Archive for pruning

Fun in the sun: Keeping your yard safe for kids and pets

Checking for Landscape Safety Hazards

Checking your Residential Landscape Design for Hazards in Portland.

Your kids spend the cold and wet Portland winter months cooped up inside, looking for things to do and ways to burn off a whole lot of pent-up energy. When the weather finally warms up in the spring, it’s a mad rush for bicycles, balls and frisbees. Children know only that it’s finally warm enough to play outside; they’re not thinking about potential yard hazards from winter. If you haven’t examined your home’s exterior carefully, your kids, their friends and your pets may be at risk for a mishap that could turn a long-awaited romp in the yard into a trip to the local ER. While most trips turn into a great story for the kids to tell their pals, it’s hair raising while it is happening.

Checking for safety hazards

You wouldn’t turn your kids loose in your basement or a rumpus room you hadn’t checked for safety hazards. You should approach your yard the same way because children and the family dog are going to spend a lot of time out there.

Trees and shrubs

Clearing away yard debris  (fallen branches and sharp twigs) from winter storms, is easy to think of but looking up into your trees to ensure there are no broken but still hanging branches is a less obvious task.  Loose branches are a danger to children playing under or near a tree and should be cut down and removed. It’s hard to see these loose branches once the trees are fully leafed.  Also, check the ground around trees for unexplained disturbed soil, or excessive limb-drop.  Either of these are a sign to call an ISA certified arborist to check on the health of your trees.

ShrubsIce on Joe Pye Weed in Portland landscape. and small trees can encroach into path and patio areas. Check that branches are not protruding into paths especially at eye level of small children and adults.  While not all shrubs can be pruned in late winter and early spring, a single branch or two can and should be removed even when you are not sure about the proper timing for pruning.

Fall Landscape Hazards

Lichen and moss build up on walkways, patios and decks which makes the area super slick and slimy.  They must be scrubbed, or pressure washed multiple times in winter and spring especially on the north side of the house or in shady areas.  Be sure your lighting for your entry walk is functional especially if you live on a street with no street lights.  The lighting needs to extend to the area where your guests park.

Dog friendly landscape designer PortlandExamine the equipment

Your swing set and other play equipment look especially inviting to eager children throughout the winter. Take a few minutes to check it thoroughly before the kids swarm all over it. Make certain that there are no sharp points or edges, or exposed and rusty nails or screws that could cause a dangerous cut. Chains should be secure, and any stakes or stabilizing devices that keep the frame anchored to the ground should be tightly fastened to the ground.

If your swing set is made of wood, keep it stained and sealed to minimize fragments and prevent weather damage. If you didn’t store away detachable components, such as vinyl connecting parts, make sure they haven’t worn down to the point of breaking. Remember that all play equipment should be surrounded by sand, mulch or soft synthetic material to guard against injury.

Patios and wooden decks

Ice, rain and wind can do a lot of residual damage to a deck during the winter. Wooden planks and railings produce fragments and splinters, a danger to kids and pets. That’s why wooden decks should be stained and sealed at least every two years and they will last longer too. The heavy winter rains can wash away soil and undermine paths, patios and walls or re direct water to your foundation.  Sometimes these changes happen slowly over a few years, but spring is a great time to assess water issues on your property.

Diligence and maintenance

If there’s one place your children and pets should be safe from harm, it’s their own backyard. Keeping them safe as they play and roam outside is a relatively simple task – it just requires diligence and routine cleaning and maintenance. Doing a thorough check of your property in spring is a great time to do this.  It’s well worth it to see your little ones enjoying themselves outdoors after a long winter.

If your Portland area yard is overwhelming you, contact me for help with your residential landscape. 


Hydrangea Pruning Made Simple

Spring Hydrangea Pruning

A lot of my clients have asked me to help them with pruning their hydrangeas.

Hydrangea serrata 'Preziosa'

This blog addresses mophead hydrangea pruning.  Hydrangea pruning is simple and easy once you know the rules.  There is a link to a pruning video at the end of this blog produced by Cass Turnball of Plant Amnesty to help you feel more confident.  There are 5 kinds of hydrangeas.  This blog only addresses mophead hydrangea pruning.


Hydrangea serrata 'Preziosa'

Why prune hydrangea at all?

Why prune hydrangea plants at all?  Like most plants, pruned hydrangea shrubs will have a better shape so they look good regardless of the flowering aspect.  Many of us buy a hydrangea and think it will be 4’ x 4’.  Over time, many varieties will grow to 7’ tall.  It is very important to plant the right plant in the right place so you don’t have to be frustrated.  There are some varieties that are going to mature at and be easily kept in the 4’ to 5’ range.  We prune to achieve that height as well as a good shape.  If you have a variety that wants to be 7 or even 8 feet tall every year even with proper pruning, the best answer is to remove the plant and buy a variety whose size works for your garden.  Old Arts and Crafts homes with 6’ high foundations are perfect for the hydrangeas that are most cheerful at 7’.  They don’t work as well for homes with a 12” foundation or a small yard.Another reason we prune is to remove stems that no longer flower.

rabbit ears 2

Nicely pruned and open plant

We prune hydrangeas in early to mid March in the Pacific NW.  We start pruning our plants when they are about 3 years old or when you see the oldest stems are developing bark.  Remove the oldest woody canes.  On a young plant this might mean removing only 1 or 2 stems.  We remove dead stems and canes and we deadhead flowers back to the first lateral buds.  I think of these buds as rabbit ears.  I love this task.  I think it’s because I’m close to the ground and my soil smells good.  I typically see 2 colors of buds at this time.  The burgundy buds are just a bump on the stems.  The tiny green buds (the rabbit ears) are such a vivid green.  It says spring to me (and no it doesn’t rain every minute even in March).  These are days when a wool sweater and a down vest are perfect for comfort.

hydrangea 1 heads banner

Joy Creek Nursery Hydrangea Garden

There is more to the story about hydrangea pruning. Occasionally there are individual plants that didn’t read the rule book.  My garden coach client Mary followed the proper pruning techniques and she lost all her flowers for the year!!  AAACK!!  Her plants are 30 plus years old.  Since that debacle Mary only deadheads her plants, again just down to the first buds and she removes old woody stems.  Her plants always flower beautifully and are the focal point of her summer garden.  I’ve never had this happen to me but I’ve heard about it often enough from other professionals to know that some plants are probably genetically different than others.  If you don’t prune at all, your plants will get big and ungainly looking.  A build up of deadwood may diminish their flowering capacity.

For a detailed lesson on pruning mop head hydrangeas, see this video.

Winters come early, protect your plants

I recently was a guest on a radio talk show, Real Estate Today, with Gloria Hahn of the Hahn group.  Once again it was fun, I was only a little nervous and it went well.

Some of the things we talked about was winter weather damage.  There are many kinds of damage that occur due to weather.  There are a few things you can do to minimize the damage.

Don't let your Daphne "catch" downspout disease.

Don’t let your Daphne “catch” downspout disease.

One is to be vigilant about clogged downspouts….many a Daphne has died in May because of the root rot that happened from sheets of water coming over the gutters in November. Don’t let your downspouts and gutters clog up. I never plant a Daphne or a shrub that is prone to root rot near the downspout.

Unless you are a horticultural expert, don’t prune evergreens and most plants in the winter or late fall.  This can bring a plant out of dormancy or keep it from going dormant.  When snow and ice hit it’s a good thing to be dormant and miss it all. Professionals like to prune Japanese maples in late November to early January here in the Pacific Northwest.  This plant is dormant at this time and will not “wake up” in response to pruning.

Do spread a 2” layer of mulch or compost around your plants once your winter landscape is cleaned up.  You don’t want to put the compost over a bunch of decaying leaves. Mulch helps protect plant roots from extreme cold.  If you have trees whose leaves don’t drop until December, you need to wait ’til these leaves have dropped.

Most of my clients these days ask for a low water landscape design.  I mention this with regard to winter plant protection because these plants must have good drainage in the winter.  The crown or stems at the soil level are very prone to rot.  I like to mulch the crowns with minus ten crushed rock.  I place the tiny crushed rock around the plant, not over the top of the plant.  This helps roll winter water away from the plant’s crown.  It is critical to keep bark dust or mulch away from the crowns of these perennials and shrubs.  If you have mulch or bark dust blown in, this can have disastrous consequences.  You must go out after they have blown the mulch and sweep it out of the plant centers.  I use a small wisk broom for this but when desperate; fingers will do a nice job too.

Custom iron gate in snow

Cold weather is early again this year.

The current weather pattern says we are in for very cold temperatures well before normal.  There will be damage from these cold temps but we may not see the damage until April.  We also just went through a wet rainy spell and wind storm. One of the big issues from this will be plants that got soaked from clogged downspouts and are in the process of root rot as we speak.  Again you will not know it happened until April or May when the plant needs water to deal with the sun and the warmth and it is trying to grow roots back.

Five Important Garden Tips

Five Important Garden Tips You Need

Treating blackberry and ivy with Roundup in the spring and early summer is pretty much useless.  There is a time when these plants are most susceptible to herbicide. It’s a million times more effective in late summer and early fall.   In an ideal world we would not use herbicides at all, if you are going to use them you want to use them sparingly and at a time when they will be effective.  For information on how to do it right see my blog:  Treating blackberry and ivy .

Over watering or under watering new plant material.  Your common sense will kill your plants if you don’t have the specific information for the specific plant type.  You can’t water a new tree the same way you would water your petunias.  I insist my garden coach clients have a written watering plan for the first two years of their new landscape.  I tell them how long to water and to hand check the soil to see if their efforts are successful.  Last, but not least, if you’re watering every day you are in line for losing a lot of new plant material.

Sedum s Red Carpet in winter

Colorful tough ground cover for full sun

Plant labels lie.  Trust me it’s not a conspiracy, but they write the label so that it makes  sense for the entire country.  In the Northwest we have the ideal growing conditions so plants will grow taller and wider than indicated.  In addition, just because a plants’ mature size is 15’ tall, does not mean it will stop growing once it gets there.

Light.  Labels don’t have enough room to explain the complexities of sunlight, let alone the four different kinds of shade.    Great Plant Picks is a great information resource in many ways, and has an excellent explanation about the different kinds of shade.   There is no perfect solution, even checking the Web will get you four different suggestions for light requirements on a single plant.  This is why experienced gardeners often move plants that don’t seem to thrive in the first location they select.  Others hire designers who know these things first hand.

Carol on a garden coach appointment.

“Thank you so much for all your information today and your helpful phone call Saturday.  I was pulling out plants in my mind as I was going to sleep last night.  I can’t wait to get started!”  D’Anne Oneill

Pruning.  My best advice is don’t let your father-in-law prune your Japanese Maple!  Do not do hedge pruning on plants that are not hedges.  You need to learn how to do a thinning style of pruning. While I certainly advocate for hiring a garden coach (since I am one) you can learn from a local nursery, community college or someone who has trees and shrubs that don’t have a bunch of stubs on them.  We want pruning that will enhance a plant’s natural and unique shape.