Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Hacked Hollies

Cold, in the 40s, overcast. I worked outside in a parka and was never warm despite a lot of physical activity.

I have found ticks in the bathroom each of the past several days when I come in from outside and undress. I'm now spraying myself with DEET when I go out, and checking every body part when I come in (at my age that takes a certain brand of courage.)

Last night, despite my precautions, a little bugger of a tick was crawling across my computer screen! This was after I had showered and checked, and made sure I was tick free. There it was, definitely a tick making its way across the lighted screen. Eerrrrgh.

The spruce berm has always been tick-laden, with the dense foliage of both the spruces and the blue hollies (Ilex meserveae China Girl).

That's where I had spent the day, hacking away at the hollies and, distressingly, picking up ticks.

At first I tried to prune the burned leaves off the poor hollies. Then I decided to take them out, and Jim helped me saw them to the ground -- all of them, gone now, and the berm is much improved.

I have never seen winterburn as bad as it was on the blue hollies this spring.

Usually they come through winter just fine. This year the leftmost, which is the largest and gets the most sun, was dried crispy brown all over, head to toe.

I tried to prune off the dead leaves, but in the end it was the whole shrub that was desiccated, right into the interior, and my pruning turned into a total hatchet job. I just whacked away, and not much was left.

From the backside you can see how much was trimmed out. It looks kind of architectural, but not what a holly should be.

The kicker is that last summer and fall was the first year these hollies looked so good. Full of berries. Dark and glossy and dense. I had shaped them into stiff pyramids, which I liked.

Was my shaping to blame? Did shearing them last summer encourage new growth that wasn't hardy?

My hatcheted hollies were alive and would fill back in -- they are pretty forgiving and the bare stems are alive. But I decided it was time for them to go.

In 2005 they were so little and it was impossible to imagine them ever crowding the spruces.

But in 9 years those cute little holly pyramids grew, and the spruces did too and the hollies ended up impinging on the bottom of each spruce. I don't need them to fill the gaps any more, and the gaps between the spruces are quickly closing.

Between crowding from the hollies and too much shade from the river birch, I am losing lower branches on several of the spruces.

Those dead spruce branches need to be trimmed off. They will not regrow even if I clear out the hollies or remove the shade from the river birch. So the spruces, as they get even larger, will be skimpy and bare at the bottom. Ugh.

Really, the river birch in front should go too. It wants to be much branchier and much bigger and it is shading the rightmost spruce way too much. The river birch should be removed, but I'm not quite ready for that. Yet.

But the hollies I was ready to sacrifice.

Here are two shots of the berm, one in fall and one in winter of last year, which help me see how the hollies were affecting the bottoms of the spruces, and how visually their dense little forms kept the berm from looking more naturalistic. It was time to hack them down completely.

I liked the layers of tall trees, dense spruces, and punctuations of holly bushes for a while. For 9 years, actually. But now, with them gone, I like the more natural open look.

When the weather improves and the sun is out, I will get a picture of the berm without the holly shrubs, and prove that hacking them down was the right move.

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