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Let New Shrubs Settle In Before Beginning Pruning
Last fall my wife and I planted eight Red Twig Dogwood
bushes along the back of our yard in hopes of it someday turning
into a natural fence. Despite it being the first time we've
done anything like this (our gardening has been limited to
vegetables until now), the planting went well and they appear to
have survived the winter just fine. My question is: now what
do we do? I have been told that I need to prune them back but
I'm not sure how to do that or how much to take off. I've
been told just about everything from leave them alone to cut them
down to about 6 inches in height (they are now about 4 feet
tall)! Any help would be appreciated.
K. & J., Livonia
Dear K & J.,
Just leave them alone the first year and let them get well
established -- which they have a better chance of doing if
allowed to keep all their wood and all the buds set last year. Next
spring, begin pruning one of two ways, for redder wood and slightly
smaller size than normal (1) or restricted size (2).
Method 1 -- Just before the shrub leafs out in spring, by about
April 1, cut off at the base all three-year old canes. These are
noticeably grayer or browner, rather than red. This will take out
about one-third of the plant. New canes will grow from the roots.
New wood -- one and two years old -- is much redder than old. This
will incidentally keep the plant to about half its normal height,
six rather than twelve feet.
Method 2 -- Just before the shrub leafs out in the spring, cut
all canes to the ground. They will all grow back, all be young and
quite red the next winter, and the shrubs will only get to be about
five feet high each year.
Growing a vegetable well is really no different than growing any
other plant. If you've been successful with vegetables you
understand the importance of putting a plant into its proper
setting and have also sited your shrubs well. This special note
regarding method #2 is for those readers who haven't reached your
level of expertise. Red twig dogwoods belong in moist, well drained
soil in full sun. If these shrubs are planted in shade or in dry,
hot soil, they will not respond well to the hard pruning in Method
My peony doesn't bloom. It's green and full but not one
flower. Should I just learn to love it green?
Have your tried using a preventive fungicide? The fungus
(Botrytis paeonia) commonly rests in the soil and on old
peony debris, then splashes up on newly emerging peony stalks in
early spring. It infects and kills stem tips where flower buds
should form. Tiny, brown, unopened buds are often visible later on
stems infected this way.
A copper-based fungicide such as Bordeaux mixture can prevent
infection if applied as the peonies break ground and twice more
over two to three weeks.
Another killer of just-forming peony buds is spring frost, which
can nip a developing tip "in the bud" while leaving the rest of the
stem to develop well. Though peonies like full sun, if you're in a
frost-prone area they may perform better if given some shade for
the first hours of each day. On brisk spring mornings frosted new
growth will thaw gradually in some shade, rather than being rushed
from frozen to dead dry by first morning sun.
Pay close attention to watering this spring.When water is
abundant in April trees, shrubs and perennials are quicker to leaf
out and begin producing an energy surplus. They sock away that
energy -- starch -- against lean times and future spring
If spring is dry so that growth is slower than usual, no amount
of supplemental irrigation during summer drought will make up the
slow start. Plants just won't have as long to replenish and
increase their back-up starches. When pests or stress strike the
plants won't have reserves to use in replacing lost foliage.
Because we're entering the third year of a deepening drought,
even many old, established plants are already in this downward
cycle of decreasing energy and increasing problems. Help them by
watering this spring.
Plant some peas today! Smooth the soil, open a row, drop in peas
and cover them with a half inch of soil . You'll be enjoying sweet
fresh peas in the first week of June.
Green thumbs up to chopping back overgrown
clematis. Cut it to the ground, keep it watered and retrain the
replacement shoots as they surge back up. Large-flowered June
blooming hybrids may bloom late and light this year but oh, the
lush blooms in June, 2001 on all those young branches!
Green thumb's down to swept-clean perennial and
shrub beds. Rain and wind can compact and erode that soil, which is
meanwhile being starved of the newly-decayed organic matter on
which all its life is based. Replacing leaf with wood or bark is
not an even trade, so let some leaves lie.
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