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The Importance of Garden Journals
By: Nancy Popa, AEMG
Generally, a garden journal is a place where you record details, patterns, observations and plans for your garden. I have two types of journals that serve me well. I have an electronic journal and a spiral bound journal. Of course, a garden journals can take any form that meets your needs. Ring binders are convenient in that you can add inserts such as graph paper, calendar pages, pockets for seeds and tags. Hard cover journals provide a surface to write on. Some specialty journals are waterproof. A Garden Journal is very personal, there are no rules, and you can use it in any way that meets your needs!
My electronic journal has two sections that are continuously updated. The first section is a calendar in paragraph form. January, February, March etc. In each paragraph I list the tasks that I must do year to year in that particular month for example…April-thin boxwoods, May-feed heavy flowering plants, June-stake asters. I also identify when to start looking for certain pests. For example, look for saw fly larvae on Lysimachia mid-June, around 400 Growing Degree Days (that is another article). The fact that I can continuously update this section and keep it in chronological order is very convenient. The second section in my electronic journal is the area where I alphabetically identify each plant by genus and species, common name, and optimal growing conditions. It is always nice to be able to quickly look up one of the plants in your yard and be reminded that they thrive in moist soil or like to be cut back at certain times. The ability to update and keep it alphabetical makes it extremely easy to keep track of your plants. Another advantage of this level of documentation is that when you share a plant with someone, you can be sure you tell them everything they need to know. Take a look at Nancy’s Journal by using this link (opens a pdf): Garden Calendar.
My second garden journal is the one that I love to write in out in the garden! I have sketches, “must have plants”, a list of this year’s Fall moves and divisions, notes on where I top dressed in the Spring before I ran out of compost, lecture notes and much more. I carry this one around in my garden wagon…it gets dirty and sometimes wet…but it has all the good stuff in it. The daily observations and ideas make gardening so fun. I strongly recommend getting started with some type of journaling and see where it takes you.
Pruning Matters… Or the Matter of Pruning
By: Cheryl A. Gross, AEMG
Pruning can be fun and beneficial to trees and shrubs. On the other hand, pruning can significantly damage trees and shrubs! The Master Gardener Volunteer Training Manual lists nine reasons to prune most of which are included here. The secrets to healthy pruning are timing, goal, and technique.
A gardener should remove dead, diseased or damaged branches any time of the year. Late Winter and early Spring are the best times to prune most woody plants. They are dormant and there will be little insect or pathogen present to attack the open wounds.
There are exceptions. Some shrubs should be pruned shortly after they are finished blooming in Spring. Examples are forsythia and lilac. They bloom on year-old stems so later pruning limits the profusion of blooms the following year. Major refreshing of all shrubs will be addressed later. This timely advice is for size and shape control.
Deciduous trees are best pruned in Winter, although some can wait until Spring. Waiting until the leaves are off the trees and shrubs allows a much clearer view as to branching structure. In Winter, insects are no longer active, and the tree is dormant making Winter pruning the healthier option. This is especially true for Oak trees. Temperatures must be at or below 32 degrees for an extended period of time for safe pruning to prevent an opening for Oak Wilt. Also, shrubs that need a major reshaping or resizing should be pruned in Winter when you can clearly see the branch structure.
Evergreen trees should be pruned, only when absolutely necessary and then in late Spring. Any cuts will produce a flurry of growth so can be useful when looking to fill-out the shape. The exception are spruces and firs which should be pruned in Winter.
Most of shrub pruning is used to shape or re-size the plant. If a shrub has a natural globe shape, keep that shape. If the shrub has a natural vase or arching shape, keep that shape. Please, never cut a naturally vase-shaped shrub into a globe. The most obvious example of this mistake is seen in forsythia pruning. If a forsythia is shaped like a lightbulb, it has been mistreated.
Tree pruning is performed to shape the tree as it grows. Trees grow in two directions: wider from the trunk and longer from terminal buds. A branch 8 inches off the ground will never grow up. Therefore, tree pruning especially, on young trees, is accomplished primarily by removing entire branches from the trunk. As a tree grows through each terminal branch end, please do not remove a terminal end anywhere along the branch. Take that stem back to where it began on the trunk or a larger branch. Topping a tree is never a good idea, although utility companies do it as necessary to protect the power supply.
Always use proper tools for the job. Sharp hand pruners, a pruning saw, loppers, and ratchet loppers are all helpful in a pruning toolbox. Include alcohol and a rag for wiping the blades between plants. Bypass pruners are preferred as they are better for the branch being cut; anvil style pruners can bruise and crush the branch.
Begin by taking a good look at the plant. Stand back and examine it from various angles. Globe or topiary-shaped shrubs are shaped and reduced in size by snipping the outside edges of the plant. Before beginning, dig down inside the branching and remove any dead/diseased branches. On evergreen shrubs, always keep a conical shape to allow the sun to reach all branches, down to the ground. A top-heavy evergreen will shade the lower branches allowing them to lose needles and look straggly and dead.
On vase shaped or arching branch shrubs look first for anything dead and remove it at the ground or at a larger, live branch. Then, look for interior branches that cross other branches, especially if they rub against another branch. The goal here is to clear-out the internal branching for light accessibility and to limit branch damage. Stand back once more and evaluate the size and shape. Many times, the first two steps may be enough to keep the shrub healthy. Use a thinning technique to open up the plant to light and more vigorous growth.
Once a plant has gotten larger than the location allows, it is time to refresh. By refreshing, the pruner is taking the shrub back to a dramatically smaller form. This process should take three years and includes significantly cutting back the shrub a third each year. Refreshing does not act like a buzz saw to “top” the plant. It is accomplished one branch at a time. First-year cuts are deep into the shrub and remove large stem/branches to open the lower sections of the shrub to light. In the second year, the first-year cuts begin to branch and fill in when the second third of deep cuts are made. By the third year, the first cut regrowth should be vigorous while the second-year regrowth is beginning. By spreading out the significant pruning action, the plant has strength to regrow and maintains a semblance of attractiveness.
Many plants are stimulated by pruning and will quickly push out new branches and leaves, especially when pruned during peak growing season. This is desirable when refreshing an overgrown shrub, shaping a Christmas tree, or to fill-in a cedar. If done improperly or at the wrong time, pruning can actually make the shrub larger!
Finally, there are shrubs that can be refreshed by cutting back to the ground. This is especially helpful with red twig dogwood which has old branches turning brown. It is easy to remove these selectively and the shrub will push new growth. The plant can be completely cut to the ground and will regrow, but there will be an unsightly blank where it once filled the space.
For more detailed descriptions and illustrations, review the Woody Ornamental chapter in the 2013 edition of the MSU Master Gardener Volunteer Program Training Manual.
Additional resource: Pruning Made Easy: A Gardener’s Visual Guide to When and How to Prune Everything, from Flowers to Trees, Lewis Hill, Storey’s Gardening Skills Illustrated, c. 1997