Good Ol' Plants

Fear of Pruning

Pruning. It strikes a certain terror in those of us who love our plants and can't face doing anything that might harm, disfigure or discourage them. You know who you are. Funny, though, I never thought I was one of you until I hit a brick wall concerning my sorely overgrown manzanita.

overgrown shrub

Behold the glorious manzanita in question, a selection of Arctostaphylos pajaroensis with armies of pink flowers in early spring, wondrous year-round foliage and rich mahogany-colored bark. Of course you can't see the bark here, nor can you safely walk down the sidewalk, both reasons why I had to admit powerlessness and submit to the higher power of talented friends. (That's Geof Beasley, I took you to his garden party a few weeks ago.) photo credit: Ketzel Levine, NPR hide caption

toggle caption photo credit: Ketzel Levine, NPR

With a big party of my own coming up this Labor Day Wkend, I knew it was time to tackle my exuberantly happy plant. Note that I didn't obsess over whether it was the right time of year to prune it; I've long gotten over that. Instead, I was taught years ago that the best time to prune a plant is when you're standing in front of it with clippers in your hand. Otherwise, the seasons roll by and the years roll by and before you know it the plant's so out of scale that all you're left with is the most drastic option. File under do what I say, etc....

friendly pruners ready to strike

Meet the team: Geof, Kate Bryant and Len Porter. All three are plant nerds with excellent senses of humor which also enable them to survive clients as professional gardeners and garden designers. photo credit: Ketzel Levine, NPR hide caption

toggle caption photo credit: Ketzel Levine, NPR

The crew assembled two days ago during an uncharacteristically rainy summer day (I am not being facetious). The four of us discussed our options, everyone voting for their approach of choice. Ultimately, all our opinions came into play and we let loose on this wonderful specimen that — none could deny — had to be lassoed, even if the result (gulp) might be loss of life. Not immediately, but I'm aware it could happen, which is exactly the kind of trouble you can get into when you put off regular pruning.

three pruners on one shrub

Talk about a makeover team. We've got three very different approaches going on here which you'd think would be a recipe for disaster. But every couple of minutes -- particularly when I screamed, Wait! Stop! -- the team stepped back, observed, walked around the shrub, reassessed and again had at it. Kate did take a picture of me but the very obvious word coming out of my mouth is not for prime time. photo credit: Ketzel Levine hide caption

toggle caption photo credit: Ketzel Levine

Now don't expect to be wowed by the "After" shot; truth is, after two hours of four people pruning both this and several other shrubs, my garden actually looks relatively untouched. That gives you some idea of how exuberant it's become this summer, and as readers of this blog know, there's a good reason: the call of the wildflowers. No regrets here.

shrub pruned to scale

Hard to believe, but a lot of wood came out of this shrub. The inside has been considered opened up (the bark is now visible), the sidewalk is safer, and the long-term plan is for it to grow up and over, not straight out. More pruning will be needed next year. photo credit: Ketzel Levine, NPR hide caption

toggle caption photo credit: Ketzel Levine, NPR

Now for an invitation you do NOT want to turn down: if you're concerned about what/what not to prune right now, operators with answers are standing by...



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Keep pruning the manzanita. It will probably re-sprout somewhat from bare wood, but not a bunch. Liable to water-sprout after pruning.

Sent by Megan Hughes | 3:18 AM | 8-23-2008

how often or when should you prune 3 month old lago crape myrtles?

Sent by shareef | 10:07 PM | 8-23-2008

I need a bit more info, Shareef. For instance, how little is this plant? And is the shape funky, is that why you're thinking of pruning it? And just for the heck of it, where are you?

Sent by Ketzel Levine | 10:45 PM | 8-23-2008

My husband is a non-pruner. To get around him and his pain, I try to prune when he's not standing next to me. He just won't accept that pruning is both good and necessary. Otherwise, he is perfect.

Sent by Julia | 11:32 AM | 8-25-2008

Guerrilla pruning, Julia, I love it!

Sent by Ketzel Levine | 12:03 PM | 8-25-2008

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