Like getting your fingers dirty? Elisabeth Neumann offers a unique one-on-one D.I.Y. coaching service for gardeners at all levels of experience. She can also provide expert advice and problem-solving for more experienced gardeners who have run into an obstacle of some sort or want to branch out into a new type of planting.
One of my main goals as a gardener is to increase people’s enjoyment of their gardens. When I work together with clients in their gardens I demystify garden tasks by passing on simple facts and observations about plants that anyone can learn to see. I want my clients to feel empowered to look after, adjust, and even make major changes in their gardens. Gardening is not rocket science! It is accessible to everyone who has a desire to get more pleasure from their outdoor spaces and from the plants that share these spaces. Gardening is often paired with the idea of work (as in having to do “garden work”). But ask any enthusiastic gardener, and they will say that gardening activities give them great pleasure, usually more so than sitting and “enjoying” the garden.
Pruning D.I.Y. Coaching
Pruning is a source of anxiety for many plant owners. It doesn’t need to be. Instead it can become a way of feeling empowered to make changes in the bigger plants, shrubs and trees, that play a major role in how you experience your garden. And it isn’t so hard to learn. There are a few basic guidlines that are applicable to most shrubs and trees and then there are special tips that apply to some particular plants and situations. Probably you only have a handful of shrubs that you would like to improve. The knowledge you need to do the necessary pruning is therefore also limited: you don’t need to know everything! Just the skills for doing the maintenance and shaping your yard needs. It is easy enough on the internet to find instructions for pruning your plants, but check several sites and use reputable ones to be sure that you aren’t misinformed. There are two main issues: WHEN to prune and WHAT to cut. The WHEN is just a suggestion usually; sometimes it just needs to be done now, and this is usually ok for the long-term health of the shrub, even if the bloom suffers for that year. The WHAT is more tricky. Here is where coaching can be most helpful. I can talk you through an assessment of the shrub, an evaluation of what you want to achieve with the pruning, and then guide your cutting, helping you make the decisions about what and where. A one-time, one-hour coaching session with your shrubs is often all that is needed.
Here are some general tips:
Pruning acts as a stimulant to plant growth. This is why untutored pruning often backfires: just where you cut away unwanted growth, new growth shoots out more vigorously. Remedy: cut away whole branches, either at the ground or to where the branch attaches to a main stem, if you want to keep a shrub smaller.
Hedges are a special case: to keep them healthy, regular trimming and periodic renewing are usually necessary. As a rule of thumb: the more vigorously the hedge grows, the more it requires regular renewal. For deciduous hedges, like privet, this involves removing completely the older whole branches at just above ground level. Older wood is less vigorous and will become sparse over time. This could be done every year, removing at most one third of the stems; or it could be done all at once, cutting the entire hedge at just a few inches above the ground. This pruning will stimulate fresh new and vigorous growth. Evergreen hedges like yew and box don’t require such radical renewal, growning more slowly.
Evergreens: most evergreens will not grow new foliage when you cut back into old, bare, wood. That means that if you cut all the green foliage/needles away, the bare branch that is left will not produce new growth. Yews are an exception, but even here the new growth can be sluggish to come through the old wood and may require several years to fill in again. This means that evergreens can only be pruned gently at the tips. Any shaping must be done continuously from the time the plant is small.
Finally, a point that is often forgotten with low-maintenance shrub plantings: Shrubs need nourishment! We see shrubs coming into leaf, blooming and then shedding leaves in the fall, seemingly all without effort. But when we “clean up” any leaf debris, we are removing all the nourishment that the plant has used that year. This needs to be replaced. It isn’t hard to feed your shrubs and they will reward you with more bloom and healthier leaves. Buy bags of composted manure (even at the grocery store!), cut open the bag and dump it on the ground under your shrub. One bag per shrub, if they are over 3-4 ft high, should be fine. Ensure that the manure doesn’t touch the stems. Voila, you’re done. The worms and other soil invertebrates and microorganisms will do the rest.