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Let’s Prune

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Limbing up shrubs provides more space to plant underneath their shady canopy.

With spring flowers faded away and the summer garden getting into gear, there are a few tasks I do during these early days of summer. As the temperatures begin to rise and the rain starts to slow, I turn to my rain barrels to water the garden. Like many other homeowners, the rain barrels were not installed high enough for gravity to efficiently empty the rainwater collected from my roof. To put some power behind the water flow I use a small electric pump to efficiently water my plants.

While I love growing plants, I do enjoy all the fun of summer too. Saving time watering and weeding is always a personal goal, and one I meet by applying different types of mulch to my gardens. The vegetable garden is mulched with straw or chopped up dried leaves collected last fall, while my landscape and flower beds are mulched with either pine bark or shredded hardwood to a depth of 2”. I avoid the dyed mulch because I don’t know the origin of the wood.

I hope a certification process for this product is put in place soon because while I applaud the concept of reusing reclaimed wood and old pallets, I want to be assured I am not applying wood once coated in copper chrome arsenate. There is also a lot of chatter on the internet about the dyes used to color the wood. For a clear answer to my horticulture questions, I always turn to the .gov and .edu sites for the facts and I encourage you to do the same.

Around the trees in the lawn, I use arborist mulch. This chipped mulch from local arborists is a combination of wood and leaves, providing both nitrogen and carbon to the microbial life in the soil. Unlike shredded mulch, this type of mulch cannot form a knitted mat after repeated rain events. I use the site ChipDrop to find an arborist near me who delivers this mulch typically for free. Mulching under trees provides nutrients for the soil and tree roots, it conserves water, stabilizes the soil temperature and reduces weeds and grass.

Are you aware of competition between grass roots and tree roots for water and nutrients? Mulching reduces that competition by smothering the grass. As for our native pollinators and other insects, mulch under the tree canopy creates that leafy mass many beneficial insects overwinter within. The mulch also softens the compacted soil surface a lawn creates. This provides insects the opportunity to complete their life cycles of pupating in the soil during winter by burrowing into the mulch covered softened soil. Falling from a tree onto hard turf kills our valuable insects including many moths and butterflies.

May and June are the perfect months to prune spring blooming shrubs. Each year their flower buds form during the mid-late summer months making it counterproductive to prune any later in the year than now. Pruning is done with a purpose, and this is particularly true with shrubs. Always use clean, sharp tools, and protect yourself with gloves, eye protection and if power tools are used, ear protection attached to head protection. Never prune overhead because gravity does win in all scenarios and you don’t want to be underneath whatever is falling.

To reduce overgrowth into a walkway, prune branches back into the body of the shrub instead of shearing the plant

A plant is pruned to remove deadwood, damaged wood, crossing/rubbing branches, to limb up a plant, shape a plant or rejuvenate growth by cutting down a shrub above ground level. Rather than start shearing a plant, I accentuate the natural shape of a plant by cutting errant branches off down in the body of the plant/shrub. This encourages growth from within and prevents that very unhealthy thin layer of growth on the perimeter of regularly sheared shrubs. Only in formal garden settings where clipped evergreens and shrubs are part of the plan do I shear plants. Using hand pruners, I create small gaps throughout the sheared canopy to enable light into the plant which promotes interior growth.

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Protect your plants from diseases by sterilizing your tools before each use.

I encourage gardeners and homeowners to do their research when choosing plants. Consider the size, shape, moisture and light needs, plus bloom time before making a purchase, then position the plant so it has the room to grow. Doing this will greatly reduce water usage and maintenance, including pruning so we can have fun in the sun!

Happy Gardening!
- Peggy

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