flowers, garden, pruning

Pruning a clematis

My clematis, a jackmanii variety, has been growing wild for about 10 years.


I trim it back to the ground in the fall, and it successfully regenerates itself each spring.  I train it on a trellis to reach the height of the mailbox in the mailbox garden.  I’m pretty sure the mailman would appreciate some pruning efforts on this one!

I found an excellent guide for pruning most types of clematis.  Raymond Evison describes three ways to prune, depending on the variety as well as the results you are looking to achieve.  This is the suggested procedure for pruning my jackmanii –


Here’s a specimen that climbs the trellis to add the height in the lamp post garden.  I train it up a small trellis then attach some twine to the post for the tendrils that climb even higher.


This year, I’ve noticed many clematis in the neighborhood that appear to be more tame than mine, and I rather like that look.  They may be younger specimens, but I’m hoping that a little pruning care will tame my wild boys just a bit.


garden, pruning, trees

Pruning the crabapple

CrabappleI have been wanting to thin the death out of the crabapple tree for a few years now, and Sean helped me achieve it this past weekend!  The few moments of manpower he contributed really kept me focused – he had minimal time between periods of the NBA playoffs (!) so I had to make haste with my pruning decisions.  He loves the new chainsaw (as do I!) and he also loves the fact that he won’t be ducking under the low branches that we trimmed off when he’s out cutting the grass.

There are many good sources for advice on trimming your crabapple tree – I found a few just by Googling “Pruning Crabapple Trees”.


When to Prune a Crabapple

But is spring really the optimal time to be pruning the crabapple?  According to what I’ve read, the best time is late winter through early spring.  Considering the extreme cold and snow of this most recent winter, there was no way I was pruning in January or February!  The tree may have survived, but I’m not sure I would have.

The best time to prune is before the tree blooms in last spring, so I’m hoping I didn’t do too much damage by taking my shots at it in late April.  It’s still pretty cool outside, and with the leaves just starting to emerge, I was able to determine quite easily which branches were dead.


How to Prune a Crabapple

Some very basic guidance:

  • You should never take more than 1/4 of the branches (not that I’m counting!),
  • Remove the shoots that are heading straight up – they are suckers that should be removed
  • Any branches that cross or touch should be eliminated (a skiing friend use to tell me “x’s are bad”)
  • Don’t try to prune the entire tree in one season.  Less pruning is better than too much, just realize you should consider making this an annual event for at least 3 seasons.


Tools to Use

Most of my pruning was done with loppers and a long pruner with a pull rope.

But some of the larger branches had to be removed using a small 10″ chainsaw.  I found my small chainsaw on – it’s a GreenWorks brand that comes with a pole for higher pruning action!  As I’m still in training with this tool, I wasn’t comfortable using it any further than my hand could reach, but it’s a nice option for this future lumberjack!

Caution! Lady with a chainsaw!


It didn’t take 10 minutes of chainsaw action to bring the neighbors out to take a gander.  Of course, Elaine brought out a basket of cookies, which made Sean’s efforts totally worth it!

John wanted to know what we would be doing with all the trimmings – I will be cutting them up into kindling and firewood for a few summertime fires I have planned.  I found a great idea for the firepit and can’t wait to have Sean help me with that!



The Stained Glass Bird Feeder

Spent part of the day raking leaves, making some natural mulch for the flower beds.  I rake them up and then run them over with the lawnmower.  Spread and water.  I hear it’s nature’s best mulch, returning 87% of the trees’ nutrients back to the soil.  Ultimate recycling!

I’ve had one lonely bird feeder in the butterfly garden, bought strictly on its beauty and color dynamics.


I’ve only filled it a couple of times.  According to the Audubon Society, I’ve really placed it in the worst possible location EVER.

Too low – predators can reach it from the ground.

Too little sun – I guess birds appreciate the sunshine for warmth in winter.

Too close to the dog run – Willis would scare the birds away.

So I’ve moved it to a sunnier, higher, out of the dog’s path location, a lower branch of the crabapple tree.  The robins have been feasting on the crabapples and I’m hoping to attract other birds to the yard with this feeder.


I’m also hoping to get better at capturing photos of the birds.

family, trees

Garden Momma Blues

Working in the yard this weekend, I finally dug out the roots of a former hemlock and planted a small corner garden. I had intended to put in a Japanese maple, and found a weeping variety called Acer palmatum Ryusen.  From what I hear, the leaves will turn bright red in the fall, so I’m now waiting for the show!

As I was putting the garden tools back in the shed, I was delighted to spot a new bloom – a blue hydrangea!

He surprised me because the rest of the blooms on this plant this year had been pink.

I was so excited, I ran in to the house to bring my daughter out and show her this beautiful new bloom.  I told her how the science of the soil determines the color of the flowers of the hydrangea. “This stuff really excites you, huh mom?”

She plugged her earphones back into her head and wandered off.  She was less than impressed.

pruning, trees

Lessons in pruning .. .. ..

It strikes me that most of the shrubs and trees in my yard are growing out of control.  It also strikes me that my beautiful crabapple tree, which catches my attention this morning because it is about to burst into bloom, is a little lopsided.  The tree was planted a little close to the property line, and does tend to grow over the neighbor’s driveway.  As I look a little closer, it has been hacked on the side that stretches over the driveway.  My dear neighbor must have taken it upon himself to trim it back just a bit – that’s OK.  He’s retired and really doesn’t like to bother me.  Just makes me realize that I’m really neglecting my yard.  I spend so much time out there, weeding – planting – edging – cutting grass, but I never find the time to actually trim the trees and bushes.

Quite frankly, it scares me.

Of all the things I do in the yard, I’ve never quite mastered the art of pruning.  I have been eyeing up the lilac bush for years now.  It’s growing so tall that the blooms are out of reach.  My garden mentor once told me to trim it back to about 3 feet from the ground, and new growth will establish and bloom the next year.  You don’t want to attempt this pruning until after the blooms of spring are dead.  If you try it in the summer, you will prune the blooms for next year.  Of course, with the way that lilac has grown, I’m really going to need to get a chainsaw and get on a ladder to bring it down.  Chainsaws on ladders . . . sounds like an accident waiting to happen.  Are those bees actually drilling holes in my fence?  Sweet distractions . . .

The crabapple itself needs to be thinned.  There are so many dead branches that could be removed, as well as suckers that grow straight up.  Garden mentor showed me once that if the branches cross, you have to trim one back.  Make sure to trim the entire branch, so you don’t make the tree sick.  Of course, this might mean climbing the tree or a ladder, and just thinking about that exercise makes me want to think of pulling those dandelions out.  Sweet distractions . . .

Goal for post-blooming . . . prune that lilac, and trim that crabapple.  Now that I’ve written it, it will surely happen.


deck garden, pruning

Lamenting the wisteria . . . .

So the azalea, rhododendron, and hostas all survived the Freeze warnings we have had for the past couple of weeks.  I walked out on the deck yesterday, and to my horror, the wisteria that I’ve been waiting for 10 years to bloom got bit by the frost.  I cannot believe I did not think to cover this vine; it has been trained up the railing of my deck and was going to look spectacular this spring.  

I have had this wisteria for a good 10 years, and for the first 8 I could not figure out why it wouldn’t bloom.  I knew it would take a few years, as I bought it as a very young plant.  I patiently trained it up the two story flight of stairs to the deck.  I googled it, only to discover that you need to prune it to encourage blooms.  

So two falls ago, I pruned it for the first time.  Last summer, we had about 4 sprays of blooms, and I was so very excited!  This past  fall I pruned it very aggressively, and with our early spring, it was holding hundreds of possible blooms. 

I took Son#2 out to show him the blooms, and to plead with him not to pick them off.  They were the sort of tempting vegetation he loves to destroy, and I wanted to make sure he knew that it wasn’t to be messed with.  He understood.  

But I forgot my dear wisteria.  As I went out to the deck yesterday, I discovered the hundreds of blooms are dead.  The hostas in the backyard are protected and I never even stepped into the back to cover things.  They were going to survive.  But my wisteria won’t be blooming again this year.  I must be patient and wait yet another year.  

flowers, garden, trees

Happy Spring!

I simply cannot believe the outstanding weather we have been experiencing since Phil saw his shadow.  I wonder if that prognosticator has a clue?  The past 2 weeks have brought record setting temps to the ‘burgh, which made the first day of Spring rather anti-climatic.  Not that I’m complaining, but as my favorite day of the year approached, I did not find myself in my usual state of countdown.  In fact, my DD sort of sprung the news on me one day last week.  I had to look at the calendar to make sure she was correct . . . and of course, she was!

You should see the beautiful blooming trees – a ride to the office has turned into such a breathtaking view.  Flowering trees line the streets of Homestead; these same trees line the parking lot at Kennywood.  Weeping Cherry trees are in full bloom all over my neighborhood.  My crabapple is going to be fantastic this year.  And I hope I didn’t trim the buds from my white azaleas…
The daffodils and crocus are up, I’m waiting patiently for tulips.  I spotted 3 bunnies in the yard last night, and for some reason, they enjoy those tulips.  Time to find the chicken wire cages to protect them.  I usually have lilacs around Mother’s Day, but I doubt they are still around for May.  At this rate, I wonder exactly what flowers will be blooming come May.
trees, weather

Ice in the trees

Mid-January in Pittsburgh.  Hardly seems like the time or place to start thinking about gardening.  But a girl can dream! 

I’m actually listening to ice pellets hitting the windows at this moment.  It’s only 28 degrees out there, and the ice on the grass will soon be covered by the estimated 2-4 inches of snow.  The gardener in me often wonders why I live here – we don’t get much sunshine – in the US, second only to Seattle for cloud covered days.  I really believe the dreary majority of days helps me truly appreciate the sun when it does appear.  That’s what I keep telling myself . . .

Thank you, Lord, for this beautiful day – for this ice storm that is surely creating crystal encapsulated trees that the snow will cling to.  I can’t wait to see your magnificent work in the morning light!