Well, we’re heading into prime gardening season. Here in NC, we’re just two weeks away from the average last frost date (Zone 7B is April 15th). Normally, I’d be prepping my planting beds and getting amped to make a trip or two to some of my favorite local nurseries, but this year, I’m preparing for a baby, instead.
It’s hard to not plant things!
I went out into the garden today to get a feel for how things are going. With only minimal intervention (weeding, pruning, and one or two experiments) from me, there’s already so much that the garden is producing on its own and so much to be thankful for!
I hope you enjoy this early Spring tour of the Jubilee Garden! Scroll over pictures for the captions.
Our “awkward patch”. This area between our front door and garage used to have 2 huge arbor vitae that blocked our view and were beginning to die. Since taking those trees down, I’ve added a hodgepodge of perennials and annuals, including two types of columbine, two or three types of coral bells (heuchera), mums, mustard, and a mystery brassica I planted but can’t remember what it is!
Coral Bells (heuchera) is a great perennial for shady spots. I love the foliage year- round! You can see the old purple foliage from last year as the new, lime green growth comes in for this year.
Columbine leaves emerging in a swirl pattern.
Columbine flowers are so delicate and beautiful.
Mystery brassica! Could be kale? Could be brussels sprouts? Can’t wait to find out!
An asian mustard with seriously cool purple veining. I’m not really into eating mustard greens, but I love this as an ornamental plant.
Freebie mum from last fall has a bit of an aphid problem (I think). Will have to spray this will some insecticidal soap to knock them back.
Some “regenerative pruning”. I may have made a huge mistake here. Time will tell.
Hostas are also great for the shade. We have several varieties and love watching them unfurl like little scrolls as they emerge in the spring.
This sad cauliflower seems to be rotting. The smell of rotting cabbage/broccoli/cauliflower is potent – it almost smells like roadkill.
Our transplanted hydrangea seems to be doing well in its new home.
Another experiment. I pruned our lavender plant and am experimenting to see if the cuttings propagate into new plants. If they do, I’ll have a nice-looking lavender hedge as my garden bed edge. If not, no harm done!
With the wonky weather, these cold-loving brussels sprouts are starting to bolt (flower). Once they do, the brussels will likely turn bitter and be inedible. But, fun fact, you can eat the flower buds like broccoli!
Last fall, I planted brussels sprouts seeds, and now I’m just beginning to see little brussels coming out on the plants.
Our side/herb garden is really doing well. I’ve had a few broccoli plants bite the dust due to rot, but overall, really pleased with how productive this space has been. besides broccoli and cauliflower, there’s garlic growing in front, cilantro, spearmint, lavender, chives, and hopefully my oregano will come back again!
Picked some homegrown broccoli to go with dinner tonight. It was so tasty!
This is a great example of how saving seeds from a hybrid plant (F1) results in a very different plant from the parent. This cauliflower came from seeds I saved from a nursery-bought hybrid cauliflower last year. This generation’s plant doesn’t form a dense head and is pinkish/purplish. Edible, but definitely different.
More fun with genetics. From the same lot of seeds that produced the purple/pink caulifower, I also got this semi-normal looking one. Just goes to show that F2s are highly variable compared to F1 hybrids.
I’m pretty sure this was one of the cabbages I planted. It looks like the plant is infected and rotting from the center outwards. Bummer!
Carrots planted last fall are probably ready to be harvested anytime now.
These wild violet “weeds” in the lawn are so beautiful to me.
This is one of my experiments in propagation. If you prune your fig tree, you can apparently grow baby figs from cuttings. I’m testing it out this year and will let you know how it goes. So far, looks promising as the the buds are greening up!
Another “awkward patch” next to our garage and side yard. This is where the fig cuttings are living for now, along with pink muhly grass, beets, and gladioli (yet to emerge).
Did some heavy pruning of our holly bushes (I know, it looks really awful right now, but the plant was extremely unhealthy from years of using electric hedge shears). Around front are rutabagas, radishes, columbine, and kale I planted last fall.
Rutabagas. It was fun to plant these, but now that they’re mature, I’m not really that jazzed about eating them.
I let these radishes go WAYYY too long. You wouldn’t want to eat this. I may let it continue to go so I can save seeds after it flowers, though.
Hard to tell since it’s just the seed leaves so far, but I think this might be a sunflower or another volunteer from last year’s garden.
Some butterhead lettuces I planted last fall are still going strong!
This is why you buy slow-bolting lettuce varieties if you live in the south. We haven’t even hit April and this lettuce is already starting to flower. The leaves are too bitter to eat at this point, but I may let it go to see and save the seeds for a fall planting sometime.
After pruning our rose of sharon, it’s already happily budding out.
More daffodils I forgot about!
Not much to see now, but soon this place will be thick with greenery.
Just a few weeks ago, this salvia was a bunch of sticks. As a member of the mint family, it grows and spreads like wildfire!
I cut back last year’s growth nearly to the ground on this butterfly bush a few weeks ago. The new growth is already nearly half a foot tall and looking lush.
Jubilee Garden for the win! I completely forgot about these daffodils I planted a few years ago. A beautiful surprise that I’ve been planting on top of in my zeal to put veggies everywhere I can fit them.
Another relative of mint, lemon balm is really filling in, maybe too much so. Some parsley is mixed in near the bottom, too, which is handy to have. No more wasted, wilty bunches from the grocery store!
Back in the fall, I planted fava beans. They’re beginning to flower and I just love the black and white flowers on them!
Arugula flowers are beautiful AND delicious. Like most veggies when they flower, the foliage is probably pretty bitter now.
A spray of fennel (front), columbine (flowers on the right), and arugula in flower (back), plus some swiss chard sprinkled throughout).
It may look barren, but all I can see is potential here. I can’t wait to see how this view changes in the next few weeks and months!
Sunday: Happy Easter!
Next Wednesday: Top 5 Herbs You Should Be Growing This Year
Pruning is both science and art. Last week we looked at the why, when, and what of pruning. Now, let’s get into the nitty gritty – howto prune. Here are some thoughts that can help guide your cutting.
Anything diseased or damaged.
Adventitious growth. Look like suckers but are coming from an area that was improperly cut or damaged in a previous pruning session or storm.
Limbs that are criss-crossing or growing towards the center of the plant. The goal is for limbs to go OUT and AWAY from the center so the foliage can get more light for photosynthesis.
Suckers. These are shoots that come up from the base of the plant, trying to be new leaders (primary limbs).
All of these tiny shoots coming up near the base of the plant are suckers. PT Barnum would welcome them, but he’s no gardener.
Determine Desired Height
How tall do you want this to be once you’re done pruning? Choose a height to guide your cuts (ex. I aim for waist- or chest-high for shrubs since that’s easy to approximate).
Look for little buds (AKA lateral meristem/axillary bud) on the limb in question. They might be clearly visible on a naked branch or they might be hidden right where a leaf attaches to the limb. The way these nodes are pointing indicates which way the plant could grow if you chopped right above that point. (Obviously if you chop below, the bud would be gone and couldn’t direct the growth).
Fun with Biology:
A meristemis a plant’s version of stem cells. Stem cells can differentiate into any type of cell that’s needed (sort of like our bone marrow and umbilical cord blood). An apical meristem is just plant stem cell tissue found at the apex, or top, of the plant.
Lateral meristems are stem cells found near a bud or side shoot.
Plant hormones from the apical meristem called auxinssend chemical signals to the lateral meristems that inhibit lateral growth. Cytokinins(another plant hormone) allow for some lateral growth. For more on this, check out this cool article.
Here’s the REALLY cool part: if you chop off the apical meristem (AKA pruning), auxins can’t be delivered and whatever lateral meristem is closest to the top becomes the new apical meristem through cell differentiation. It’s crazy-amazing! Check it out:
Science and pruning are so cool!
Here’s an example of my pruning before & after, using the tips above. Subtle, but effective!
Tree Limbs: 3-Cut Method
Growing a Greener World, one of my favorite gardening shows, has a great episode on pruning. I recommend watching the entire episode. If you just need to know how to best remove a tree limb, check this out:
A Note About Tree-Topping/Crape Murder
Ugh. I hate this so much. I hate that I have to tell people this AND I hate that tree service companies actually suggest this to their customers. Trees SHOULD NOT have their canopies removed. It’s atrociously ugly and it is usually fatal to the tree. At the very minimum it’s extremely damaging (to the tree’s health and to your property when the tree eventually fails and falls on something). Crape Myrtles are frequent victims of this treatment, hence the term “Crape Murder”. If a tree is overgrown, here are your best options:
Remove an entire limb from where it joins up with the trunk or a large branch using the 3-cut method
Cut down the entire tree – it will look better than topping AND prevent you from having a huge insurance claim after it falls down on your or your neighbor’s property
Bonus: this frees up space to plant something better (more appropriate size or native species)
An improperly pruned tree. Tree topping is murder!
For the love of Pete, don’t do this!!!! See how sickly the new growth is? The knots? The decay? It’s awful!
Here are a few other resources if you have more questions about how to prune:
Now you know the why, what, when, and how of pruning! It’s not that hard once you understand the biology going on behind the scenes.
I’d love to hear your stories about pruning (horror or otherwise)! Did you inadvertently kill a plant by pruning at the wrong time (guilty here!)? Have a bumper crop of flowers or fruits after a hard prune? What did you do with the harvest? Let me know in the comments!
I know you’re probably excited to get your transplants in the ground, but I’m going to interrupt your regularly scheduled programming. Before we do anything else, we need to get outside and do some pruning before spring kicks into high gear!
What types of plants should you prune?
For the most part, pruning is for perennial plants, shrubs, and trees since annuals typically don’t make it through the winter.
Plants Need Pruning If They Are:
Overgrown or unruly
Patchy (insufficient light to center or lower parts of the plant)
Touching a structure
Crowding out other plants
Unproductive or you want to increase productivity (more blooms/fruits)
Late winter/early spring is when plants are dormant and not actively growing. I like to aim for Valentine’s Day (this year, I was a little behind). The plant has time to recover from the wounds of pruning during dormancy, plus pruning actually stimulates new growth which is perfect for this time of year – it kick-starts spring growth.
Exceptions to Pruning in Early Spring
There is one notable exception to early spring pruning, and that’s pruning flowering shrubs.
As a general rule, you should prune AFTER a plant flowers. It’s safe to prune any plant during early spring (dormancy) – your plant will still survive, BUT if you prune something that flowersbefore June (a sign that your plant flowers on the previous year’s growth), you’ll miss any blooms/fruits for that season/year. If something flowers after June, it usually means it flowers on new/this year’s growth, so it’s best to prune now.
NEVER PRUNE IN LATE SUMMER/FALL! It encourages new growth, which is susceptible to frost damage and can kill your plant.
What Tools Do You Need?
All you need is something to cut with. I find the following three items to be all that’s necessary. (Note: these are Amazon Affiliate links, so if you choose to buy anything, I’ll get a small commission. These are what I use to do my own pruning):
Hand Pruners (for twigs with diameter of about a finger or less). Be sure they’re bypass pruners, NOT anvil pruners.
Loppers (for anything from the diameter of your finger to diameter of your wrist). Again, be sure they’re bypass loppers and not anvil-style (which crushes instead of giving a clean cut)
Hand Saw (for anything bigger than that – typically trees or very big/old limbs on a shrub)
A Note About Safety
Don’t be overly daring when it comes to pruning. Especially with trees, if a limb is too big or too high to reach, leave it alone. If it bothers you that much, have a friend help you or hire a certified arborist (yes, make sure it’s not just a tree service!). If you’re using a ladder, have someone there to spot you/help hold it, or you’ll need to have 9-1-1 on speed-dial.
Now that we have the basis of why, when, and whatto prune, come back next Wednesday for the nitty gritty on howto prune – the science behind pruning, deciding where to cut, and how to cut the right way.
Have you started (or completed) your pruning for this year? How’d it go? Let me know in the comments!
John 15 is one of my favorite passages in the Bible. The imagery is SO good:
1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
Before I got into gardening, I’d look at this passage and say, “Hold up a minute! Why are BOTH the unproductive AND productive parts of this plant [or me] getting cut off?!”
But now that I’ve been in the garden and made those tough cuts on productive plants, I get it.
It’s super easy to remove a dead twig. You can usually just snap it off without using pruners. Dead wood breaks easily – it’s brittle. But cutting live, green growth seems counter-intuitive. However, if pruned correctly, the plant becomes even more productive. I’ve witnessed this myself, year after year. You should see our fig tree the summer after a hard prune… it’s so full of figs that we can’t give them away fast enough!
Pruning does a lot of great things for a plant:
It redirects growth, so limbs can be trained the way they should go
It rejuvenates the plant, triggering new growth
It strengthens the plant – poor structure can lead to cracks and limb or total plant loss when snow, ice, or wind do their thing
It produces more flowers and fruit – by cutting off branches, more energy is available for reproduction (AKA flowers and fruit!)
The pruned plant is one that is living its best life.
Back to the spiritual side of things, how are you being pruned right now?
Maybe you’ve been upset about the ways you’ve been “cut off” – changes in areas of your life that were once thriving and now just aren’t.
Stop and consider the following:
How might this redirect my growth? Might the changes I’m experiencing draw me closer to Christ? Or at least point me towards Him?
Before this change happened, were things becoming kind of stale? Did I need a fresh start or rejuvenation?
Can I learn something from this experience that will make my faith stronger?
What unexpected fruits might come from this change?
The last part of the John 15 passage shows us how we can consistently and reliably produce this fruit:
Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. (v.4)
Remain in Jesus! Even after the pruning is done (maybe especially after the pruning is done).
I’m praying for you this week, that you would identify areas of pruning in your life and see them for the blessing they will become!
Use as your phone wallpaper or lock screen this week as a reminder that pruning leads to fruit!
Wednesday: We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming for Pruning – It’s Not that Hard!