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When Pruning Trees and Shrubs, Timing Is Everything

Pruning is always a question for many gardeners, when and how to prune are the most common. It really depends on what you are pruning. For trees and shrubs pruning is a way to help rejuvenate and stimulate new growth. But there is a right time and a wrong time to prune.

Here are a few general rules you need to know before you pick up your pruning shears this spring.

For many trees and shrubs timing is key, especially when pruning spring flowering shrubs. Plants like Azalea, Forsythia, and lilac bloom on the previous years growth. Flower buds are produced the previous growing season and overwinter on the plant. Pruning these shrubs in the fall or winter will prohibit flowering in the spring. Many of these shrubs benefit from light pruning to keep the natural shape of the plant. You want to avoid over pruning or shearing too closely. This practice alters the natural growth structure of the plant resulting in unhealthy looking plants that will flower very little.

Trees and shrubs flowering in the summer should be pruned in late winter or early spring. These plants flower on the the same years growth and are fast growing, like Buddleia and Caryopteris. Roses, Hybrid tea and floribunda should also be pruned in early spring, just before plant breaks dormancy. Shrub and Knockout roses can benefit from this as well. Fruit trees, evergreens, Viburnum, Crepe Myrtle and Rose of Sharon can also be pruned in the early spring.

Pruning hydrangeas on the other hand can be tricky. Hydrangea paniculata and arborescens, flower on the new seasons growth. Pruning in the late winter or early spring is ideal. Hydrangea macrophylla flower from the previous years growth. Many of the new breeds and varieties of hydrangeas bloom from old and new wood, like the endless summer series. It is best to cut back in the late summer. If your plant has become too large or if you are cutting blooms for floral arrangements be careful not to over prune, this can result in fewer blooms the following year.

Pruning tips:

1. Use sharp shears that are cleaned and sanitized to avoid spreading any disease.

2. Remove diseased wood immediately.

3. Make cuts at an angle and close to the collar of the tree. This will keep insects out that can carry disease and harm the tree.

4. Remove crossing branches. Always cut off the smaller branch.

5. Remove thin and spindly looking branches. This helps to thin out the tree or shrub, opening it up for more light and wind to pass through.

6. Remove suckers growing from the trunk of tree.

7. Cut shoots growing straight up towards the center of the tree from thebark or on branches.

8. Avoid pruning in fall. Plants are still growing in the fall. Pruning stimulates growth in plants who are otherwise winding down their growing season and preparing for dormancy. Freezing temps can injure plants pushing new growth.

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How to keep that beautiful poinsettia blooming

by Tina Sottolano Cain

Keeping your poinsettia alive until next Christmas is not as challenging as you may think. With a little knowledge of the history of the plant and a few easy growing tips you will have an easy time getting your poinsettia to bloom again.

The poinsettia, Euphorbia pulcherrima is a tropical plant that is native to the southern region Mexico and was brought to the United States by the ambassador to Mexico Joel Roberts Poinsett in 1825.

The beautiful red color of its leaves known as bracts make this plant very unique. When grown in their native environment they traditionally grow in part sun and shade, and can grow up to 13 feet tall.

To keep your poinsettias looking good throughout the winter months give them a sunny, south-facing windowsill where it is bright, be sure the light is filtered and free of any drafts. You also want to keep the plant away from any heat vents as well. I find that keeping the temperature between 68-70 degrees is ideal.

Watering poinsettias can be challenging for many. Striking the right balance of moisture and humidity can make all the difference in keeping your plant looking happy and healthy. I recommend checking water regularly. Remove the foil cover from the pot, if you already haven’t. This will allow the plant to drain properly. Too often I have seen a poinsettia take a turn for the worse only to find out later that it has been sitting in a pool of water at the bottom of the foil cover. This will also allow for proper air flow around the base of the plant. Some of the warning signs are the lower leaves turning yellow and curling followed by dropping off. Allow plants to dry out between watering cycles. Never leave excess water in saucers and cache pots.

Continue with this practice until spring. Stop watering and allow the plant to dry out, leaving the stems to shrivel and leaves to drop. Place plant in a cool location where temperature ranges from 50-60 degrees. At the end of spring cut back stems to a couple of inches above the soil line and repot using fresh potting soil. Begin watering again and place plant outside for the summer months in a shaded location. Begin fertilizing using a 10-10-10 ratio weekly at the first sign of new growth. Mid-summer begin pinching off the tips from the top of the plant. This is the new growth you are taking off to promote side branching. You want to do this two times during the growing season before you bring the plant indoors in the fall. Place in a sunny location and continue to water and fertilize regularly.

In autumn move the plant to complete darkness between the hours of 5 pm and 8 am. This triggers the plant to change its growth pattern. Its bracts will change color from dark green to red and flower. Once the plants bracts have completely colored, typically in November, return to a sunny location and enjoy for another holiday season.

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Children’s Garden

Researchers find activities like gardening can improve mental health and contribute to a healthy weight. The increased physical activity reduces stress, and increases happiness.  You also build better eating habits when grow your own vegetables.  With benefits like this why are we not seeing more adults and children interested in gardening?  For starters it begins with the young.  Cultivating children’s interest in gardening at a very young age shows that as adults they continue to garden.  Children’s gardens should be a place of fun and inhibition so they can be free to explore and learn as they grow.  

Designing and Planting…Designing gardens for kids should be filled with fun plants that are easy to grow from seed. Therefore you want to get them involved in the design process, after all it is their space.  Use plants like Sunflowers, Chinese lanterns, and Celosia, just to name a few.  Bright colors and textures are big attractions that draw in the most curious gardeners of all ages. Be sure to  include native shrubs and perennials.  They attract local birds and wildlife to the garden.  It is important to show children how important natives are and the role they play in our ecosystem.

Stimulate their sense of smell…Fragrance is so important to spark their interest.  Plants like Heliotrope, Primrose, Lilac, Lavender and Peonies are great additions to any garden and easy to grow.

Edible Gardening…Always mix edible plants with flowering plants.  Planting vegetables and flowers together teaches children the importance of attracting pollinators, like bees and beneficial insects to the garden.  Flower and fruit production from pollination are keys to the success of the garden.

Garden Architecture…Add structure to the garden using an arbor or pergola.  Make a garden path for little feet to walk. Have the children create their own stepping stones using found objects, like stones, marbles, seashells in concrete molds. Hand and footprints stepping stones are always popular for the kids to make.

 

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Winter Houseplant Care

Caring for houseplants indoors during the winter is much more challenging than outdoors.  Controlled temperatures, shorter day length and forced hot air from our indoor heating systems leave the atmosphere dry.  You also need to be mindful of cold drafts. Plants near drafty windows and doors result in dark brown sections on leaves.  Plants struggle to push out new growth, foliage turns yellow and edges brown thus resulting in unhappy looking houseplants.

I avoid these problems by following a few simple rules…

Increase Humidity…plants love humidity, especially indoor tropicals.  Make sure you keep plants away from forced dry heat vents.  Increase humidity by placing the plant on a bed of moist crushed stones, cluster your plants together if possible, or mist the leaves 2-3 times per week.

Rotate…plants are phototropic, meaning they lean, or grow in the direction of the light.  With day length slowing increasing each day, plants are stretching toward the brightest area, forcing a normally full healthy looking plant to have an irregular shape.   Remember to turn 1/4 – 1/2 spin per week.

Water…wisely during the winter time.  Take time to water your plants on a regular schedule.  Keep a gardening journal to keep track of watering, misting and fertilizing your plants.  This will help to minimize long dry periods and help prevent overwintering.  Be aware of the water temperature.  Believe or not water that is too cold or too hot can effect your houseplants causing leaves to yellow and curl.  I always use tepid water during extreme cold spells.

Pest Patrol…be on the lookout for unexpected pest guests.  Insects, like Aphids, Mealy bugs, Fungus Gnats, and Scale are the most common pests.  Plants need adequate air flow, especially in extremely warm areas.  Keeping temperatures between 62°-72°from night to day is ideal and helps to keep pests away.

 

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Winter Container Gardens

Gone are the days of garden pots sitting idle on the front porch during the winter season.  Container gardening doesn’t have to end when the weather turns cold in fact the local garden centers are filled with a wide variety of conifers and fresh cut greens, perfect for greening your containers.   Using boughs of pine, fir, and cedar and a few dried and faux accents give your planters life when the short gray days of winter set in.

What I most like about this DIY project is that you don’t have spend a great deal of money.  Bundles of fresh cut greens are reasonably priced and if you are fortunate to have conifers and broadleaf evergreens on your property you’ll have a nice variety to choose.   

Use heavy duty ceramic, iron or fiber planters if possible, these materials are more frost tolerant than basic terra cotta, fill pot with soil. If you have plants leftover from the fall cut them down to the soil.  This actually provides a sturdy base for arranging the stems.  You want to begin by sticking greens in the pot starting from the middle.  Greens should be cut proportioned to the size of the pot.  Consider using a taller branch for the center and then cut branches at varied lengths.  Ideally you want to achieve a triangular or fan shape to your arrangement.  I prefer using fraser fir as my base when possible, It’s short needles provide a sturdy base and the blue green color add dimension. You can use pine and douglas fir as well.  Continue building your arrangement, working from the center of the pot until the soil is covered.  Begin adding accent greens like pine, and port orford cedar to soften and add drape to your arrangement.  I suggest adding magnolia or holly to vary textures or head outside and forage in your own backyard for materials.

Once you have placed all the greens now the fun begins.  You are ready to take your arrangement to the next level.  Branches, like white birch, and sweet huck along wth red twig dogwod add height and brighten greens.  For a more holiday feel add clusters of red berries and pine cones.  I encourage you to experiment with your design. If you prefer a more natural  arrangement use fresh materials. If you want a more festive look for the holidays add glittered branches and faux picks of silver and gold.  The holiday displays at the local garden center are filled with faux and natural picks to choose.

Another option for pots is using potted evergreens. Potted Alberta and Colorado spruces as well as varieties of cypress, holly and boxwoods are just a few shrubs you can plant into pots now.  You can add cut fresh boughs of cedar or pine at the base and holiday lights for a custom design look.    Remember to water your arrangement and spray with an anti -transpirant like, Wilt Pruf or Wilt-Stop.  This will help reduce any water loss through the leaves and needles of your potted arrangements. 

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Garden Minute: Lee Brothers Cranberry Farm

Lee Brothers has been in the business of growing cranberries for 126 years. Tina talks to Stephen Lee IV about what it means to be a part of that tradition.

Cranberries have been grown and harvested in the pine barrens of southern New Jersey for generations.

Always fascinated to learn how certain plants grow and their harvesting practices, I headed down to Lee Brothers Farm in Burlington County New Jersey. They are a family-owned farm where generations continue to work side by side growing and harvesting cranberries for over 100 years, since 1868.

Harvesting cranberries is a two year process, starting from the time the berries are planted to the time they are harvested starting in September through October. Each bog takes about two weeks to harvest.

Lee Brothers Farm is part of the Ocean Spray growers cooperative made up of 700 hundred growers in the US and Canada, growing cranberries as well as Chili and a handful of citrus growers in Florida.

Stephen Lee, the fourth generation at Lee Brothers Farm tells me that this two week harvest is a special time on the farm. “It is a romantic time of year for us. All the hard work in the two year period during the growing season culminates to this time, the two, two and a half weeks in October.” The family has been coming together for many generations for the harvest. “It’s like our Thanksgiving.”

The cranberries are grown in bogs, but not under water. Twice a year (once in the fall and then again in the winter to protect the buds that have formed for the next season) the bogs are flooded with 18 inches of fresh water.

Flower buds are formed on the plants for the next year after flowering and fruiting has occurred during the spring and summer growing season. During the growing season plants are fertilized and monitored for fungus and diseases. They use bee feeding barrels to keep the bees fed while they pollinate the cranberries.

A machine known as the “egg beater” loosens the berries from the vines. As cranberries are made up of four hollow chambers, once the bogs are flooded and the berries are freed, they will float to the top.

A box is formed in the bog and then the berries are funneled into the box. The berries are pushed or corralled toward the center. Lee tells me that you have to move the berries in a sequential form. Berries are pushed through the bog in a sweeping motion using a garden rake, while another person gently pushes the box toward the center.

“You don’t want to cough or choke the box. You don’t want to overwhelm the box with too much fruit or you will not be able to pump out any water,” he said. Once the berries are pumped out of the bog they are loaded onto a conveyor belt where they are then funneled into a truck to be taken to Ocean Spray for processing.