Kathy Van Mullekom
February 25, 2010
By now, husband Ken and I have usually finished our annual pruning chores.
Mother Nature's endless rain and snow, however, delayed our plans this year, so we've been spring cleaning indoors until we can get outdoors and evaluate what needs to be done.
Late winter, we always carefully assess just how much pruning really needs to be done. Each year we seem to do less and less because we are trying to be smarter gardeners.
Before any plant comes home with us, we read the label for critical information on how large it will grow and then assess if that's what we really need and want in a particular spot. In the past, we've crammed a wide-growing evergreen into a space where a narrow-growing evergreen would be happier and then paid the price — a look we didn't like and a plant that behaved badly. In hind sight, I can't blame the plant for misbehaving because we made a wrong choice.
When we buy the right plant for the right spot, we space it accordingly. Even though we typically buy smaller plants because they are easier to plant and cheaper to buy, we know they quickly grow. A plant may stay small the first year or two, but you'll find rapid growth begins the third year — and it keeps growing, even dwarf versions, we have found. Many landscapers are bad about putting small plants too close together so you feel like your money is well spent, but it's a look that eventually threatens your house and patience.
We also select plants that look good without a lot of pruning to shape them. Most plants have appealing natural growth habits, and it's preferable to let them assume the look nature gives them. Shrubs sheared into balls and cubes actually invite disease and pests to live inside their green veneer. Plus, they look so awkward — I truly dislike azaleas trimmed into a hedge or some other geometric shape.
The best pruning practices remove only rubbing, crossing, diseased, dead and dying plant material — even on crape myrtles and shrub roses. Prune a camellia so a bird can land on one side, hop through the plant and exit on the other side and you've properly pruned it.
So, when you shop garden centers this spring — supply trucks are starting to roll in — do a little homework first and save yourself unnecessary work and expense. Use a measuring tape to plot your planting space, jot down a rough design on paper and research plants by size. Be sure to consider what they need in soil and light conditions, too, before you make a final decision.
Your pruners will stay sharper and last you longer because you aren't fighting plants that fight you back.
Need a plant suggestion for a specific site? Send me a photo of the space you want to plant, give me your light and soil conditions, and I'll make some suggestions. E-mail inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org