Wednesday, May 11, 2011

How To Prune Your Hydrangea

You prize your hydrangeas for their beautiful flowers. You also want to make sure you prune them at the right time to encourage the stunning blooms every season. But do you wonder whether or when to prune them?

“The first step is to determine the variety of your hydrangea,” said Tim Wood, new product manager at Proven Winners ColorChoice. “This is fairly easy to do. If your plant produces big pink or blue flowers, it is a Hydrangea macrophylla. If its flowers are round and white—or pink in the case of the new Invincibelle Spirit—the plant is a Hydrangea arborescens. Finally, if the plant has large, conical flowers, which are often white but may also be green or pink, you own a Hydrangea paniculata.”

Bigleaf Hydrangeas

If you have Hydrangea macrophylla, also known as Bigleaf Hydrangea, Wood says you can relax. This plant requires little more than a trimming and only immediately after flowering. You should never prune it in winter or spring, because it sets flower buds the year before and if you shear it back, then you will cut off all of summer’s flowers.

Newer reblooming varieties such as the Let’s Dance series from Proven Winners ColorChoice will also bloom on the current season’s growth, but you still want to leave the plant intact through spring so you can enjoy early summer flowers.

Smooth Hydrangeas

Hydrangea arborescens, also known as Smooth Hydrangea, are beloved for their adaptable nature and reliable blooms. You should prune it back in late winter or early spring. These hydrangeas bloom on “new wood”—the current season’s growth. Pruning them back at that time encourages new growth, which produces flowers. Spring pruning will also result in a fuller, stronger plant that’s less likely to flop under the weight of its abundant summer flowers. Cutting the stems back to one or two feet will leave a good framework to support the blooms.

Today, there are two new “Annabelle” Hydrangea arborescens with stronger stems, so they won’t flop after being established. Invincibelle Spirit Hydrangea is the very first pink-flowered form of “Annabelle.” Invincibelle Spirit continues to produce new pink flowers right up until frost, providing a beautiful display across several seasons in your garden, from mid-summer to fall. Incrediball Hydrangea has the biggest flowers and the strongest stems of any of the “Annabelle” hydrangeas. Incrediball produces incredibly large white blooms as big as a basketball.

Hardy Hydrangeas

Hydrangea paniculata, sometimes called Hardy Hydrangea, also blooms on new wood. You should prune it back in late winter or early spring. You can cut it back to the ground or, if you want slightly taller plants, cut it back to one to three feet. This is a great job for one of those early spring days when everything is still dormant but it’s so beautiful and warm you need to be in the garden.

A new variety of Hydrangea paniculata won’t require as much pruning to keep it smaller. The new Little Lime Hydrangea boasts the same colors and benefits of the famous “Limelight” Hydrangea though only reaching three to five feet fully grown. At one-third the size of other hardy hydrangeas, it fits well into practically any landscape. Little Lime produces bright cone-shaped lime-green flowers, later turning into pink, from mid-summer to frost.

Fortunately, even if you make a mistake and prune at the wrong time of year, these plants will forgive you. You may not have flowers for a season but, with proper timing, you’ll see them the following year. Just remember to start by correctly identifying which kind of hydrangea you have. With just a little work, you’ll get beautiful flowers from your hydrangeas year after year.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Gardening in Small Spaces

Having a big garden doesn’t mean that you have a great garden. I have seen many large gardens that are so cluttered with plant material, it makes you feel like you are in a confined space. On the other hand, I have seen balcony gardens tastefully planted, giving the illusion of space in a well defined area. In many cases, more is not always better, especially if time is a constraint. Plants and containers that are properly placed in a small space will do more to accentuate the area, giving the illusion of open expanses. With a balcony, terrace or small patio, getting the most out of the space depends on good design and proper planting. If you are limited with time, a low maintenance approach will probably serve your needs better. Increasing the hardscape materials such as water features, incorporating low maintenance plants and ground covers, will make your limited time in your small garden more enjoyable. If you are an avid plant collector, your direction should be of small, rock garden plants that will be size proportionate to your space. Either way, gardening needs to be an enjoyable past time, not a chore that needs to be taken care of on a weekly basis.


When planning your garden, be it small or large, you need to do your homework. All too often we fall into the trap of impulse buying at our local garden or home center, and we come home scratching our heads as to where to plant our flowering beauty. We end up planting our new arrival in a location that is not optimum for the plant, and it ends up in the garbage, dashing our hopes for a spectacular garden. Allot some time periods during a day to see what conditions are in your garden. Is there sun, shade or both, dependent on the time of day? When sitting in your garden, notice not only the space you are in, but also the space surrounding the garden. Is there an air conditioning unit that takes away from your serenity? Is your neighbor’s property unappealing? Sit down and make a list of all these items, then hit the web or your local library to do some research. Successful gardening is more about putting the right plant in the right place than some outlandish gardening philosophy. The most common mistake I have seen in home landscapes is that they have plants that have outgrown the area they were originally planted. A good example is the over planted weeping cherry tree planted within ten feet of the corner of a house. Within five years the tree needs to be removed - a waste of time and money.


No matter the size of your garden, your taste will influence the design of the garden. There are two major categories, formal and informal. Formal incorporates clean, crisp straight lines and has a sense of order. Gardens such as knot gardens, formal herb gardens, and rose gardens fall into this category. The most well known informal garden is the cottage garden, where the plants are not planted in strict rows, but are instead planted in flowing movements through the garden. This type can also include gardens such as wildlife, woodland and bright beds and borders. No matter what the style of garden you choose, make sure you choose it for yourself. Having a garden that reflects your tastes will only increase your interest and increase your time spent out in the garden.

Focal points

Focal points for the garden are an essential part of the design, no matter what the size of the garden. They can focus your eyes from a less appealing part of your garden to a more favorable one. Examples of focal points include birdbaths, sundials, statues and plants that are more vertical than those surrounding it. An arch or entranceway to your garden is the focal point, telling you where to enter and exit. Last but not least, water features such as small fountains or ponds can be considered double focal points; not only do they draw your eyes, but also your ears with the sound of running water.

With these few basic ideas concerning gardening in small spaces, you can begin the process of sculpting a boring or bland space into one of enjoyment and pride.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

My new online gardening magazine

Please look at my new organic gardening online magazine, Organic Gardens Today. Let me know what you think, and if you like it, make sure you share it with your friends and family. Thank you in advance! Dave

Monday, February 21, 2011


Here in the Northeast we are expecting yet another snow storm, albeit a small one (1 to 3 inches). This winter has been a very contentious one, with more snow than I can remember in my life time of winters. In January we had snow storm after snow storm, and it comes to the point of looking up to the sky and yelling “Okay, I give up. Please let me see the green grass or the early flowers of spring bulbs!” As depressing as this winter has been, there is a surefire way of bringing some color into your life, and that is by forcing some of the early flowering shrubs into bloom in your home.

This is a great time to take cuttings from your shrubs for two reasons: 1) You can see the branching habit of the shrub without being blocked by the leaves and 2) It gets you out of the house, moving around and taking a visual inventory of your plantings. Begin by looking for the dreaded three “D’s” of pruning: Dead, Diseased and Damaged. Unfortunately these first removals are not the ones you want to bring inside for forcing, but when removed, you will have a clearer picture of what can be removed for forcing without leaving the plant lop-sided or with a large hole in it. The length of the pruning cut should be 1 1/3 times the length you are looking to use. Let’s say you have a 12 inch tall vase and you want the stems to stand another 12 inches above the top of the vase. The length of the branch should be around 32 inches, and of course this is not a tape measure deal, but an eye measurement. Even though we are taking cuttings for indoor bloom, keep in mind that your pruning cut should be on an angle just above another bud that faces away from the center of the plant, for the branch to heal properly.
Gather your stems and bring them inside for a quick bath. Remember all of those cold, windy days when you didn’t even want to go outside? They took their toll on the bark of the plants, drying them out. Fill your bathtub with tepid water and allow the stems to lay submersed in the water for 2 to 3 hours. This will help hydrate the stems and buds and to make the stems think that spring has finally arrived. Remove them from the water and give them a new fresh cut approximately 2 inches above your original pruning cut and place them into a bucket or container with no more than 3 to 4 inches of water in it. Store the container of cuttings in your basement or somewhere with limited light exposure. You will need to check the water on a regular basis for level and to make sure the water does not turn green. Depending on the type of plant you have chosen and the closer to spring you are, the cuttings will take anywhere from 1 week to 6 weeks for the buds to swell to the point of blossoming. Patience is a virtue with forcing – the more patient you are, the fuller, more developed the flowers will be. During this time you will need to give the stems new fresh cuts, again on an angle, to help the flow of water through the stem. When the time comes to bring them into your living area, do not place them in direct sunlight or on a radiator or warm surface, as this will shorten the bloom period. Remove any growth or buds that will be at or below the water level to prevent moldy water. Finally, don’t worry about adding a fancy cut flower preservative to the water. Keeping the water fresh and not allowing the water to run out are the two reasons why cut flowers die quickly. If you feel you must add something to the water, mix in a children’s aspirin in the water and you will receive the same effect.
Plant Listing
This list comprises many of the common shrubs that lend themselves for forcing. I have grouped them by their “basement” time, or time from cutting to bloom, and included their flower color.
1 to 2 WEEKS
Forsythia (yellow), Honeysuckle (pink or white), Bridal Wreath Spirea (white), Cornelian Dogwood (yellow), Pussy Willow (buff), Shadblow (white), Spicebush (yellow) and Witchhazel (yellow).
3 to 4 WEEKS
Flowering Almond (pink), Flower Quince (red or orange), Mockorange (white)
Beauty Bush (pink), Deutzia (white), Redtwig Dogwood (white)

Remember the larger the flower bud (plants such as lilacs, wisteria, etc), the longer it will take for the flower to develop, and 9 times out of 10 the flowers will not be as big and beautiful as if they were left on the plant and allowed to develop naturally.
Lastly some of these cuttings will create roots. If you want to create new plants, remove the cuttings from the water when the roots are no more than ¾ of an inch long. Plant them in a soilless potting mix and return to the unheated basement. When the weather begins to change to spring, slowly acclimate the new plants to outside conditions by placing them in a protected, limited light area during the days and return them to the basement at night. After a weeks’ time, they will be ready to remain outside and start developing real roots.
Try this easy way to bring color in your home – you won’t regret it!

Saturday, February 5, 2011


In the summer months, it's sometimes hard to keep kids out of the garden, especially if you've marked off an area just for them to grow their own vegetables and flowers. But what about winter, when chilly temperatures force you inside? What can you do to keep your children interested in gardening? The answer is "plenty!" Here are some ideas to get you started thinking about indoor gardening projects for your family, scout troop, or other youth group. I'm sure you'll come up with others.

Windowsill gardens.
Try cultivating a windowsill garden when the snowdrifts keep your kids inside. All you need is a sunny spot and a few containers of soil. Herbs are an excellent choice for windowsill gardens.

Peculiar plants.
What kid wouldn't be fascinated by an insect-eating plant? Many garden centers sell Venus flytraps in their houseplant section. Then visit your library or search the Internet for more information on the natural habitat and growth habits of this unusual plant.

Watch seeds sprout.
Line a glass jar with a damp paper towel and insert several zucchini seeds between the glass and the towel. Place a lid on the jar, leave it on the kitchen counter, and check the paper every day to make sure it's still moist. Seeds should sprout in a few days. Or try bush beans instead of zucchini.

Read a book.
Books like Peter Rabbit or The Secret Garden can spark your child's interest in gardening. Ask your local librarian or bookstore owner for other suggestions.

Decorate while you wait.
Let kids indulge their natural creativity by painting inexpensive terra cotta pots to use next spring, for repotting houseplants this winter, or for birthday and thank you gifts. Kid-safe, durable paints can be purchased at most craft shops.

Get a jump on spring.
Plan a visit to your local garden center to buy seeds. Or let your child help select varieties from the seed catalogs. Then start seeds indoors to plant outside after the last frost. Ask the experts at your garden center or check your favorite gardening book to determine when to start seeds.

Worm farm.
Line a large cardboard box with a garbage bag. Fill it with soil, organic matter, and a few worms. Keep it shady and moist, but not too wet. Add kitchen scraps (vegetables only!) Worms will help teach your kids about the interdependence of plants and organisms as they turn vegetable kitchen scraps into valuable compost.

Garden crafts.
There are several projects you can try with your kids, depending on their age and interest, such as hand-painted plant markers or homemade whirligigs to put between rows to frighten off birds. Your local craft store should have all the supplies you need.

Carefully place some soil and a few mosses and plants (with roots) inside a clean mayonnaise jar. Keep your indoor garden moist with a plant mister, and cover the opening with clear plastic wrap.

Feed the birds.
Stock up on birdseed and suet at your local garden center, and feed the birds this winter. Have your child keep a record of all the species of birds that come to the feeder and what date each first was spotted.

Pot People.
Draw or paint faces on small clay pots, and then fill with soil. Plant grass seed, water, and watch the "hair" grow (aka the Chia Pet technique).

Build a birdhouse.
Birdhouse kits and plans are available at most garden centers and craft shops. This is a great activity for a cold winter's night.

The sooner we can get our children interested in gardening and the natural world around them, the better the earth’s future will be. All it takes is one activity with a child to get them hooked, and it all started with a lima bean seed for me in elementary school. Who would’ve known?