Brrr! What NOT to Prune in Winter

Brugmansiatootendertopruneinwinter.jpgRight now it’s major big time pruning season here in Northern Cali. I’m cutting back hardy perennials, roses, fruit and other dormant trees and ornamental grasses. But there are a few things I’m leaving alone for the time being. A lot of my favorite plants are frost-tender and can be killed by a stern frost this time of year. For some of these plants, the old, dead foliage and stems are providing just an extra degree or two of protection for the tender new buds and shoots coming along for next year.
Dormant Mexican Bush Sage - Salvia leucantha
Dormant Mexican Bush Sage or Salvia leucantha
New growth on Mexican Bush Sage Salvia leucantha
See the tender new shoots inside? The old stems help protect them from frost damage.

If you can hold off, don’t prune these frost-tender plants until after last frost, which here in Humboldt County is around mid-May:

[Read more...]

How to Prune Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ (Video Tutorial)

Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ is a true garden classic, especially paired with ornamental grasses, lavenders and colorful sages. It’s particularly great because during the summer when everything else is blooming, its greenish-white buds are getting bigger and bigger, creating a subtly beautiful show, then as everything else slows for the fall, ‘Autumn Joy’ bursts into bloom with a cheerful pink color that looks great with the fall colors on the other plants. [Read more...]

How to Summer-Prune a Floppy Miscanthus Grass (Video Tutorial)

I’m a big fan of ornamental grasses because they add so much motion and life to a garden. If you use multiples, they’re an easy way of bringing a sense of continuity to a busy or scattered-feeling garden, because the effect of their foliage is so soothing. Miscanthus is a favorite because it grows so fast, it’s bulletproof (just give it sunshine), and it always looks so exuberant and healthy. The downside to its enthusiastic growth is that late in the season it can start taking up more space than we imagined and begin flopping onto its neighbors. I’ve seen people take out their frustration with their Miscanthus Grass by taking their electric hedgers to it and just shearing off an entire side of the plant, so the poor thing loses the graceful movement it had and simply sits there looking shorn and attacked. Please don’t do that! In this video I’ll show you a quick way of pruning your Miscanthus Grass to make it smaller and less floppy if you are having that issue, and nobody will be able to tell you did anything except for the fact that the Miscanthus will now be smaller AND still pretty. Of course, if you’re having to summer-prune the grass every year, it might be time to either divide your Miscanthus this winter by digging it up and replanting just a smaller portion (I do this every 5 years or so), or maybe you have chosen a grass that is too big for the spot, and a more dwarf variety of Miscanthus like ‘Yaku Jima’ (4’+) or ‘Little Kitten’ (3’+) would be a better choice. I’ll add: if you love ornamental grasses the way I do and want more ideas on how to use them in your garden, you’ve GOT to get Nancy Ondra’s book Grasses: Versatile Partners for Uncommon Garden Design. Saxon Holt’s photography is simply gorgeous, and Nancy’s suggestions on how to use each grass gives me new ideas each time I read. If you liked this article, you might also enjoy learning how to winter-prune your ornamental grasses.

How to Prune Hydrangeas (Video Tutorial)



I love Bigleaf Hydrangeas (H. macrophylla), the traditional garden Hydrangea with either big mophead flowers or the subtler lacecap flowerheads. Most gardens have a Hydrangea or two tucked in, and why not? As long as they have composty soil and get watered regularly, they make a fantastic show of blooms with very little effort on our part. It’s coming up on the time of year to prune them in warmer climates where it doesn’t snow (right after they finish blooming is best), and I made a video and took some photos to show you how (if you live in a colder climate, you use the same technique to prune, only you’d do it in mid-spring to protect against frost damage). [Read more...]

How to Deadhead Mexican Bush Sage or Salvia leucantha (Video Tutorial)

I shot this video in December, when this Salvia was at the end of its blooming season and just starting to think about going dormant, but the advice for how to deadhead and prune it is still great for summer. Right now, many of the Mexican Bush Sages in the gardens that I maintain are just starting to need deadheading or trimming back out of pathways and other plants. If you need to trim your Salvia to make it smaller, the most important thing to remember is only trim it back as far as it has leaves – unless you’re removing stems altogether by cutting them out at the base, in which case just don’t leave any big bare spots. The next thing to remember is that if you’re trying to trim it back out of a pathway or another plant, don’t just trim it on the one side that is overflowing – trim the entire bush if you’re going to trim one part, as otherwise the lack of tumbling blossoms on the trimmed side looks very obvious from afar. If you enjoyed learning how to prune your Mexican Bush Sage, you might also like to learn how to prune Geranium ‘Rozanne’ and other Hardy Cranesbills, Alstroemeria, and Scotch Heather.

Organic Gardening 101: Learning to Love What You’ve Got (How to Stop Spraying and Start Seeing Beauty Everywhere)

We’ve been talking about how to prevent pests on roses and flowers, and how to treat them organically if you do end up with problems. Today I want to talk about one of the biggest things that keeps us from gardening organically – our expectations and attachments to a specific kind of garden or plant. Expectations are a funny thing – there is so much incredible beauty in nature and the plant world, but sometimes our desire for a certain kind of garden or plant makes the flaws we percieve in our gardens really stand out. Take lawns, for example. I have a wonderful gardening friend who lusts after a perfect, flat, weed-free chemlawn. The problem with that? She has a casual rolling lawn with apple trees and bird feeders dotted through it, and naturally sloping beds around the edges.  All organic. Her lawn is a lovely natural place where she watches the birds and wildlife, and attempts to flatten it out and remove every weed would make it feel out of step with the rest of her gentle country garden. She’d spend more time than she wants to keeping every last weed out organically, and she’d have to get rid of or put concrete under the bird feeders to keep them neat. She knows in her head that a “perfect” magazine lawn wouldn’t fit her lifestyle or the rest of her garden, but… she still dreams of that lawn, and was shocked at my suggestion that she might embrace what she has, and introduce some tough stepable groundcovers to flower within her lawn area – chamomile, or blue star creeper – and run with the meadow-like theme. It’s not just perfect lawns we get attached to, either. Many of us are in love with the idea of a certain kind of flower. Maybe you grew up back east and dream of lilacs in spring, but live in such a mild climate that they don’t really thrive. Perhaps you love roses, and want to grow all the latest hybrid teas, but despair of the black spot come August. Whatever it is for you, coming to terms with what your garden supports and letting go of those things which simply aren’t working will bring you such peace, and will make organic gardening so much easier. A healthy plant that loves where it’s been placed won’t need spraying.

Here’s how to stop chasing the things that aren’t working, and start loving what is:

[Read more...]

How to Treat Rose and Flower Pests Naturally: Organic Control of Black Spot/ Powdery Mildew, Aphids, and Caterpillars

If you’ve tried to prevent rose problems with the tips in this article, but still ended up with some pests (it happens!), here are the methods I recommend to get rid of pests on roses the organic way. (Obviously, before spraying anything, read the instructions on the bottle and be sure to suit up appropriately – organic choices are usually safer, but that doesn’t mean you want to get it on your skin or eyes.) [Read more...]

How to Treat Rose and Flower Pests Naturally: Prevention

The introduction to this series is here. Preventing pests with good gardening habits is the first step towards having healthy roses and flowers. Healthy plants are a lot less likely to get diseases, while sickly plants become overrun by problems very quickly. Not only that, attending to the basics of a healthy garden will get you better blooms, prettier foliage, and less maintenance overall. [Read more...]

How to Treat Rose and Flower Pests Naturally: Intro

Roses can be tough to grow organically, because they’ve been so over-bred for their honking big flowers that often, breeders paid little attention to disease-resistance. So you end up with these great frankenflowers that look fantastic – until midsummer when the black spot, caterpillars, and aphids move in. But – I admit it – I love roses too! There’s nothing like a deep red rose (grown from home, so it’s fragrant!) to mark a romantic occasion, or a spray of cheery pink roses tucked in a bouquet. So what’s a good organic gardener to do? No worries, dude. While growing roses can be a pain because so many varieties do get insects and diseases, there are a number of very effective things you can do to prevent rose pests and treat them organically if they do arrive. These treatments work for other flowers that get diseases, too. Click the links below to find out how to: Prevent rose pests such as aphids and powdery mildew by using good preventive gardening practices. Kill pests and eliminate diseases naturally using organic and biological (beast-eat-beast) controls. Read about some sturdy, disease-resistant roses that will bloom well for you in the damp Pacific Northwest Learn practical tips on how to love your garden as it is – bugs and all.

How to Kill Thrips Organically on Rhododendrons and Other Plants

Thrips are a tiny sucking insect that pester Rhododendrons (particularly many older varieties) and Azaleas, some evergreen Viburnums, Photinia, and occasionally other plants in the coastal Pacific Northwest. You can tell you have them because your ordinarily green leaves will develop a silvery sheen on them, while the undersides of the leaves will get little black spots from the thrips’ feces. Click here to see the silvery sheen caused by thrips. While thrips can be a hard pest to get rid of, there are some very effective organic and biological controls you can use. [Read more...]

Soil, Water, and Mulch: The Three Key Steps to a Healthy Organic Garden

As a professional landscaper, I get to see and diagnose a lot of garden issues. I find many people at wits’ end, spraying for pest problems and dealing with unhappy plants. Most of the time, the pest problem or grumpy plant shouldn’t be looked at as the problem itself – more accurately, they are symptoms of a bigger issue in the garden. [Read more...]