Trick or Treat
I’VE BEEN THINKING about the observations I’ve been making in my yard and other yards that I’ve been visiting this year. It occurs to me that maybe the tricks that I’ve been using I probably take for granted that everyone knows these gardening tricks. I have been doing a little pruning all summer. My pruning has been for lots of reasons. For instance, Mimi told me years ago that she prefers to be able to see throughout the entire yard which is full of trees.
Years ago, we began cutting off any branches that were below eye level, including any downward branching that might grow off of a main branch that appears to be headed into our line of vision. As the younger trees are gaining height, we are beginning to see the light as we clear the path for the view and more light to pass through. It makes the whole yard so much neater looking, having the branches pruned up to eye height fits into my lighting regime.
When I’m pruning branches, I look at each branch and try to picture in my mind where that branch will be in five years. Thinking of it that way makes it simple to decide what goes and what stays. If the branch is headed downwards or towards a path that won’t be high enough that branch has to go, no use in letting something grow that will eventually get the cut. I believe that energy can be much better used somewhere else.
When I’m pruning, I will have several choices of weapons to choose from. I’ll have chainsaw for big branches. I’ll have some sharpened long handled loppers for medium sized branches and some small hand pruners for cleaning up suckers and tiny little branches that are just clogging up sunlight and airflow ability to pass through the tree. I make my cuts as close to the base of the branch or trunk to make a smooth, almost unnoticeable scar. Leaving nubs is unsightly and usually will be a place where new branching will occur causing you to have to frequently revisit the situation to clean it up. I use pruning paint on a wound that is big enough because an open wound on a tree is where insects and diseases can enter. The smaller wounds that I create while pruning I let fend for themselves, they usually callous over in a couple weeks.
Another place I focus on when maintaining my trees’ health is the tips on the trees. If I see that there doesn’t really seem to be a central growing point that looks like it will become the dominant center I will identify the strongest branch that is headed in an upward direction and help that branch become the main point of the tree. I don’t like to see centers of trees that have branching that may split five years down the road so I will take out any funny looking branches that seem to be headed that way.
While I’m spending time at each tree I will look around for any potential insect or fungus problems that may be occurring and I always drop a little Espoma Holly Tone around the drip line of the tree for a treat. Kind of like in the old days when the dentist would get finished terrorizing the little kids, he would let you get a treat from the treasure box for not biting his finger off. This will give the tree a little burst of nutrients to help heal the scars faster and there will usually be a sudden burst of growth in all the right places, the organic fertilizer will accommodate that burst.
A trick I learned from one of our landscape architects, Randy Graves, who is an outstanding horticulturalist, is that when you notice any tree, specifically Little Gem Magnolias, are thin and weak looking, the top one third of the tree can be lopped off. I started doing this four years ago and seeing great results. All of my magnolias are nice and chubby all the way to the top. I feel like I’m getting tons more blooms since I started using this method. I worried that the trees would never regain their elliptical growth habit, but they did. The strongest central branch finds its way and takes charge. Plants are going to figure it out.
Another trick I use when summer pruning my Knockout roses and my Drift roses is using my motorized shears to cut the plants to a height just below the height of the lowest spent blooms. This gives the rose bush an opportunity to branch out more and to rebloom heavier. I try to wait until nearly all of the blooms are shattered but I don’t want to wait too long because it takes 45 days for the roses to go back into full bloom. If you have an event coming up and you want your roses to be stealing the show you can plan with confidence to have them in full bloom by checking that calendar. I’ve tried it over and over. It works.
Again, after I give the plants a haircut they get a treat afterwards, when you are choosing your weapons for pruning get a bucket of a slow release organic fertilizer as a peace offering.
Of course, some of the pruning I do this time of year is just for shaping and forming. I keep my Sunshine ligustrum nice and tight, lorepetulums, sasanquas, azaleas, hollies, yews and junipers look so much better to me when they are formed up nice and tight. My rule of thumb for some of the plants we count on to bloom like crazy for us in the winter and spring is that I will not prune any more after August first. That time is quickly approaching. By pruning them any later is to be cutting off a lot of next spring’s blooms. The buds are invisible this time of year. It will make a huge difference in your spring show. The plants I have that I won’t prune after August first are forsythia, azaleas, sasanqua camelia, quince and spirea.
AS FAR AS FERTILIZATION goes, I’m coming down the homestretch with my final fertilization tricks. Yesterday I put out Milorganite, a slow release organic fertilizer, on our lawn. Man, it stinks to high heavens for a couple days. I see why the deer stay away from this stuff. The smell hits my nose like a gaseous vapor and makes my head spin. Gaseous is a good description of Milorganite because it comes from a byproduct of Milwaukees sewage system. Nice, huh?
I also put out some Ironite on my new Zoysia lawn. Ironite will green any plant pretty quickly. It works wonders on lawns but it’s also very good on those plants that are prone to being iron deficient such as gardenias and cast iron plants. I get that beautiful Zoysia blue green in color just to impress Mimi. She loves that color in lawns. I guess I’m a lucky guy being that is what I have to do to impress my gal instead of kicking sand in some guys face or having to keep her in bigger diamonds than the Joneses.
August will be my final fertilization of everything except I will probably broadcast some winterizer at the same time I put out my pre-emergence just before the lawn heads towards dormancy in September. The winterizer will strengthen the roots so when the temperatures begin to warm next spring the lawn will bust out like gangbusters. I don’t like to fertilize much after August because its just too much stress on the plants in those kind of temperatures.
The pre emergence I am religious about, at least twice a year, September and February. This keeps the winter weeds and the summer weeds from germinating. Truth be told I use it about four times a year and I put it anywhere weeds can grow, anywhere there is soil. In the flower beds, cracks in driveway, pots and anywhere I have weeded since when you are pulling weeds you are throwing weed seeds everywhere. Plants know to release any mature seeds when they feel “the man” pulling their hair. Do not use pre-emerge products where you might plant any seeds or bulbs. It will also keep those seeds from germinating, tricks.
We are concentrating on keeping everything deadheaded that needs it, basically anything that continuously blooms. With the long, hot summer headed our way I like to take all the stress off the plants that I can by preventing the plants from having to use extra energy by allowing their seed pods to mature on the plant. That takes a tremendous amount of energy that can eventually lead to the death of the plant. Pinching the tops out and thinning your bedding plants foliage makes it easier on the plants for air to pass through the foliage which will cut down on potential funguses and makes slug control easier. Slugs have been pretty bad this year. I’m having great results using the slug pellets or meal, just remember that those products are not pet friendly. If that is an issue another good slug control is Diatamacious earth or Green sand (found at most garden centers). Another pet friendly slug control is a low pan of beer. Slugs seem to like their toddies and you might find some neighborhood dogs stumbling around and playing poker at the local neighborhood bar, your front yard. Dogs like a good beer too.
IT’S GETTING TO BE time to start thinking about which mulch you will use this fall to freshen up the beds for fall festivities. There are so many choices, each one giving a distinctly different look. We have fallen in love with pine bark mulch. It has such a clean and neat look and the dark brown color is a wonderful contrast to the plant’s colors. The mulch you use is a personal choice. They all work great as long as you remember what you are using it for. If you put mulch down bigley enough (about two inches thick) you will have enough so that it will keep the moisture down and the weeds out, well, minimized.
Another trick for gardening this time of year is to get these little duties done sooner than later because it won’ be too long before it’s going to be unbearable, dangerous and really not that fun in the garden because of the heat. I will be trying to get the big stuff wrapped up soon. There will always be some maintenance to be done like staying on top of your fire ant population. Remember that other than ruining a kid’s day they are not good in other ways. Fire ants farm aphids which are breeding like crazy getting ready for the winter months by getting their population numbers as high as they can. By getting rid of the ants you will be cutting down on you aphid community bigley. (Sorry, I can’t get over that word and how well it fits as an adjective when talking dirt).
I’m writing this article on my way to Colorado for another agricultural adventure. My son Max has been working on a farm and greenhouse operation in Tulsa. We are about to meet in Denver then drive east, away from the Rockies, to Yuma to meet some farmers in the plains of Colorado. There are some amazing things going on in the irrigation world. Farmers in the west are facing some dire situations due to the lack of water and the relentless heat. Out of necessity farmers are devising all kinds of new ways to deliver water to agricultural crops.
We found a farm group willing to share some of the new things that are going on in the world of water or should I say in the world of not enough water. I don’t think Mississippi is going to face these kinds of problems anytime too soon but I do think they will be on the forefront of efficient irrigation systems. Max and I love learning about the new things going on agriculturally that are coming from a place of necessity. Those are usually the most interesting inventions. It’s also Max’s birthday weekend so we are going to have one day of R and R. I plan to feed him well and let him catch some rest. This ranch he is working for now goes seven days a week, sunup to sundown. He loves it but I don’t think it’ll hurt to give him a break and a big ole steak before sending him back to Oklahoma. Plus, I miss him.
I hope some of these tricks will help you prepare for the hottest months to come while getting ready for Mississippi’s finest season right behind that.