Rose Pruning 3

Winter Pruning of Climbing Roses

Winter is the best time to prune modern repeat climbers as all the old leaves need to be picked off anyway, so may as well prune at the same time. (Once blooming old roses and ramblers are best when pruned in the summer after flowering)

The key to climbers is to train the canes as near to horizontal as possible. A good structure of horizontal branches dramatically increases the number of flowers. Climbers that are allowed to grow straight up will have flowers only on the tips of the canes. Newly planted climbers won’t need much pruning the first year or two. Just tie in any canes that have developed over the summer and cut side shoots back to about 6 inches.

The rose in this picture would have most of its flowers at the top.

The rose in this picture would have most of its flowers at the top.

To prune an established wall trained climber, start by taking a critical look at the plant’s structure.   Identify two or three of the oldest, less productive canes for removal or cutting back. Decide which of the newly developed canes you want to keep and where they would be best tied in. Look for dead wood, weak thin growth and awkward branches.   Try to make a plan before you start cutting.

Once you have your game plan, start by cutting away what you don’t want. The oldest branches can be cut at ground level, or at a low point where you want a new branch to form. Keep an eye on where the buds are and make the cuts just above buds that are pointing in the direction you want new growth to go in.

Cut out thin weak growth, dead wood and awkward crossing branches. Leave the side branches on the remaining canes for the time being.   Tie remaining canes onto the supports, spacing them evenly to get good coverage. Now prune the side branches, or laterals, growing out of these canes down to 3 or 4 buds. Cut just above an outward facing one.

Rose Pruning 3Remove any remaining leaves, an important step in disease control.   Lastly, rake up any fallen leaves off the ground, lightly fork over the soil around the base of the plant, apply a couple of inches of compost and you’re done.

The steps for pruning a rose trained over an arbour or similar structure are pretty much the same. Try to train some of the branches in “S” curves up trellised sides or wrap them around the support posts. Be sure that the branches over the top of the structure are tied down securely to prevent wind damage and to promote good flowering. Cut back side branches to two or three buds.

Red rose 2

See how this Don Juan Rose is tied to the top of the arbour, producing many side branches and lots of flowers.

Ready to transport

Sharpen Your Shovels, it’s Time to Transplant!

By Brian Russell

Established woody plants (trees, shrubs and conifers) are best moved when they are fully dormant. In our climate, this means November, December, January or early February. In theory you can move just about anything if you have enough determination and manpower (or womanpower!)

The tree in these photos is an Acer palmatum ‘Shishigashira’ that has been in our roadside planting for almost 25 years.   It has long been too big for the space and rather than cut it down we decided to try to move it. It was a big job that required several people, a tractor and a sturdy trailer.   Hopefully it will survive the move and settle in to its new home in the garden of one of our staff.

The spade must be sharp to cut the roots

The spade must be sharp to cut the roots

It’s important, and a lot easier, to use a sharp shovel or spade because you need to sever the roots cleanly. A dull edge will leave a lot of damaged, torn roots, making it much harder for the plant to re-root. Use a coarse flat file to hone a nice sharp edge on your spade. If you have access to a bench grinder, all the better. If you are planning to do a lot of transplanting, you might want to keep one nice, sharp, clean garden spade just for transplanting. The ones with a square edge and a short sturdy handle with a “D” shaped grip are best.


Starting to severe the roots

Before you start digging, tie up the branches to get them out of the way and to protect them from breakage. You can use rope or twine as long as it is reasonably soft and won’t damage the bark. Almost any large shrub or small tree will be easier to dig and maneuver into its new home if the branches are wrapped.

Clear away all the leaves and debris around the base of the plant and then start slicing your way through the roots, angling inwards as much as downwards. You should be digging at an angle so that you will end up with a cone-shaped root ball. The rule of thumb for determining the size of the root ball to dig is as follows: allow ten to twelve inches of root ball diameter for every one inch of trunk calliper.

Close up of root severing

Close up of root severing

For small plants, you might be able to dig a nice root ball out with just six or eight “slices” of your razor sharp shovel blade. For larger plants, you will need a larger root ball but the shovel’s blade won’t be long enough to get all the way under the plant the first time around.

Tipping the tree to cut the final roots

Tipping the tree to cut the final roots

First, dig a full shovel depth all the way around the plant and then get a helper to use another shovel as a lever to lift, very slightly, the partially severed root ball so that you can get in and slice the remaining roots. At this point it’s not usually possible to use your foot on the shovel anymore because it’s so deep in the soil. Just push it in by hand and slice through the rest of the roots until the plant is ready to lift.

Protect the root ball by lifting it carefully onto a tarp and dragging the tarp to the plant’s new home. Ideally it should be replanted as soon as possible to minimize transplant shock. If you can’t plant it right away then you should wrap up the root ball entirely with burlap (or an old towel or part of a bed sheet) and secure it tightly with twine. Treated like this, it can be heeled into a holding bed and kept there for weeks or even months before it is planted out again.

Ready to transport

Ready to transport

When replanting, ensure that you are planting at exactly the same depth: no higher or lower than the original location. Add bonemeal to the back fill soil to stimulate new root growth, water in well to dislodge air pockets, untie the poor thing and prune off the broken branches (there will surely be some).


The tree all ready for the journey to its new home!

A significant portion of that plant’s roots stayed at its former location, and the roots that remain will need to receive more moisture than usual, with mid to late summer being the most critical time. You won’t really know if the plant has survived the transplant process for at least a full year. Treat it like a new planting and pamper it a bit more than usual. Mulching will help, and so will building a little soil ‘donut’ or basin around the plant where you can put your hose on “trickle” three times a week.

Deschampsia cespitosa

Caring for Ornamental Grasses

By Laurie


Deschampsia cespitosa that was cut back in early spring

Deschampsia cespitosa that was cut back in early spring

Caring for Ornamental Grasses
Customers at the nursery are often asking about how to care for ornamental grasses. It can get confusing. Grasses don’t ask for much in terms of maintenance, but most do require cutting back and some need periodic division. This article summarizes when and how to do both. A basic rule of ornamental grass maintenance is to leave them standing over winter, and don’t mess with them until they are actively growing in early to late spring. Whether you are cutting back or dividing, it is generally best to wait until spring.

Cutting Back
Most of grass grooming involves cutting back, and when and how to cut back depends on the type of grass you have. Grasses are either cool season (temperate), warm season (tropical) or evergreen, and the rules change slightly for each.

Hakonacloa sprouting after being sheared back

Hakonechloa sprouting after being sheared back

When to cut back cool season grasses
These grasses grow in cooler weather (spring and fall) and they are the first ones to cut back in early spring. They can be cut back to about 1-3 inches after temperatures rise above freezing. In Victoria gardens this usually means mid-March, when the new growth is visible.

Deciduous cool season grasses to cut back at this time include CalamagrostisCarex elata ‘Bowles Golden’DeschampsiaElymusMillium, and MoliniaHakonechloa, Chasmanthium and Imperata Red Baron’ can also be cut back in early spring. (The latter are warm season grasses, but they start to grow early, in cooler temperatures.) Any broken flowering stems may be cut back within the foliage clump at any time (Calamagrostis, Stipa gigantea…).

Pennisetum 'Hamlin' - a warm season grass. Cut back to 3" in late spring after frost has passed, for that hedgehog look!

Pennisetum ‘Hamlin’ – a warm season grass. Cut back to 3″ in late spring after frost has passed, for that hedgehog look!

When to cut back warm season grasses
These grasses generally need warmth to grow (at least 20° C). So it is best to cut them back in late spring, after any threat of frost has passed, just as the new growth starts to show. Don’t wait too long to do this to avoid cutting the tips of the new growth with the old. Leaving the old foliage up too long can also delay the crown’s warming and growth by several weeks. All those lovely grasses that provided much appreciated buff-coloured winter structure in the garden need to be cut back to about 3 inches from the ground.
Warm season grasses needing this late spring hair cut include Miscanthus, Muhlenbergia, Pennisetum, Panicum Spartina,  Schizacrium, Arundo and Cortaderia.

It should be noted that some of these warm season grasses have better winter presence than others, and if you prefer a tidier look to your garden you may also cut back warm season grasses any time after they have gone brown in late fall.

How to Cut back
Shorter grasses look best when given a more rounded cut, rather than straight across. This ‘hedgehog’ cut will make for a more natural look when cropped, as well when the grasses grow back in. Taller grasses may be cut straight across. Their cropping is hardly noticed because of their robust growth.

Miscanthus cut flat in late spring

Miscanthus cut flat in late spring

Handy tools for cutting grasses include gloves, a bungie cord for bundling, a rake and tarp for gathering, and good hand pruners or shears for cutting. The larger grasses could require an electric saw or hedge shears and don’t forget to wear your gloves. Bundling the grasses with a bungie cord before cutting can simplify clean up. The narrow leafed Miscanthus varieties can be cut nicely with secateurs, starting from the outside and cutting back small sections at a time.

Carex comans (evergreen sedge) cut back by two thirds in spring

Carex comans (evergreen sedge) cut back by two thirds in spring

Grooming of Evergreen grasses
There are a few cool season grasses that remain evergreen to semi-evergreen in our milder climate. For the most part the only grooming they need is combing. Fescue, Helictotrichon (Blue Oat), Stipas and many Carex sedges (not a true grass), usually refresh from a simple comb through with fingers wearing rubber (catches the blades) golves or rake to remove the dead buff foliage which easily separates from the new growth in spring. Raking can also be repeated in summer to remove spent flowering stems.

Sometimes some evergreen grasses start to look shabby after a few years or harsh winter and may actually require a more drastic cutting back of all the old growth. The recommended time to do this is when the threat of frost has passed in April. This is when they are actively growing, but before there is a lot of new fresh growth. And never shear these grasses too low to the base; always leave about one third of the foliage in place.

Occasional cutting back to refresh a sad looking evergreen or semi-evergreen grass can be done in late spring on Luzula, Stipas, Anemanthele lessoniana (Pheasants Tail) and narrow leafed Carex sedges. Nassella tennuissima (Mexican feather grass) can be cut back in September to refresh green growth.

Dividing Grasses
Timing of when to divide grasses is important for successful root establishment. As a rule, all ornamental grasses should only be divided when they are actively growing and not dormant, and never while they are flowering. For cool season grasses this means spring, and for warm season grasses it is best to wait until late spring or early summer. Smaller grasses are divided just like any other perennial. Dig up the clump and then pry apart with your hands or cut with a knife or trowel.  Replant them before the roots dry out.

When grass clumps get too wide or full for their space it is time to divide and replant. After several years the centre of some of the grasses can die back and it is good to replant the fresher new growth from the outer edge of the clump. Once these fresher pieces have been removed from the clump, trim off any dead material and replant, remembering to water thoroughly. New grass divisions require frequent watering until they become rooted and established.

Larger grasses require a little more effort to divide because of their robust roots and crown size. Dig or pry the clump out of the ground with either a sharp shovel or crow bar. Divide into pieces using a shovel, axe or chain saw. Make sure that each division has viable root growth.

Ornamental grasses add interesting texture, movement, height and long season colour to our gardens. They are an essential complement to shrubs, trees, perennials and hardscape in the Westcoast landscape. A little annual maintenance prepares your grasses for another wonderful show.



Hellebores Are Happy

Helleborus x ‘Honey Hill Joy’ - BEFORE

Helleborus x ‘Honey Hill Joy’ – BEFORE

Helleborus x ‘Honey Hill Joy’ - AFTER CUTTING BACK


Keep your hellebores happy and show their charming faces! These easy-care perennials ask only one thing of you, and that is to cut back their old leathery leaves in very early spring, right about now. New leaves will quickly take their place; put the old ones in the garbage not compost, as they can harbour fungal disease.  See the difference in our before and after photos; abundant flowers will be followed soon by shiny green new leaves. Easy! Cutting back does not apply to the species Argutifolius and Foetidus – they would get cut back after flowering and only if needed.

How To Care For A Young Tree

by Susan

The decision has been made, the hole dug and the tree planted, following all the instructions of course! Now what? Research has shown that newly planted trees take two years to establish. During that time young trees or older trees that have been transplanted are sensitive to environmental stresses, nutrient deficiencies and pest infestations and should be monitored closely. A young tree needs to be nurtured and given a good start in life in order for it to grow into a fine mature specimen. Don’t be too surprised if you don’t see much growth at first. It’s often the third or fourth year after planting before good growth starts, especially if conditions are less than ideal.

A mature tree can have a root system that extends at least to the edge of the canopy, if not farther. The roots can spread as far as 2 to 4 times the height of the tree. A newly planted or transplanted tree will have a root system only a tiny fraction of that, and the first year or two will put most of its energy into establishing its roots.

Watering is critical. Roots won’t grow into dry soil, but overwatering can cause root rot. Water needs to be applied evenly around the root-zone. If one side is dry the tree will respond as if the whole area was dry. Small root balls tend to dry out quickly and need to be deeply watered once or twice a week throughout the growing season. To determine if watering is required, test the soil around the tree by digging gently with a hand fork or a digging fork. If the soil, four to eight inches down, is dry or only a little damp, then the tree needs water. Don’t assume that a little rain in the summer will be enough. Neither should you assume that a sprinkler system is delivering the right amount of water to the right place. Always check that the water is directed at the root ball in sufficient quantity to keep it evenly moist. Even with plenty of water, a new tree may be drought-stressed because it simply doesn’t have a big enough root system to draw up the moisture needed to sustain itself.

Mulching is one of the most beneficial things that you can do to keep your trees healthy. Most of the fine feeder roots are in the top few inches of soil and a 2 to 4-inch layer of leaves or composted chips or bark enables them to get oxygen and moisture without having to compete with the lawn. The mulched area around a young tree should be 3 to 4 feet wide, which should also be enough to protect it from damage from lawnmowers and string trimmers. Ideally, the whole area under the canopy should be free of turf and mulched, but in most gardens that is just not practical. A word of warning… Avoid piling mulch up against the trunk of the tree as that will cause rot and other problems.

Damage from wild life can permanently injure young trees. Around here the biggest problem is with deer. In the fall the bucks like to use any tree with a small diameter trunk as a scratching post, stripping off the bark or even snapping the trunk right off. Protect the trunks with wire fencing or tree wrap.

There are many opinions on the subject of fertilizing young trees. You should never fertilize a tree that is under stress due to dehydration, insect problems or disease. One school of thought says that newly planted trees are by definition stressed out in their first growing season and should be well watered but not fertilized at all. Another holds that a judicious application of slow release fertilizer in the spring is beneficial. To be most effective, fertilizer must come into contact with a tree’s feeder roots, which are at the dripline and beyond.

pH matters. Soil testing is something that most gardeners know should be done, but never quite get around to. There are two main goals in soil testing, one is to determine the levels of nutrients in the soil and the other is to determine the pH of the soil. pH is the measure of the acidity or alkalinity of the soil and the reason that it is important is that it has a direct relationship to a plant’s ability to take up nutrients. Plants are programmed to grow best at a predetermined pH level and while some plants are adaptable to a pH range, others have very specific needs. Around here the soils tend to be on the acid side and coincidentally (or not) many of our garden favourites like maples, dogwoods, oaks and conifers happen to love acid soils. The point is that if you’ve done everything you can and your tree still isn’t happy, the pH may be incorrect and soil amendments may be required.

Pruning and Training: Young trees need formative pruning to ensure they grow into safe and healthy mature trees, with strong trunks and sturdy, well-placed branches. Initial pruning should have been done by the grower, but it’s an ongoing process. It’s too big a subject to do justice to here, but there is lots of good information on pruning and tree care to be found on the International Society of Arboriculture website:

Clay soil

Working With Clay Soil

Having clay soil may seem like a great misfortune, but if it is managed and handled properly it can produce an abundance of plant growth. Clay soils can be very fertile as they have the ability to hold onto nutrients. Clay soils are moisture retentive – to a fault in the winter, but a good thing in our dry summers.

Around here we have what is called “expanding clay”, meaning that it shrinks when dry and expands when wet. Try to avoid walking on it and definitely don’t dig it over when it is wet. Digging clay when it is wet produces rock hard lumps that take way too much energy to break down. To determine the right time to dig, roll a small amount of soil in your hand to form a ball. If it breaks into pieces easily then it is dry enough. If it sticks together you should wait awhile.

The more organic matter you can dig in the better. Sand is often used to help improve drainage, but be careful not to use fine sand – the end result could be as hard as concrete. Coarse builder’s sand is best. It is called “1/4 minus” and is slightly gravelly. By digging in layers of organic matter like compost or leaf mulch plus coarse sand on a regular basis the soil will definitely improve over time. If it all sounds like too much work, the easier option may be to build your beds on top of the soil. Raised beds, berms, and containers are all good options.

Help prevent soil from drying out in the summer by applying a layer of mulch every year or so. Consistent watering also helps; a well-designed drip irrigation system is both efficient and economical.</p>


Turf the Turf

by Faye

The great Canadian lawn. Is it an oasis upon which to rest and rejuvenate your spirit, or is it a monstrous thirsty fraud? The pros and cons of keeping or killing turfgrass have become hot button issues for gardeners of all shades of green.

Historically, the lawn signified the emergence of the middle class and its financial independence, with no need to grow food to survive. A small vegetable plot in the back yard replaced fields of crops, and the front lawn was the symbol of rising affluence and liberation, the greenest grass on the block being the Holy Grail.

Recent trends toward water conservation and sustainable planting, along with a resurgence in growing our own food have meant that lush green lawns are on the hit list; not politically correct in many circles. There are so many reasons to eliminate vast swaths of lush green grass, and many reasons to keep them. Let’s talk about the positive attributes of lawn first.
Nothing says summer like kids and dogs playing on green grass, maybe running through the sprinkler. Remember that? A quiet afternoon on the lawn chair with a good book isn’t the same without the soft grass beneath your toes, and a picnic blanket spread on the lawn just adds to the pleasure. Aesthetically a calm swath of lawn gives the eye a chance to rest between the borders, an area of visual serenity.
If your standards don’t demand golf course perfection, then a lawn needn’t be a huge water drain nor fertilizer hog. Since herbicides are now unavailable in most of our municipalities, there is no longer a valid claim that chemicals are leeching into the waterways from the average home lawn. I know that the robins in my yard would be very disappointed if I removed our small patch of grass; they love digging for worms in the spring, and I for one enjoy watching the tug of war.

There are many reasons to remove at least some of our turf grass, depending on the sun exposure, drainage, and other land available to you. If the lawn is in the only patch of sunny real estate in your yard, and you want to grow vegetables, then replacing it with a kitchen garden makes sense. If the lawn is shady and moist and always a challenge to keep moss-free, then wouldn’t a hosta and fern garden be an improvement? If your soil is very sandy and so fast draining that frequent watering is the only way to have a green lawn, then perhaps a dry garden featuring ornamental grasses, succulents and other drought tolerant plants would make your life easier and the visuals more pleasing than a struggling patch of sometimes-green grass.
One of the reasons many people want rid of the lawn is to reduce time spent watering, fertilizing, edging, aerating, and mowing the lawn. Loud and dirty lawn mowers are annoying, possibly spewing off fumes and generally aggravating the neighbours. There are many who say, however, that their lawn-care chores are nothing compared to the tasks required in a mixed planting of shrubs and perennials, so it’s all up to personal preference how we like to spend our precious time outdoors.


Depending on what you plan to replace the grass with, there are many ways to kill off the lawn. The easiest method is the slowest way, but satisfying. If you want to replace the whole area with mixed plantings, and are doing it yourself, then sheet mulching is likely the best choice. Begin by mowing your lawn for one last nostalgic (but optional) time, just to make it flatter. Then spread compost or manure over the lawn, at 50 pounds per 100 square feet to help the microbial action and increase worm activity; remember that if you have been using synthetic fertilizers for years, you will have depleted the vast and lively population living beneath the ground. If you are putting mainly pathways and the occasional shrub or tree, then save the organic goodies for later. To smother the grass, you will need to cover it all with sheets of cardboard or 10 sheets (1/2” thick) of newspaper. The inks used these days are vegetable dyes, so perfectly harmless and organic. Make sure to overlap by 6-8” in all directions, to keep the grass from growing back between sections.
Now the fun part, covering up the paper layer with more compost or a 4-5” layer of leaves, and then the final layer of bark mulch. All of this will be ready to plant into within 6 weeks, or left over winter will greet you in the spring all ready to go, an organically alive palette for your creative juices to work on.

If your dream is to create a vegetable garden in this former lawn, there are again some options. One would be to build raised beds right on top of the lawn, filling the frames with the layers as suggested, or make the layers more varied as in Lasagna Gardening using manure, straw, compost, soil, and amending with an organic fertilizer blend. For the pathways around the beds you may choose to eliminate the compost layers, and cover the newspaper or cardboard with bark mulch, gravel, or pavers. Growing food rather than feeding and watering grass nourishes body and soul in a satisfying and happy way.

Many people are starting slowly, just making their existing lawns smaller, and beds and borders larger. Designing a whole new garden is after all quite a daunting prospect!

But what if growing veggies isn’t your forte, you don’t want more perennial and shrub areas, and you still want to walk on soft green surfaces? Many ground covers can take some degree of foot traffic, such as Corsican Mint, Baby Tears, Leptinella, some of the ornamental thymes, Blue Star Creeper, Herniaria glabra, and many more. We’d be happy to talk ground covers and offer suggestions.
In the absence of lawn, covering the ground is the way to cut down on weeds, preserve moisture, and protect the soil from extremes of wet, dry and wind. Whether you cover it with plants or some other organic material, you must cover it.

Eliminating some or all of your turfgrass is a choice. There are many reasons to join this movement, such as protecting the environment, growing your own food, enhancing wildlife, or good old plant lust; find what works for you, make a plan, and do it.

moss in lawn

Controlling Moss In Lawns

moss in handMoss thrives in our rainy climate and naturally acidic soils. It loves wet, poorly drained soil and does best in shady spots where the grass struggles to grow. The only way to really solve a moss problem is to determine and remedy the cause.

Drainage: Improve the porosity and drainage of your soil by aerating it. You can rent aerators, but they are heavy and awkward. It’s easier (and often cheaper) to get a lawn company to come and aerate for you. After the lawn has been aerated, spread a thin layer of coarse sand over the aerated areas to fill up the holes. The sand will work its way down and, in time help to greatly improve the drainage. For best long term results this aerating should be done annually.

Shade: Previously sunny parts of the garden can become shaded as trees and shrubs mature. Cut them back or thin them out to allow more light through. If it’s not possible to let in more sun, you may want to rethink the whole idea of lawn and either let the moss take over, or replace the lawn with suitable groundcover.

Acidic Soil: The best way make soil less acidic is to raise the pH, and the easiest way is to apply lime. Dolopril is the best type of lime to use as it’s easy to apply and it works quickly. Typically lime is applied in the spring, but it can also be applied in the fall when it will help to prevent the growth of moss over the winter.

Moss Killer: Once you have changed the conditions that promote the growth of moss, and increased the pH level, it is time to get rid of the moss. Lawn fertilizer with iron sulphate will kill the moss and feed the grass at the same time. For best results the forecast should be for a couple of days of dry weather with temperatures above 10 degrees. When the moss killer has done its job, rake out all the old dead moss.

Maintaining a healthy lawn will make it harder for the moss to re-grow. Plus, it makes it difficult for weeds in general to take hold. Re-seed any bare patches and fertilize regularly over the spring and summer. We like to recommend Milorganite, which is organic and promotes good microbial activity in the soil, which in turn makes the grass grow lush and green. Water at least enough to keep the grass from browning out.

Don’t forget: moss spreads by spores, so complete the process by trying to clean up the moss from other areas of the garden like the roof, sidewalks and under shrubbery.

purple sprouting broc 3

November In The Food Garden

Getting the veggie garden ready for winter entails just a few simple tasks. The first really hard frost of the season is upon us; we need to prepare now for the winter that lurks nearby.

First of all, the soil needs to be protected from incessant rain, which leeches out nutrients and compacts the ground.  All bare soil benefits from a 2-4” mulch of fluffy leaves, and if you have seaweed available, add it now as well.

What not to put on your garden now? Compost! Winter rains wash the nutrients away, and the microorganisms are sleeping anyway, so save your compost in the bin, and cover it with a loose blanket of plastic to keep it relatively dry and warm(ish). Be watchful though, last year I found suspicious little rat-sized tunnels in my protected compost.



When to lime? Yesterday! The recommended amount is 1 pound of Dolomite lime per square yard; simply measure one pound, and mark it on a container.

If you got your Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Brussels Sprouts planted in time, then you will have tall, slightly top-heavy plants now.  They will need staking against the winter winds, but otherwise are quite hardy; just some leaves stuffed between the plants to protect the soil will suffice.

Purple sprouting broccoli almost 3' high

Purple sprouting broccoli almost 3′ high

Seeded in early May outside, my Lacinato Kale is tall and gorgeous now, so I loosely tied it to a stake as well.

Root crops such as carrots and beets will also want some leaf mulch to cover their shoulders, which may have pushed themselves above the soil surface.

Chard and spinach, having more delicate leaves, will also appreciate a bit of cover or protection in very cold spells. If they do freeze hard, not to worry; just let them thaw outside, and they’ll be fine. Don’t bring them in when still hard though, or they’ll look very sad when thawed in a limp pile.

Fall Gold raspberries, cut by half

Fall Gold raspberries, cut by half

In the berry patch, you should have already cut back the raspberries; this year’s fruiting stems of summer-bearing varieties (eg Tulameen, Latham) should be cut right down, and everbearing (eg Fall Gold, Heritage) ones can be cut down only half way, to allow sprouts to form from them, giving a summer crop as well, hence the name everbearing – summer and again in fall.

Strawberries also need cutting back, remove all old leaves then cover the crown with leaf mulch for protection.  Being acidic, shredded oak leaves are great for strawberries.

Early next spring when your food crops are producing bountifully, you’ll be happy that you took these few steps to keep them at their best.

big fat hydrangea buds

Strategic Pruning for Better Bloom

Improper or badly timed pruning is often the reason that flowering shrubs bloom poorly or not at all. A little insight into a plant’s growth and flowering habits can be used to plan how and when to prune. Only a few pieces of key information are presented here, so consult a good pruning book for more detail. Highly recommended: Christopher Brickell’s Pruning & Training (republished in 2011) and Cass Turnbull’s Guide to Pruning).

These old favourites often suffer from pruning improprieties:

Abelia: Is a pretty summer flowering shrub that more often than not is planted in a spot that is too small for it. It has an open arching habit and sends up long new shoots from the base in the spring. Abelia flowers on new wood and when these new shoots are cut off in an attempt to keep the plant tidy, you are left with the older branches that don’t flower well. Ideally the older branches should be cut out after flowering, and the new ones allowed to develop in their place.

Chaenomeles: (Flowering Quince) Flower best when ‘spur pruned’, just like apple trees. (A spur is short bit of branch 0n which most of the flowering and fruiting buds are concentrated.) Encourage flowering spurs with pruning in late spring or early summer. Free standing specimens bloom best when new growth is cut back to five or six leaves. Cut back side shoots on espaliered or wall trained shrubs to 2-3 leaves. Cut back any shoots that develop later in the season the same way.

Erica: (Winter Heather) Heathers should be sheared back, every year or two, right after flowering. For a more natural look use secateurs. They won’t break from old wood, so only cut into wood that still has leaves on it. The next year’s flower buds start forming by late summer, so late pruning will reduce flowering.

Big fat hydrangea buds

Big fat hydrangea buds

Hydrangeas: Know your hydrangeas! There is no simple rule for hydrangea pruning. If you know the cultivar name of your hydrangeas Google can be very helpful in trying to figure out what to do with them. In general, older varieties of macrophylla types (mophead or lacecap) bloom on old wood. Spring pruning should consist of cutting out weak growth and cutting some of the oldest stems at ground level. Cut back remaining stems by about 12″ to pairs of fat buds. Some varieties bloom only on buds produced at the very tips of their branches, so be wary of cutting them off.   A lot of the newer varieties of hydrangeas bloom on both old and new wood and can be pruned as needed to keep the size in check. Paniculata and arborescent types bloom on current season’s growth and can be cut back hard to a main framework without losing bloom. They can also be pinched back a couple of times early in the season to make them bushier.


Flowering spurs on Wisteria

Philadelphus: (Mock Orange) Blooms on previous season’s wood. Flowering diminishes on stems more than four years old.   Cut back about ¼ of the older stems right to the ground every year to keep the plant young and floriferous.   Trim side shoots to improve the shape.

Syringa: (Lilac) Prune after flowering. Cut off old flower heads and cut back long leggy growth. Before cutting woody branches look carefully at the pairs of leaves on the branch. Leaves that are directly opposite each other have flower buds in their axils. Leaf pairs that are offset from one another don’t. Cutting just above the flowering buds will encourage more blooms.

Wisteria: The main reason that wisteria doesn’t bloom is that it is not pruned properly. It also blooms on spurs that are developed by pruning. All that long whippy growth that comes in over the summer should not be cut out completely, but should be cut back to about 5-6 buds. In the winter cut those same stems back again, this time to 2-3 buds. These will become the spurs that produce the next year’s blooms.