Keeping Your Re-Bloom Azaleas Beautiful

Re-Blooming Azaleas (those that bloom 3-4 times per year) are one of the most versatile flowering shrubs available. But, maybe yours aren’t doing as well as you hoped they would.


Here’s 5 reasons why they may not be blooming and how to fix that (info provided by Encore Azaleas)


1. They need 6 hours of light per day – 

morning sun is better than afternoon, and bright dappled light is OK. Without enough light they will be thin and lanky and will not bloom much. Either transplant them to a sunnier spot (at the appropriate time of the year) or prune trees to allow more sunlight through.


2. Bad weather – 

an early season freeze prior to the plant hardening off through fall can damage buds and keep them from blooming. A late freeze in spring can have the same affect on blooms. Unfortunately, there isn’t a remedy for Mother Nature.


3. Pruning improperly – 

If you prune at the wrong time and remove buds you will have no blooms. The best time to prune is immediately after blooming in the spring.


4. Lack of Water – 

Once established they need 1” of water per week in mild climates and more than that here during our summer heat festival. Mulch 2-3” deep to help cool off the roots and retain moisture in the soil around your shrubs.


5. Using the wrong fertilizer – 

Use a fertilizer specifically for azaleas and acid loving plants. Don’t use a lawn fertilizer since it has too much nitrogen (1st number listed) and this will cause the plant to grow leaves instead of flowers.

I am going to add 2 more tips to the list:

6. Don’t plant too deeply – 

dig your hole only as deep as the size of the root ball. You don’t want the plant to settle and be in a bowl that will hold water. Some suggest leaving an inch or so of the rootball above ground level and then cover with mulch.

7. Plant in well-drained soil – 

azaleas do not want to be in soil that does not drain well. They prefer soil that will dry out between watering. Too much water will make the plant weak, and eventually branches and sections will begin to die. Yellowing leaves is a sign that your plant is getting too much water.

Follow these suggestions and enjoy the beauty of reblooming azaleas year round.

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All About Panicle Hydrangeas

These hydrangeas are so easy to grow and their blooms are stunning – both in size and in color. Proven Winners even calls them the “black thumb hydrangea” because of their ease of growing. The blooms are larger than other hydrangeas and shaped like a football. They all start out pure white and change to pink and reds as fall approaches.  


They bloom later in the summer on new wood – meaning they leaf out in the spring and then set their flower buds. This means you can prune the plant in the fall or in early spring without negatively affecting the blooms. (Goof Proof!)

Notes:

  • They like morning sun and afternoon shade – too much shade will result in fewer blooms.
  • Don’t amend the soil – plant them directly into your soil – super simple!  
  • They grow in different soils (even clay) if the soil is well-drained. Soils that are too wet lead to root rot, so make sure the soil does not stay wet for any length of time.
  • Their color cannot be changed to blue by adjusting the pH level of your soil – the blooms start out white and will naturally change to pink or red as the bloom matures.
  • You can prune in fall or spring. Prune off about 1/3 of the plant. You may find it easier to prune in the spring after new growth appears. Cut the stem above where healthy buds are emerging, this is usually about ½ or 1/3rd down the stem.  
  • The blooms make excellent cut flowers but the color they are when you cut them is the color they will keep. They will not change from white to pink/red after cutting, so if you want pink/red wait until they are pink/red to cut them.

Watering is important. If you see your plant wilt it can be caused by too much water or not enough water. 


Here’s how you can tell the difference:

  • Overwatered hydrangeas drooping foliage feels soft and limp and the flowers often wilt. 
  • Underwatered hydrangeas drooping leaves feel dry and crispy, can have light brown spots around the leaf edges or look dusty in color. Unless they are exceptionally under-watered the flowers usually won’t be wilted.

If you have a spot in your yard that gets morning sun and afternoon shade, plant one of these lovely ladies. Their showy blooms, flower color transition and ease of care makes this a much sought after plant.

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Fight Fire Blight On Pear Trees NOW!

You’ve seen fire blight on ornamental and fruiting pear trees – brown to black leaves, twigs and branches appearing as if scorched by fire.

There is no cure for fire blight once a tree is infected.  It is caused by bacteria and is destructive and highly infectious and therefore a widespread disease.  

The disease enters a tree through natural openings, especially flowers in spring.  It moves from the new growth to older growth quickly and can be spread from diseased to healthy plants by rain, wind and pruning tools.

You can help prevent the disease by spraying your pear tree with Ferti-lome Fire Blight Spray when the tree starts flowering during spring.  This helps prevent the disease from entering through the blooms.

Once the tree starts showing signs of blight it is too late to spray the tree.  You can prune off infected branches but avoiding the disease all together is best. 

Wild pears are blooming now and the fruiting and ornamental pears will be doing so very soon. Be pro-active and spray your tree while blooming and avoid this destructive disease from attacking your tree(s).

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Grafting: What is it? Why is it done?

Most are familiar with the term grafting, but do you know why most fruit trees, roses, camellias and countless other plants are grafted?  Without getting all scientific, I’ll not only explain why and what but also what to watch for in your grafted plants.

What is grafting?  It is the joining of 2 plants into one.  A grafted plant uses the roots and the bottom portion of one plant (called the rootstock) and the top part from another plant (called the scion).  All the top growth of a grafted plant comes from the scion.

The graft is easy to see on many plants – it can appear as a knot at the base of a rose bush or a crook in the trunk near ground level of an immature fruit tree. 

Why graft?  The grafting union allows the combining of characteristics of both plants to form a superior plant.  Rootstocks can contribute traits to improve yield, cold or drought hardiness and disease resistance.  The scion is usually a young shoot or bud from a plant with great flavor, color or disease resistance. 

It also is a reliable method of reproducing plants that do not grow true to type from seed. 

What to watch for: 

  • Suckers from the rootstock or roots.  They will appear below the graft and need to be removed.  They are not grown from the scion and will not perform the same way – bloom color could be different, growth rate is usually accelerated.
  • Don’t bury the graft joint underground.  The rootstock will grow its own plant and the scion will grow its own roots.  The plant will not be the same once this occurs.
  • If the scion dies the root stock can still be alive and will send up shoots (suckers).  This growth is not from the scion and will perform very differently.

Grafting dates back over 4000 years and there are many methods of grafting and all have their specific uses.  New strains of plants are developed this way and the benefits are many. 

If you want to try grafting yourself, watch a few YouTube videos, follow along and graft away.  It’s a great project to do with the kiddos, they can help and watch the new plant grow.

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Trimming Ornamental Grasses

I have a weakness for Ornamental Grass.  They look good as a single plant swaying in the breeze and are stunning in mass plantings. 

They do require annual trimming to look their best.  I usually leave mine untrimmed until the first of February since I like the straw color and winter interest they create.  There are many different tools that can be used and it depends upon what you are most comfortable with and the type of grass you are trimming.

The goal is to cut the grass down to the correct height.  A grass that grows to 3’ or under should be cut back to a height of 3 inches and taller grasses should be cut to 6 inches.  If you cut too low, you risk cutting into the crown of the plant which can result in loss of clumps throughout the plant.

Dress for the jobwear a long-sleeved shirt and gloves so the grass blades don’t irritate your skin.

Tools for the job

  • Hand pruners
  • Hedge shears
  • Bow saw
  • Powered hedge trimmers
  • Bungee cord or twine
  • Reciprocating saw
  • Chain Saw
  • Weed eater with a brush blade

You won’t need all of these – remember, I said there were several methods, and each has its preferred tools.  You can choose the one(s) you are most comfortable working with and gives you the best results.

Helpful Hint Gather the grass like a big ponytail and wrap the bungee cord around the clump.  The grass will stay bundled as you trim and not scatter everywhere. This also makes cleanup so much easier since you can dispose of the cut clump as one large piece instead of hundreds of blades.

Start Trimming Use the cutting tool(s) of your choice to cut through the grass. The large, established grasses may require more than pruning shears – this is where the power tools such as the weed eater with a blade or powered hedge trimmers or even a chain saw for Pampas grass is necessary. It is helpful to have a friend hold up the clump so it doesn’t fall on you as you cut.

Neatening Up After the main clump has been cut and disposed of then finish up by making the cut uniform.  You many want to spread a fresh layer of mulch to cover up the many fine pieces of the grass blades that are scattered about. 

Now your grass is ready for spring.

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Prepping Perennials for Spring

We suggest cleaning up your perennials in the fall or late winter to prepare them for their debut in spring.  Doing so prior to new growth appearing will ensure the plants look and perform their best.

Many perennials die back after the first hard freeze and seem to just disappear. (Day lilies, Canas, etc.)  Other varieties that are more woody based may only partially die back and if not pruned become rangy and unattractive as new growth appears. (Lantana, Salvia Greggii) 

Ornamental grass needs trimming yearly before the growing season begins.  Liriope and some vining ground covers will also require trimming.

How to trim:

  • The softer, tender perennials that died down after the first freeze shouldn’t require trimming, just a clean up of the area. 
  • Those woody based perennials should be cut back to 6-10 inches high.  They will grow fuller and become more compact plants without all of the old woody growth. 
  • Cut back your liriope and mondo grass to 2-3 inches tall.  You can use your lawn mower set on a high setting or a weed eater to make the job easier.  Make sure to do this early – late trimming will cause ragged tips on the new foliage.
  • The toughest job is trimming ornamental grasses and this is covered in a separate article

This is also the best time to divide summer and fall blooming perennials.  Dig the clumps and use a sharp knife to cut them into sections for replanting in the garden at the same depth they were growing. 

Late winter is also a good time to move perennials to a new location.  If a plant is in the wrong spot due to needing more or less sun/shade or requires better draining soil or grows to large for the area, then move it. 

As the perennials begin to grow in spring, give them some fertilizer.  This will boost their growth and increase blooms.

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Pruning Roses: Tips & Tricks

Pruning rose bushes doesn’t have to be difficult! Follow these simple steps to make pruning easier with these tips and tricks!

Main Tips for Pruning Floribunda and Hybrid Tea Roses

1. Always prune dead wood back to healthy tissue. You will recognize the living tissue by its green bark and white pith core.

2. Remove all growth on the main canes that are not capable of sustaining a reasonably thick stem on its own.

3. Remove all suckers—growths from the root structure that sprout from below the bud union—remove them as close to the main root cane as possible.

4. Remove woody old canes; prune branches back flush to the larger limb they’re growing from – don’t leave stubs.

5. Make your pruning cuts at a 45-degree angle.

6. Choose an eye on the outside of the cane and slope the cut down and away on the opposite side.

7. After you have completed pruning your rose bush, remove any remaining foliage from the canes and clean up debris from around the bush. Discard all foliage (do not use it in the compost heap).

Main Tips for Pruning Shrub Roses like Knock-Out and Earth-kind Roses

  1. Shrub Roses aren’t nearly as PICKY as traditional roses. You can cut them pretty much anywhere and they’ll still be happy!
  2. For BEST results, cut shrub roses at knee height in a round-fashion. This will help them keep their shrub-like shape.
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Pruning Trees + Shrubs Series: Fruit Trees

Pruning fruit trees is different than pruning a shade or ornamental tree.  The goal is to develop the structure of the tree so that it can support the fruit and to open up the center of the tree so sunlight can penetrate to all of the fruit.

When: 

– The best time to prune mature fruit trees is in late winter before the tree begins to open its buds. 

– After planting a young tree

How to prune a mature tree:

– Start with removing any dead, damaged or diseased limbs.

– Cut any suckers growing from the base of the trunk.

– Remove “watersprouts” straight vertical branches within the tree.

– Prune branches back flush to the larger limb they’re growing from – don’t leave stubs.

Allow light into the tree by:

– Removing any downward growing branches

– Removing any branches that are growing to the center of the tree

– Removing branches that cross paths with another branch

– Stand back and look for places where multiple branches are competing with each other – prune all but the healthiest branch.

– Prune branches back flush to the larger limb they’re growing from – don’t leave stubs.

The last step is to head back your fruit tree.  Cutting off 20-30% of last year’s growth on each branch helps them become shorter and thicker.  The branches need to be strong to carry the weight of the ripening fruit. 

These cuts will be made part way up each branch.  Choose to make the cut ¼” above a bud that faces the direction you want a new branch to grow.

How to Prune a newly planted fruit tree:

Unless the tree has been tended and pruned during its lifetime it will be necessary to cut back the young tree when first planted.

Whips (Unbranched Trees)

– Prune the height of the whip to 28-36” tall. 

– After the new branches have grown 3-5” select what will become the central leader and the scaffold limbs (the main limbs of the tree) and remove all others.

Young branched trees

– Prune the tree in height by choosing the central leader and cutting it back by 1/3.

– Select the scaffold limbs and trim them in length.

– Remove unwanted limbs back to the trunk.

– Trim selective branches growing on the scaffold limbs so they are not overlapping or growing too closely together.

For a more in-depth description on how to prune specific fruits read The Art of Pruning Fruit Trees from Texas Gardener.

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Pruning Trees + Shrubs Series: Ornamental Trees

December and January are both good months to trim or prune ornamental trees.  The trees are in a dormant state and without the leaves it is much easier to identify which branches should be pruned.

Regardless of the type of tree you have there are some basic pruning techniques that apply to all. 

– Cut any broken, dead or deformed branches. 

Look at the bottom and inside of the tree – deadwood is prone to occur in shaded areas of a tree.

– Cut crossing branches

Look for branches that rub against each other or are removing the bark of a neighboring limb.  Determine which limb should stay and which should go. 

Cut crazy branches. 

Remove branches growing inward or straight up through the middle of the tree.

Thin parallel branches

When 2 or more branches are growing next to each other in the same direction remove 1 of them so the other can become a stronger limb.

Do not cut off tips. 

This results in unhealthy growth at the ends of limbs and creates an awkward look to the tree.

Step back and Look at the tree

Look at the tree from all sides and underneath.  I find it useful to have someone help when pruning – have them stand back and look at the tree to help you identify the best limbs to remove.  

Proper tools for pruning are bypass pruners, hand size and larger, tree saw hand held or pole variety for taller trees.

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Pruning Trees + Shrubs Series: Trimming Topiaries

The #1 question I’m asked about a topiary – “Is it hard to maintain them?”  The answer is not at all IF you don’t let it grow too much before giving it a trim. 

Let’s talk Juniper topiaries – spirals, pom-poms, poodles and patio trees.  Since junipers grow so slowly they are perfect for topiary designs.  Under normal conditions 2 trimmings per year will keep a juniper topiary looking neat.

Examine your topiary

Look for the original shape of the topiary and decide how much of the new growth needs to be cut off.  Do you want to trim the plant back to its original size and remove all new growth?  Would you like to increase the plants size?  If so, you will cut off less of the new growth but follow the pattern of the original shape.

Get to trimming

Start trimming your Juniper topiary from the top down.  Until you become comfortable with your cutting ability start with a light trim in a small section.  “More is not better“ when learning to trim.  It’s better to trim less and cut a second time to attain the look you envision rather than to cut too much off. Once you’re satisfied then trim the same amount off the rest of the plant.

If you accidentally cut too much, don’t worry.  Trimming a plant causes new growth to occur so it will fill in quickly.  Just like a not so good haircut – it grows out and you fix it.

What to trim with

I prefer using a bypass hand pruner or handheld clipping shears – with sharp blades.  Hedge trimmers or hedge shears are difficult to maneuver and make it difficult to cut properly from all angles.

Other topiary plants (except pines)

The same techniques will work on other species of plants used as topiaries.  Boxwood, Ligustrum, Fig Ivy, Rosemary, Holly, etc.  Keep your trimmers sharp, follow the lines of the original topiary shape, start at the top and work your way down and you can successfully trim any topiary.

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