Category: Pruning

Task oriented

Task 1 : Cut down the Redtwig Dogwood

As hard as it is to say goodbye to those killer red stems, it’s time to move on now that spring has arrived.

I cut the stems of this shrub to the ground each spring and without fail, it grows back rapidly through spring and summer. This keeps the shrub’s size within bounds since I have it in a tight spot along the foundation of the front of my house.

This is what it typically looks like by summer.

The severe pruning also aids in providing the reddest of stems that upcoming fall/winter.

That task was completed today.


Task #2: Prune out the oldest stems on the Ninebark

This is another pruning task I conquer each spring. I cut roughly 2/3 of the old stems on this Ninebark ‘Diablo’ to the ground with the goal of limiting the ultimate size of this rapidly growing shrub.

You can easily identify the older branches by their lighter color and heavier peeling bark.

Another task completed today.



Again, I do this so this Ninebark doesn’t outgrow the somewhat limited space I’ve provided for it along my foundation. By pruning it in this manner, it doesn’t get too monstrous and looks like this by the time it stops growing in summer.


Task #3: Clean up the dead foliage around the perennials

A lot of hand pruning and pulling but it’s all worth it after seeing all of that delicious green new growth.


Task #4: Cut down the ornamental grasses

For today, I stuck with the grasses that could easily be handled by hand pruners. That consisted mostly of Karl Foerster grasses.


Task #5: Observe

Observe the bulbs developing in a see of Bee Balm rosettes.

Observe the Golden Ragwort quickly throwing out growth and hopefully flowers in the next few weeks.


Weigela ‘Wine and Roses’ update

It has been a while since I chatted you all up about my Weigela ‘Wine and Roses’ shrubs. Back in 2011, I did a little experimental pruning with my three different W&R shrubs to see which of the three options (severe prune, selective prune and no prune) panned out the best. At the time, I concluded (albeit with scant evidence) that some sort of pruning was the way to go for the best foliage display and best overall shape.

Fast forward to 2016 and I’ve lost 2 of the 3 shrubs after moving each of them to a wetter and poorer draining location. Neither was residing in standing water or anything that extreme, but both were not in as dry of a location as the lone standing W&R. So point #1, fast draining soil is a must. I’ve got the evidence to back that up.

The last living ‘Wine and Roses’ Weigela was the one that was originally “selectively pruned” and it did look great for 2-3 years after that. However, in the years since, the shrub has become “twiggy” (the scientific term) as I haven’t touched it since 2011. Here she is current day:


Uninspiring, even in full bloom.

Upon closer inspection, you can see the bare branches which collectively, give it the current mediocre look.

weigela 3


weigela 2


weigela 4

I still really enjoy this shrub as a foliage first plant and a great background to a variety of perennials, especially when the purple coneflowers are in full bloom. With that in mind, I’m going to prune this shrub selectively once again, probably within the next week or so after it has put out its bloom to ensure I do not cut off next year’s flowers. It looks like this will be an every 2-3 year job based on current evidence.

More to come.



Spring pruning time

This moment could not have come soon enough. With some free time early this morning coupled with the fact that it was 60 degrees here in New Jersey, it was a no-brainer to get outdoors and cross some spring gardening tasks off of the list, specifically, some spring pruning.

For today, it was the pruning of two of the largest shrubs in my garden and two shrubs that I pruned to the ground (with success) last spring: Redtwig Dogwood and Dappled Willow (Salix ‘Hakuro Nishiki’).

Here is the original post on the spring pruning of the redtwig dogwood:
pruning redtwig dogwood

And the original post on the spring pruning of the dappled willow:
pruning Salix

And here is an update I posted on the progress of both shrubs last June:
pruning updates in June

And to further update you on the results of the severe spring pruning, here is a photo of the redtwig dogwood prior to it being pruned this morning:

redtwig winter

Even after being cut to the ground last March, this deciduous shrub ended up growing to about 5-6′ feet tall and 3-4′ wide. And the red stem color was killer all fall/winter.

late fall garden 2

I heard more compliments and more “what is this shrub” comments from visitors this winter than ever before. In other words, “success”.

The Dappled Willow went bananas after it was also pruned to the ground last March. Check these pics out.

In June.


And in September.


Totally out of control. This year I need to do a better job of cutting this back a few times throughout the year to keep it in bounds.

Back to this morning.

The redtwig dogwood was up first.

spring pruning

As much as it pained me to see it go, it is necessary for me to keep it at a size that doesn’t outgrow its location. I’ve tried other redtwig dogwood shrubs in other parts of my garden, and the deer have destroyed it every time. In this location along the front foundation of my home, it has escaped them. The only issues are that it is a tighter fit and not full sun. But three years in, we are still good to go.

By the way, I make it a point to save the cut stems for indoor decorating because you know, I’m all about the interior decorating.

redtwig branches

Next up was the Salix.

spring pruning

A little bit tougher to cut back with the thicker stems.

spring pruning

But if you have nice and sharp loppers like I do and if you are as brutally strong as I am, you should be fine.

salix branches

This was the second year in a row that a bird nested in this shrub during the winter and I made sure all was clear before proceeding this morning. No birds were injured as part of this project.

bird egg salix

With nothing but warm weather on the horizon, expect to see more spring chore completion over the next few days.

Pruning updates

This spring (end of March) I pruned my Redtwig Dogwood just about to the ground.

pruning redtwig dogwood 3

And here is how it looks as of today, June 10th.

redtwig dogwood

It took a while to get going in April and early May but man has it taken off since. And it couldn’t look more fresh and healthy. I’m even convinced the leaves are much larger than they have ever been.

redtwig dogwood 2

So to date, all is good. The next test will be in the Fall/Winter as we analyze the redness of the stems.

Next up is the Salix (Dappled Willow). This deciduous shrub was also cut back severely in March.

pruning salix 6

And holy crap Batman has this savage shrub recovered quickly.


We’re talking about 6 feet high and wide.

The coloration early on was phenomenal.


And then settled in at about the same color as it was at this time last year.

What I now know for sure, is that it will require a yearly pruning in early spring in order to not outgrow its current location.

Such is the life of an avid gardener.

Pruning the Redtwig Dogwood

It may be snowing here in New Jersey as I write this, but it didn’t stop me from heading outdoors and completing another gardening task today. Today was all about pruning the Redtwig Dogwood ‘Arctic Fire’.

My lone Redtwig Dogwood is unfortunately, in a location where I can’t let it grow as large as it desires. ‘Arctic Fire’ maxes out at about 5′ x 4′ (don’t believe what a lot of other sites will tell you). I had no other choice but to plant it in a bed along the front of my home where I’ve managed to shield it from the deer for years now. Anywhere else in the yard and it would be toast.

Because of that, I potentially have to prune it for size control for the first time this spring.

Here she is last summer just about outgrowing its spot.
redtwig dogwood

And last Fall after shedding its leaves.

And as of this morning.
pruning redtwig dogwood

If size wasn’t an issue, I don’t think pruning the Redtwig Dogwood would even be a need at this point. As you can see below, the stems are all still wonderfully fire truck red.
pruning redtwig dogwood 4

So let’s now unveil the final decision via video. How will he be pruning the Redtwig Dogwood?

There we have it. Time to chop it down to the ground.

And just like that …
pruning redtwig dogwood 2

Yes, another big hole in the garden but if we want to experiment and learn, this is a necessity.
pruning redtwig dogwood 3

So another pruned shrub to keep a close eye on this spring/summer. Fun stuff.

And by the way, I used my new favorite pruners for pruning the Redtwig Dogwood and for pruning the Salix ‘Hakuro Nishiki’. And that would be the Corona Anvil Pruner.
corona pruners

Nothing has ever worked or felt better in the hand. A serious endorsement for this one.

Have a great weekend.

Pruning Salix ‘Hakuro Nishiki’

Today was the official start of the gardening season. I completed my first official gardening “task”. And by task, I mean getting outside, freezing the ass off and performing some sort of physical labor. That task was pruning Salix ‘Hakuro Nishiki’. A shrub that I absolutely adore. 

But first, allow myself … to introduce myself and what the plan of attack would be for this shrub.

With that in mind, here is what she looked like by the end of last summer.


Just about ready to really take over my deck. The only choice I see is to cut it back severely in order to keep it in bounds. Not to mention the possibility of improving on the white and pink variegation in spring.   

So this is where we started off today.

pruning salix

As you can see below, the buds have just started to form on the branches so pruning Salix time is of the essence.

pruning salix 2

I didn’t take photos of the actual pruning of the Salix, as I basically cut all of the branches down to about 12-18 inches off of the ground. Even with some of the thicker branches (close to 2″ in diameter) I was able to cut these down using hand pruners and a little brute force.

I did my best, where possible, to cut right above a bud in hopes of having the newly chopped down branches leaf out in a well shaped manner. Honestly I don’t even know if it was necessary but we will see how it plays out.

pruning salix 4

After the severe pruning of the Salix ‘Hakuro Nishiki’, here is what she looked like.

pruning salix 3

pruning salix 6

A rather large hole in the garden right now, but I’m willing to put up with it knowing how quickly this shrub puts out growth each year.

All in all, the pruning took no more than 5 minutes with minimal effort. Now the waiting game begins.

pruning salix 5

Pruning Salix is only one of the many planned severe prunings I have planned for this spring. As always, I will be sure to track the results throughout the spring/summer/fall/winter.

I would love to hear all of your feedback in the comments section if you’ve pruned your Salix in the past.


Garden assessment

Can I get outside and get my non-calloused hands in the friggin dirt already? With the official first day of spring here, I should have so much more done by now. Every ornamental grass should be cut down. The perennials should be cleaned up with their new growth exposed. The trees should be pruned. The plants that wussed out and didn’t survive the winter should be enjoying their new home on the compost pile. But we ain’t even close to that right now. Not by a long shot.

Now having said all that, I am still remaining patient. I believe the term you all may use is “maturing”. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was my early spring garden. The truth is, the soil is still so wet and I am not about to compact my compacted soil any further. As much as I want to put on my shit-kicking boots and garden away, we must wait.

But that doesn’t mean we cannot plan. I’ve told you before about my detailed plant spreadsheet but did you know that there is a column dedicated to spring tasks associated with each plant? And I log what I ended up doing each spring, going back five years now? Yes, I am aware of how awesome I am and I appreciate your praise. We can’t all be this organized and on top of things. You just have to accept it and move on.

So as I navigated the garden with pen and paper in tow (I can still kick it old school), here are some of the things I noted for future efforts or just simply noted or even noted in anger.

My four year old Malus (Crabapple) ‘Prairie Fire’ has never been touched beyond the removal of some suckers at the base and dead wood when I remembered to notice it. Well now I am ready to prune it a bit to aid in its development.              

As you can see, it could use some shaping but I don’t want to prune it just for the sake of pruning. I’ve done my research though and I think I am ready to take the plunge. Now is the time to do so before it blooms and leafs out. There are quite a few crossing branches that can be cut out.

And also a few branches that are now growing back towards the center of the tree.

More to come after John Scissorhands chops away. Did I mention how phenomenal the blooms are come the end of April?

I’ve been disappointed to date with the growth and habit of my Amelanchier (Serviceberry) ‘Autumn Brilliance’ and my gut tells me to take action with a pruner. For now however, we are ignoring said gut and leaving this alone for another year.

This Viburnum ‘Shoshoni’ is dangerously close to outgrowing its spot along the front of my home but I’ve managed to trim it enough “post bloom” to keep it in bounds. I have considered a severe pruning to really address the potential spacing issue but again, will continue with the light shearing and enjoy an actual shrub that is happily thriving in my garden.

Just a minute to salute this Viburnum ‘Emerald Lustre’ and the fact that the deer have never touched it and I can let it grow to its heart content. No pruning required here.

Me like berries and would never mess with that.

I so love the Redtwig dogwood (this is ‘Arctic Fire’) in winter so I will be selectively pruning this one to aid in the production of young red stems for next fall/winter.

You are looking at a suckering Clethra and I’m not quite sure if that is a good or bad thing yet. I welcome the spreading but need to keep an eye on it to see if it affects the overall growth of the mother plant.  

Time to remove the Holly ‘Blue Princess’ from the spreadsheet as she got her ass kicked this winter. And yes, this is not a deciduous Holly.

I am in the process of writing a new garden song entitled “The day the arborvitaes died” as I have close to ten of these that are in need of removal. I never really took to them anyway but they filled space and that can’t be underestimated.

I played around with some experimental pruning with Weigela ‘Wine and Roses’ a few years ago and this is the one I’ve never touched. Pruning to the ground worked well on another with its new flush of wine colored foliage and it is now residing in a container on my deck (long story). I think I may allow this to bloom in the late spring and then I will cut it back severely.

This is what happens when you desperately throw a boxwood in a container in December.  

This is what happens when you … actually I have no idea what happened to this unfortunate boxwood.

Since this Physocarpus (Ninebark) is on my deck and away from the soggy soil, I went to town and cut it back to a few inches. Hopefully the newly emerging foliage will be vibrant and light up this container.

Some other parts of the garden are completely inaccessible at this time so there is more evaluating to come. And yes, I will soon share my “plant spreadsheet of the gods” with you all but not the machinations that are behind it. That is for a future episode of Shark Tank.


Update on pruning Ninebark ‘Diablo’

Six weeks ago I had written a post that had me wondering aloud as to how I would prune my Ninebark ‘Diablo’. After many sleepless nights and hours upon hours of research, I finally made a decision.

Here she is in current state:

With the differing branch colors indicating older versus newer “wood”:

And then we attacked with the pruners, and here is the end result:

I went with the “not too drastic” approach as I cut out about 1/3 of the older wood at the base of the shrub hoping to keep it in bounds along my foundation without losing all of the blooms and the subsequent seedheads.

In a perfect world, I prefer to let my shrubs grow as they will without any interference. But I have had this particular Ninebark for five years now and it has been chowed to the ground numerous times by the deer. Now that it is hidden along my foundation planting, I am keeping it here for good and will do my best to maintain the appropriate size.

More photos to come in the near future as she begins to leave out and hopefully the shape will remain appealing after the haircut it has been given.

UPDATE: For even more info on this shrub, check out the update here from fall 2014.

Pruning Ninebark ‘Diablo’

I ventured outside early this morning with the intention of … well … I actually had no real intention. It was -10 degrees with the wind chill  (maybe a slight exaggeration) and I wanted to see how quickly my nose hairs would freeze. A fun little test of my intestinal fortitude.

Conclusion: It was cold and it hurt like hell.

I lasted about two minutes and then headed back inside. However, I had enough time to check out my Physocarpus ‘Diablo’ and started thinking about how I was going to prune it in the near future.

And that consumed me all day, all the way up until I started to write this post this evening.

I have considered pruning Ninebark ‘Diablo’ back hard to within a foot of the ground to get nice fresh and vivid foliage this spring. Of course, that would mean sacrificing any blooms and subsequent red seedheads.

I have considered cutting out only the dead wood and some of the older branches to the ground to keep the shrub’s somewhat upright shape. You can easily spot said older gray branches in the photo below:


OK hold on a minute. Let me take a step back and think this through a bit and provide you some background before I make any pruning decisions.

Here is how the Physocarpus (Ninebark) looked this past summer:


Already at its ideal size after only three years in the ground.

And how good do the dark colored leaves look against the other shrubs and perennials in front of it?





Nice, huh? I wish I could do nothing and it would stay exactly as it looked this spring/summer. But we all know this shrub grows like mad and precautions need to be taken to keep it in bounds.

Another factor in the pruning Ninebark decision is whether or not I care about retaining the blooms each season. Here they are. They look nice up close:


But I won’t lie, I think they leave a little to be desired from a distance. Quick conclusion = I can survive without them.

By the way, this deciduous shrub looks pretty fantastic in the fall:



And the bark is fantastic when exposed in the winter:


What was I getting at again? Oh yeah, “to prune or not to prune” or really “to severely prune or not to severely prune”. That, my friends, is the question.

… and you will have to wait for an answer for a few more weeks. Some more in depth analysis is required.

UPDATE: Here is the link to where I went with my pruning – Pruning ‘Diablo’


“Prune in June” – Sneezeweed

Quick one today as I continue with my 2nd year of doing the “Prune in June” series.
I cut back one Sneezeweed (Helenium) by 1/2 in mid June last year hoping it would bloom without falling over. Here is that plant a few weeks later:  
After further review, this was due to really poor drainage in this spot more than anything else.
Another Sneezeweed that was cut back by 1/2 bloomed at a much smaller height and did manage to stay upright.
A third plant was left untouched but had sufficient support when it bloomed at close to four feet tall.
Now we fast forward to 2013. 
The Sneeezeweed that was located in poor drainage has been moved to a new spot, chowed down multiple times by a family of rabbits and will not be part of this pruning experiment.
The other two have been cut back by 1/2 a few weeks later than last year:    

Now we kick back and wait.