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Archive for the tag “pruning”

Tree Trimming for Dummies

MYTH: tis the season for tree trimming....

The Christmas season has everyone talking about trimming trees.  Oh.  Not that kind?  What if you have trees than need pruning, though?  Can that be done NOW?  HOW?

Since Edward Scissorhands wasn’t available (his blades were full), here are my quick tips on pruning trees and shrubs.

WHEN? There are several reasons to trim woody plants and a corresponding season to do it.  My memory sucks, so I’ve come up with ways to remember based on those seasons.

Fall’s for the fallen.  Spring’s sprung anew.

If you have dead branches, autumn is a great time to get them off the plant so it doesn’t have to carry that dead weight into winter.  Literally.  Cold weather means most insects that would harm exposed cuts are gone, too.  Take this opportunity to trim away any obviously lifeless limbs.  (If you don’t know how to tell what’s good wood and what’s not, check out my previous post on trees.)  Wait until spring before pruning trees for shape or size.  Cutting can send a signal to the tree that causes new growth, which is not a good thing going into winter since tender new shoots are susceptible to injury in freezing temps.  The addendum to this rule regards blooming trees and shrubs.  They should usually be trimmed just after they finish blooming so you don’t miss out on seeing the flowers.

HOW? The go-to guy for prunology is plant pathologist Dr. Alex Shigo.  Texas A&M’s website goes into big-time detail for you anal type, but for me, a picture is worth a thousand words so here’s his diagram for where to trim branches depending on whether they’re living or deceased.

figure 6, Shigo's method of pruning

HIT: trim your trees for the right reasons in the right seasons by watching a how-to video from The Garden Girl @

So while the ladder is still out, channel your inner Edward and whack away those dead branches.  It’s a  gift to your trees that will come full circle by giving you a healthier landscape.

Is My Tree Dead, or Just Playin’ Possum?

Several months ago a friend asked if she should cut down her dead tree or wait to see if the leaves come back out in the spring……  When I repeated her question, as any good therapist would do, she recognized what she’d said was not what she’d really meant.  Her real question: IS MY TREE DEAD, or is it just playin’ possum?

While viewing the change in season is enjoyable, seeing a change in LIFE of a favorite shade tree can be devastating.  The most severe drought our area of Texas has possibly ever experienced has pushed plants to their limit with many dead, dying, or distressed.  Record flooding in other areas of the country can be just as detrimental.  So how do you know if a tree is dead?  Can it be resurrected if it’s had a near-death experience?  Here are a few things to look for if you suspect your tree is on its last…um….trunk and the steps to take if you want to keep it from becoming firewood.

green is good! (photo from blog by April Demes at

TEST IT:  Arborists are trained to help keep your tree alive.  But if it is already dead, no reason to pay them to give you the bad news.  Where the problems appear can tell you a lot.  When there’s thinning on top like a middle-aged guy, the problem could be severe.  However, if just a few lower branches show distress, your patient might still make it.  Try to break one or two twigs off.  When the twig gives way easily with a “crack,” it is dead.  You might do this in several spots in the crown, breaking twigs progressing up to branches until you find a live one.  If you don’t have luck after a number of tries, use a sharp implement to scrape away an area on the trunk.  Don’t cut deep, but gouge till you see greenish tissue.  Brown or tan dry pulp, no matter how far you stab, means the tree’s most likely a goner.

TRIM IT:  Trees don’t do comb-overs.  Never seen a man who can sport one effectively either, for that matter…. If you’ve found signs of life somewhere on your tree, prune away the dead weight.  Branches that are not actively helping are hurting the plant, so relieving your stressed tree will allow it to concentrate on getting well.  Insects should not be a problem if the temperatures stay cool, thus pruning paint is unnecessary.

TREAT IT:  Winter is when tree roots are active, not top growth.  Use this time to pamper the roots so they can better support the rest of the tree when the leaves return in spring.  A good drink in autumn – whether from a soaking rain or a soaker hose – is advised if your gauge or weatherman says you’re still behind in rainfall.   As tempting as it might be, do NOT fertilize unless you are using something for the roots only.  That means anything that puts nitrogen (the 1st number in the 3 digit ratio on the bag) into the soil will put additional stress on the tree.  The best thing we can do for a declining plant is give it a warm blanket.  A mulch blanket, that is.

HIT: blanket your tree with love, and nothing shows love like a blanket of mulch for the winter!

MYTH: trees don't need a human touch.

Trees, like mothers, give us benefits we often do not realize until they are gone.  A little TLC to return the favor is not too much to ask, is it?  Take the time to get your trees healthy and generations to come will thank you for your generosity.



Sally asks:

“Do I have to dead-head my Knock-out roses, or should I just leave them alone?  I know they are supposed to be low-maintenance, but are they NO-maintenance?”

Knock Out roses in partial shade, Ft.Worth Botanic Garden (photo by Cherie)

The Knock Out ® rose  (Rosa ‘Radrazz’ KNOCK OUT) is the fastest selling “new” rose ever.  Since being sent to the Conard-Pyle Company for testing in 1992 by Wisconsin rose breeder William (“Bill”) Radler, it has been amazing the growers. Radler says. “I wanted to breed the maintenance out of roses so I wouldn’t have to cut (them) back as the years passed.”  Although bred to weather cold winters, Knock Outs proved resistant to disease, pests, heat and humidity as well, making them a great rose for the South, too.  These hardy shrubs, now come in several colors and are touted as a great alternative for those who want beautiful roses without all the fuss.

HIT: no deadheading necessary

Knock Out ® roses do NOT require the old blooms to be removed, called “deadheading.”  Repeat blooming will occur regardless, even in partially shady areas.  However, cutting, or “pruning” your roses back each spring (I do it Valentine’s Day here in my Texas garden) will keep the shrubs tidier and at a manageable size, if you garden in a small space or prefer hedging at 3-4′.  (My Knock Outs get over 5′ in a season if I don’t trim them….which I don’t.)  Another reason to deadhead is if you prefer not seeing the spent blooms dangling.  WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE ROSE?

MISS: a rose by any other name....

photo from Robin McBurney Fruia

A dear memory to me is the scent of my grandmother, Nana Dodson, who bathed in rose-water.  While some say the Knock Out ® rose has a scent, I’ve not noticed it.  Instead, I prefer low maintenance antique roses such as ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison,’ which emits a TRUE rose scent, in my opinion.  It might not boast a perfect, unblemished bloom every time, but the fragrance fills my entire garden and takes me back to my childhood.  I also worry that, as with other plants, Knock Out roses could be over-planted and should a disease or pest start to attack it, entire landscapes would be wiped out overnight.  Besides, I love plants too much to have only ONE kind, even if it is a low-maintenance, pretty one!

fragrant 'Souvenir de la Malmaison' rose, which comes as a climber or shrub (photo by Cherie)

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