Tuesday, April 21, 2015

I Waited Too Long

We had pouring down soaking rain and a thunderstorm passed through last night. Two inches of rain in all. With warming April weather, everything has greened up and is taking off. The grass is now deep green and thick.

Before the rain, on a nice dry day, I pruned a third of the stems of the redtwig dogwoods by the creekbed.

This is a new stand I created a couple years ago from rooted cuttings I took from the original redtwig dogwoods (Cornus sericea 'Isanti') that were planted by the front door in 2006. The cuttings transplanted easily and grew lustily.

The stems are bright red, and to keep them that color, you need to cut out older stems and let the new young growth pop up -- young branches have the reddest color, and older stems turn brown. You have to cut the branch all the way back to the ground; if you lop off stems halfway up you get bunchy growth where you cut, all at the top and that's not what you want.

I did a good job with these young redtwig dogwoods.

A third of the branches were sacrificed, and that was a lot of branchy growth. The stems were cut all the way down to the ground. It looks a little sparse now but new growth will leap up.

But I made a real mistake with the original stand by the house.

I thought you were supposed to wait until the plant needed renewal, and then start taking out a third of the older stems. So I decided to wait until the red color faded and then do the renewal pruning to bring up the new growth.

But the red never faded. So I never did any pruning. For 9 years.

Mistake. Mistake. I waited too long.

I noticed in 2014 that some older brown branches were finally starting to be visible tangled up with the red. So I thought . . .  okay, time for renewal. In early spring, 2015, let's go take out a third of the older, brown branches before the shrub leafs out.

What faced me in early April was daunting. Where to start in this congested mess? Apparently it was a big mistake waiting for 9 years to start renewal pruning.

Here's what you need to know about pruning redtwig dogwoods: it has to be done every year, right from the start, even if the color is still good, even though the red stems are still vigorous and there are no old brown branches yet.

Just start taking out a third of what's there. Each year. From the beginning. Bigger branches first.

I can't get at this mess now with my little pruning saw and loppers and at my age I am not going to try diving in there and wriggling around in the brush. I called a landscaper and next winter she is going to rejuvenate my neglected redtwig dogwoods. (It's too late now this year, as they are starting to leaf out.)

I let it go too long, thinking it didn't need to be done until the effects of diminished color were visible. Not so.

But I am happy with the proactive pruning I've done on the newer dogwoods by the creekbed.

I started early with those and will do it each year, and they won't be such a daunting project later on.

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