The finished topiary project. The trees will now need to grow in over time.

The plants will need easy trimming two or three times a year. They should look really nice by this time next year. We are basically using a bonsai process to shape them and to keep them shaped. Try it on one of your plants—it’s fun.

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You may enjoy the article on pruning an overgrown bonsai

And here’s another article on tree-forming, landscaping from the inside-out.

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?

Front Door Plants—Starting a Topiary Project

I’ve been working with plants professionally for 35 years or so. During that time, one of the most requested tasks has been to “find me something distinctive to go on the front porch (or by the door).”  Usually it takes a lot of time and searching to find just the right plant for the job. It dawned on me several years ago that someone should be growing specially shaped plants for the front porch. It also dawned on me a shorter while back that that “someone” should be me; after all, I’ve been working on the concept for years.

Topiaries in containers are wonderful accents for entry ways.

Topiaries in containers are wonderful accents for entry ways.

I have access to a small and private piece of land in the country that can be used to grow the plants. While I was working on preparing the site I decided to go looking at plant material for the project. I ended up purchasing a hundred plants to start with. The grower agreed to keep the plants until I had the site ready for them and I brought two of the plants home with me to show to my wife, Dekie, and to play with. One of the varieties is cryptomeria ‘Black Prince’. It looked like this:

Cryptomeria 'Black Prince' ready to be started as a topiary

Cryptomeria ‘Black Prince’ ready to be started as a topiary

The objective is to grow specimen plants that will finish out somewhere between three and five feet in height.  I am thinking that we will grow them in matched pairs because—well, because a door has a right side and a left side. At any rate, we’ll experiment with that as we go.

Dekie and I spent a fun afternoon studying one of the plants and figuring out just how we would approach the shaping. To start with, I isolated three main stems (or trunks).

Selecting the main stems or trunks for the topiary project.

Selecting the main stems or trunks for the topiary project.

The “apical bud” is the growth bud at the very end of each of the tips. I’m not going to touch this right now. If this apical bud is allowed to grow, it will give me the height that I need. I will watch as this bud develops and elongates, protecting it until I feel that it is at the proper height for cutting.

The apical bud on the cryptomeria will be allowed to grow taller

The apical bud on the cryptomeria will be allowed to grow taller

I carefully trim the sides of the three trunks that I selected. I will cut the “lateral buds” (or sideways growth) to encourage the bottom growth on these trunks to branch out and become lush and full. This means that I will be shaping the bottom sections of the plants while they grow in height. When the two selected sideways trunks grow out to where I want them to be I will cut the tips and begin the shaping process.

Trimming the side or lateral growth on cryptomeria to induce branching.

Trimming the side or lateral growth on cryptomeria to induce branching.

Over the years I have developed a potting mix using compost, finely ground bark, peat moss, vermiculite, and perlite. I add a bit of lime to adjust the pH and I lace it with just the right dusting of a time-release fertilizer. I think that as the topiary project proceeds I will finish the plants off in five and/or seven gallon containers. For the trial plant, I just planted it in a three-gallon pot to see what happens.

re potting the tree into a three gallon pot for growing on.

re potting the tree into a three gallon pot for growing on.

Here’s a picture of the very first plant for the “Front Door Plants” project. I guess I need to get a bit more professional on my photographic backgrounds—or, I could tell you that I really wanted to show the other side of the fence.  At any rate, the plant is two feet high from the top of the root ball and the side growth has been carefully trimmed. I’m going to set up a special file on the blog and update it periodically. Let’s watch the project develop. I think it will take two to three years to reach the picture I have in my mind. After that, who knows?

Cryptomeria 'Black Prince' topiary started 7/24/13. Approximate height from top of root ball 2 feet.

Cryptomeria ‘Black Prince’ topiary started 7/24/13. Approximate height from top of root ball 2 feet.

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You may wish to check out my article on The Basics of Pruning.

An article on pruning an overgrown topiary

And another article on Foundation Planting With Containers

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?

Pruning an Overgrown Topiary

I really enjoy creative pruning.

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

At any rate, Tommy called and said that his favorite tree was getting out of hand.  Here’s what I drove up to:

This tree is carefully placed as an accent and it truly needs a bit of shaping

This tree is carefully placed as an accent and it truly needs a bit of shaping

We studied it for quite a while and then went after it with hand clippers and motor pruners.  Here’s how the project ended up.  Tommy was happy.

A tree yaupon pruned into a topiary form.  Anyone want to go visit Whoville?

A tree yaupon pruned into a topiary form. Anyone want to go visit Whoville?

I hope we passed the audition.

Here are some other articles on pruning that you may enjoy. Click on the title.

Pruning a Japanese Maple

Pruning as an art form: The Basics of Pruning

Tree forming, shaping a bush into a tree: Tree Forming in Landscaping

Bonsai:  How to Start a Bonsai

Bonsai Maintenance:  Pruning an Overgrown Bonsai

Thanks for visiting John the Plant Man

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

Plant in the wrong place? Make a topiary

Mabel and I were talking about improvements that needed to be made in her beautiful back yard garden. She stopped and pointed, “John, that pretty cedar tree is in exactly the wrong place next to the walkway. I hate to say it, but I guess we need to take it out.”

Turn a small tree into a topiary. Study the tree before starting

Turn a small tree into a topiary. Study the tree before starting

I agreed that it was, indeed, a pretty little tree and we thought about it for a while. Finally, I said, “why don’t we turn a liability into an asset? Let’s make it a topiary.”   We decided that that would be a good idea and that we had nothing to lose. I studied the tree for a while and then made a very deliberate cut—taking off the top.

After studying the topiary project, cut the top out of the plant.

After studying the topiary project, cut the top out of the plant.

The next step was to carefully round the top out so that I could get an idea what the final shape would be.

cut the tips to round off the top of the topiary

cut the tips to round off the top of the topiary

I decided that the tree would make a nice two tiered topiary and then began cutting the lower limbs between what would be the upper and the lower levels of the finished product.

cut the lower limbs to form the lower tier of the topiary

cut the lower limbs to form the lower tier of the topiary

The next picture shows where to trim the tips of the limbs. When the tips are cut to shape, they will branch out and thicken up. This will cause the tier, with time, to turn into a full, well shaped mass of green. The cuts were made right above the thumbnail in the picture.

Trim the ends of the stems to round out the topiary and cause it to branch and thicken

Trim the ends of the stems to round out the topiary and cause it to branch and thicken

With a well-sharpened pair of shears, I patiently cut every tip, shaping as I went. I was looking first at the shape as I cut and secondly, with a picture in my head at the shape that the project would turn into after a year or so.

Cutting the tips from the new topiary

Cutting the tips from the new topiary

Here’s the project finished for the time being. As with any pruning or shaping project, it will never be finished.

The topiary project will never be finished, but here's a good start

The topiary project will never be finished, but here’s a good start

Further maintenance on the topiary will be to look at it as it grows and to cut the new growth as it grows out of bounds. Patience and meditation are required.

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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