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Published: Wednesday, 11/16/2011

COMMENTARY

There's pruning left to do

BY KELLY HEIDBREDER
BLADE GARDEN COLUMNIST

That's it, I can hear the whir of the leaf blower. That means my steadfast spouse is clearing this compost ingredient that has been tangled in the landscaping.

Now that the 30 mph winds have yanked almost every last leaf off the branches, I can see a clear view of our lake from the road. It is beautiful, even on a gray, windy day. When you can see the bare, bones of your landscape shrubs, it is time give them a checkup.

Pruning time

Here are a few shrubs that can be pruned in the fall:

Alpine currant is a common shrub that has pretty red berries for the birds to enjoy. Many people grow them as a hedge. Prune all the old wood to help the plant grow something new. Letting it grow in its natural shape during the summer will give you the most berries. But it can easily be tamed into a uniform shape with your hedge trimmer.

Those prickly barberry bushes can be pruned now. Their deep purple, red, or green leaves come with a price -- the thorns on the branches. Take time now to cut out any broken branches or old wood. While you have the long sleeves and heavy gloves on, give it an overall trim to keep it in shape.

Did you enjoy your burning bush this season? If it was getting a bit out of hand, now is the time to prune it back into shape. Chokeberry is another great flowering shrub. It has white flowers and dark berries. Cut out the old wood to keep it from growing out of control.

Firethorn, dogwood, highbush cranberry, peegee, and tree hydrangea all can be pruned into shape right now to encourage more blooms in the late spring or summer.

Don't prune spring bloomers such as lilac, magnolia, forsythia, or quince. They have already started creating that spring bloom.

Hey, shrub doctor

If your shrubs were having some trouble this season, let's do some diagnosis. One of the most common questions I get is, "Why didn't my flowering shrub bloom?" There could be a few things going on, and the key is to eliminate them one at a time. First, does your shrub get enough light? I have a huge lilac bush, but I only get one or two blooms on the whole thing simply because someone planted it about 10 years ago on the edge of a wooded area that doesn't get any direct sunlight.

The solution to get this beauty blooming again, would be to root prune it right now. Knowing that I want to relocate this shrub, I want to sever the roots now and help them grow into a compact ball that will be easier to move next season. It isn't very hard. Just take a sharp spade and cut into the soil all the way around the shrub about a foot and a half from where the plant emerges from the soil. This is called the drip line. It is about as far out as the branches reach.

Another reason your shrub may not be blooming is because the plant is producing a lot of seeds. Sounds crazy, doesn't it? But if it is working too hard to produce seeds, it doesn't put enough energy into flowering. The way to do this is to cut those faded blooms before they have a chance to go to seed.

Sweet or sour soil could also be the problem. I know you don't want to actually taste it, but you can check the soil's pH. You can have problems with flowering if your soil is too acidic or too alkaline. Take a soil test and send it into your local extension office for analysis.

If your shrub has pale leaves or seems stunted, it could be underfed. Malnourishment can cause some of these symptoms and when your plant is weak, it will be vulnerable to other pests like insects and other disease.

You can solve this problem in the spring. Boost your fertilizer around the base of shrubs just after the soil starts to thaw by adding a thick layer of your homemade compost. This is like gourmet food for your plants and will last longer than the chemical fertilizer. If it still hasn't perked up, add a balanced fertilizer like 5-10-10. Keep it fed regularly throughout the growing season and you will see a major improvement.

Contact Kelly Heidbreder at getgrowing@gmail.com.



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