Clean up in the gardens on Vancouver Island has begun. The winter has been harsh here on the Island. Snow, ice and frosty temperatures have kept the island in a deep freeze for more then two months. Finally the snow and ice melted and the ground…frozen but dry has allowed clean up to start.
This is the first year that it has been this cold since I started my landscape business. Normal weather patterns have always been rain and cool temperatures but never this cold. After one day working in the garden I realized that I much prefer the ground frozen. With the ground frozen, I stayed dry and the clean up was actually easier. Raking the leaves, branches and twigs was a snap. With the ground frozen I didn’t have to worry about taking the soil or the mulch with the garden waste.
This garden has been over grown for some years and needed a sprucing up…pruning, trimming and cleaning the Rhododendrons, Hydrangeas and Azaleas was first in order.
Pruning & Trimming Rhododendrons
I always start from the base of the plant and work my way up. I take off all the suckers that are growing straight up…cutting them right at the trunk (or collar) where it attaches to the plant. I dead head any flowers from last year. I also take out any branches that grow inward and of course any dead branches. Thinning the perennials this way helps to keep the plant healthy, allowing air flow through the plant, and allows the buds that have set to flower. The only branches I trim that have buds on them are the ones that are long and leggy sticking out much farther then the rest of the plant. I like to give it a nice balanced look and am very careful not to trim too much off. It is best to trim them right after they flower as they set next years flowers on the prior years wood. So pruning out of season, I always start from the bottom and work my way up.
Pruning & Trimming Hydrangea
The Hydrangea in this garden are mopheads. They flower in summer and should be trimmed and pruned right after flowering as next years flowers set on old wood. However, because they were so over grown and had much dead wood, they had to be trimmed. I started at the base and took out all the dead, damaged and diseased wood. I then took out the unhealthy and spindly growth as they will not produce healthy flowers. I trimmed the dead flowers off being careful to make angle cuts above the new growth. Trimming and pruning out of season will probably affect the flowers this season but there wasn’t another choice. In order for the plants to be healthy they needed to be trimmed and pruned. It will stimulate growth this season and what flowers will be there this summer will be more robust then if I had not trimmed. The plants themselves are healthy and will recover but might take till next year to have the showy display they are capable of.
If you have fall flowering Hydrangea then they should be trimmed now, during the winter months while their roots are in hybernation.
Pruning & Trimming Azaleas
There were five Azaleas in this garden. Two of them had to be taken out as they were so unhealthy they would not have recovered. There were several branches on top that had growth but none at the base of the plant. The bottom two thirds of the plant was dead with no growth at all. Think of a bouquet of flowers how long it will live in water. The top branches are similar to that. They get just enough nutrients to stay alive longer then the rest. However, they too will die just as the rest of the shrub has. It is uncertain why they died…every plant has a life span just like humans, they could have been damaged in the winter cold, they could have gotten an insect infection or a disease or fungus. Both of the Azaleas that died were the same kind and I suspect they were both planted at the same time, years before. I was careful to get all of the root out in case it was diseased or infested with insects. Ideally Azaleas should be trimmed right after flowering in early summer as the plant sets its new buds right after flowering. However, I was left no choice as the plant required a heavy pruning to get it healthy again. Although the heavy pruning might affect the flowering this season, it will recover and be more robust and have its showy flowers return by next year. These Azaleas are a type of Satsuki Hybrids such as ‘Gumpo’ grow only about 3 feet tall, while Southern Indica Hybrids such as ‘George Lindley Taber’ and ‘Mrs. G.G. Gerbing’ can grow 10 feet tall.
The final step in this garden after the clean up was to add fresh mulch. This keeps the weeds down, helps to maintain moisture, adds nutrients as it slowly breaks down and of course for its aesthetic value is priceless to the eye.