When it comes to pruning, I am the ultimate Nervous Nellie. Always too afraid to take off too much.
But John’s Tiger Tommy approach to pruning is slowly taking the edge off my fear. Where once I would cover my eyes when he came out of the shed with hedge trimmers in hand, I can now watch with only a modicum of trepidation.
It has still taken me a number of years to get to this level. Probably because of my absolute terror, (and I mean that!), barely three weeks before our eldest daughter’s wedding in the garden, when John hazed the beautiful, sea-of-pink-flowering Phuopsis stylosa (Caucasian crosswort) right to the ground.
Well, yes…it was starting to look a little tired and it likely would have looked pretty spent by The Big Day…but I had been hooked on having lots of colour in the garden for the event.
Turned out to be a good call on John’s part as the plant did rejuvenate itself in time but only to the point where it had fresh buds. No flowers. I had to concede even fresh green was definitely better than spent and dying.
So now I have graduated to a Cautious Connie, wielding my very own pruners with some determination. Taking some of the pressure off of John as he has oodles to prune in his garden without having to bail me out all the time.
Pruning is pretty much what is needing to be done in our garden right now. Lots of cutting back and pruning to shape.
Fruit trees and grape vines to be brought into some semblance of control for bearing the most produce. Roses to be curtailed so they remain in their place. Hedges to be trimmed so they still look like hedges. You know the drill.
But always I run into what I call the “questionables” and up steps Nervous Nellie to the forefront again.
Take the hellebores, for instance.
I know the leaves need to be cut back but when and how much? One reference says they should be all removed before the new buds appear. Another tome recommends pruning out the older foliage sometime between December and February. Who is right?
This Nervous Nellie theorizes the plant needs its chlorophyll for photosynthesizing food for bud development. So, right or wrong, it is my practice to just cut back the old, tattered leaves and leave the rest.
Seems to work.
My method does not impact on the floral display since most hellebore species sprout their flowering stems and new leaves from the centre while the older leaves have a tendency to lay down slightly around the perimeter.
BTW, you should keep an eye on your hellebore leaves throughout the season. Clean up any decaying or diseased ones as the plants are susceptible to hellebore leaf spot…a fungus disease like black spot.
Moving over from the hellebores are my two bishop’s hat plants…Epimedium x rubrum and E. x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’. Now for this stellar genus I have become a decidedly Assured Annie pruner.
As lovely as the evergreen foliage is on these guys, it must be hacked completely back if you are to see the delicate flowers at all. And you should do it NOW! I already have new buds forming on my ‘Sulphureum’ and E. x rubrum is not far behind. Wait too long to cut the foliage back and you likely will tag the flower stems too.
But now I am back to Cautious Connie…what to do about the Hepatica nobilis (liverwort) finery? Some say to leave it and some say to whack it. Who do you believe?!
I think I will put my faith in Tiger Tommy. He has yet to steer me wrong…as intimidating as his pruning style is…and he says to whack hepaticas back just if they are looking ratty. Rattiness takes away from the beautiful blue of the flowers.
Leslie Cox co-owns Growing Concern Cottage Garden in Black Creek. Her website is at www.duchessofdirt.ca and her column appears every second Friday in the Record.