December 3, 2013

Uplift

I have been pruning the lower branches of some shrubs in an effort to create small, upright trees out of them, and the work has been very rewarding.

One is a hybrid witch hazel, Hamamelis x intermedia 'Diane'.
I am trying to love 'Diane' but it's hard. The spidery red flowers open in late winter, but they are miniscule and few and are completely obscured by brown desiccated leaves that hang on all winter.

Leaf persistence will diminish as the plant ages, from what I have read, so eventually, in years to come, the leaves will be off when the witch hazel blooms in February.

If only.

In summer Hamamelis 'Diane' is shapeless. The pleated green leaves are glossy and crisp and look nice enough, but the whole shrub was just a leafy blob.

So this fall the pruners were called for, the garden surgeon was prepped, and the lower branches were lifted up. I like the twisty, architectural shape of witch hazel 'Diane' much better now with bare branches below.

Imagine this as a small, spreading tree. Imagine those candelabra stems as thicker trunks, shapely and twisting. Imagine.

I also limbed up a viburnum. It's a Viburnum prunifolium, which wants to be a multi stemmed bush about 10 feet high. But with some pruning of the lower stems, they can be trees, and can reach 20 feet in height.

I started when the viburnum was a small shrub, and made cuts over three seasons. The trunks were twisted together and the cuts looked crude, and I thought I had butchered the whole thing.

But this fall I was happy with the way the bottom of this blackhaw viburnum is lifted up, exposing a few multiple curved trunks

There is a green plastic mesh tube around the stems, please ignore that. It's there to protect this shrub-becoming-a-tree from the deer. Just imagine this viburnum as a twenty foot tree, with elegant curving trunks and a wide crown of foliage, covered in flat white blooms in May.

The best I can do is show you a suggestion of what is to come -- the white viburnum blossoms were only at the bottom this spring because a frost got the upper blooms, but imagine how it will be. Imagine.

I am also limbing up another Viburnum prunifolium that is planted near the house, between the air conditioning units. An unfortunate placement.

It started as such a tiny thing in 2006, not even a foot high, but unlike the other blackhaw viburnum, it always had a single trunk, even as a tiny sapling.
And unlike the other blackhaw, it is stiffly branched, reaching out all over. I have kept the lower branches limbed up, and I like how tree-like it is becoming.

Another shrub that can be a small tree is Cornus mas, cornelian cherry dogwood. It is not naturally as tree-like as a flowering dogwood, but it is not suckering and thickety like redtwig dogwoods. Sort of in-between, it just seems to want to be a tree, so I'll help it.
I trimmed off some lower branches, but still need to do something with that rightmost stem jutting off to the side. A vee-shaped double trunk might be nice, but I'm thinking I should eliminate it. Maybe.

Imagine the dogwood all grown up and spreading, with a strong central trunk and those droopy leaves providing shade. And in early spring, before the leaves come out, it is covered in a yellow haze of flowers, looking for all the world like a forsythia, but standing upright.

To help you imagine that, here's a mature one in bloom, limbed up, but with three trunks. Maybe I should keep that angled stem on mine?

Another dogwood, Cornus racemosa, is the last of my pruning projects. This one you really will have to imagine -- I don't have much to show, since mine is little. I just planted a one-gallon container plant this fall.

It is called gray dogwood, and it can form big mounding thickets that cover some real estate. But trimmed and kept in check, they can be graceful trees.

Here is one just leafing out in spring at Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. It takes some work to get this form. Gray dogwoods I have seen growing naturally are quite weedy and rangy, sending stems up all over.

But I am encouraged with the successes I have had so far pruning my other dogwood and the viburnums and witch hazel into small trees. I think I can keep the new gray dogwood gracefully pruned too.

There is something in this work that makes me feel like a sculptor. It's very uplifting.

31 comments:

  1. As you should feel like a sculptor - you have beautiful sculptures in your garden. I love all of the tree trunks, their twists and turns are interesting to look at.

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    1. Kathryn, unlike weeding and digging, pruning can be an artistic outlet!

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  2. Laurrie, yes, I can imagine your trees well shaped! I have cornus 'Elegantissima' with striped leaves and I prune it each spring. "The best friend of gardener is....PRUNERS"
    Happy December!

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    1. Nadezda, I like that expression about pruners being the best friend of a gardener! So true.

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  3. Your prunning makes me want to get out in the garden and get busy. I am usually very shy with the pruners but your sculpting makes the shrubby trees look so nice. I can see where you are going with these trees/shrubs.

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    1. Lisa, doesn't it make you itchy to be out there? I am looking for more things to prune and must restrain myself now.

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  4. I love what you are doing to your shrubs. Eye Candy, for sure. Makes me want to get out the pruners too.

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    1. Patty, thanks. It's taken a while, but I am finally seeing what these shrubs will look like eventually and it pleases me.

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  5. Dear Sculptor,

    Your attention and passion are serving you well. I know you know that dogwood has to lose that right-leaning would-be trunk. Enjoy the sculpting.

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    1. Lee, you know you are my idol when it comes to fearless pruning, don't you? I am so much bolder than before, and loving the results, but I have a long way to go before I can wield the tools of artistic shaping the way you do!

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    2. Well, your words are head-swelling, Laurrie, but you know what you like, and that's a huge part of pruning, along with fearlessness. Annnd, willingness to live with your mistakes. However you get there, you continue to prune your garden into a beautiful place.

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  6. This post was very timely, as I recently made a resolution that I would start limbing up my shrubs. I have absolutely no idea how to go about this, though (besides hacking off everything below a designated point). Reading this post and others you have written, I get the feeling that it's a little more complicated than that. Any advice?

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    1. Sarah, what shrubs are you thinking about limbing up? I wouldn't try to do the ones that want to sucker sideways or run (bottlebrush buckeyes, redtwig dogwoods, itea). But others that have strong centers or lots of upright stems are good candidates -- just start cutting off the lowest branches, then stand back and look. Cut, stand back, assess --- it's kind of fun!

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  7. Huh, I wonder if I will live long enough to see my witch hazel drop its leaves before it blooms. That would be something.

    Good job with the pruning! Blackhaw makes a great little tree -- there's a beautiful specimen at the NC Botanical garden. Yours looks great.

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    1. Sweetbay, I wonder how long it takes for witch hazels to be "mature" enough to drop their leaves? We were just at the NC Botanical Garden in Sept., and I don't think I noticed the pruned blackhaw -- dang!

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    2. I'll have to look for the blackhaw when we're there again. It was right next to Totten Center on the side facing the Medicinal Garden, unless it got too big and was cut down.

      Did you get any pictures while you were there? Were you planning on posting about it? I have all sorts of plant geek questions to ask. ("Did you see this? Did you see that?")

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    3. I think we are talking about two different gardens -- I was at the No. Carolina Arboretum (not Botanical Garden as I mis-stated!) in Asheville. I think you are talking about the botanical garden in Chapel Hill. Now you're making me want to do another trip and see Chapel Hill!

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  8. Indeed, you are a sculptor, Laurrie--beautiful work! I admire your bravery; I'm such a timid pruner, but I have some shrubs I want to be more upright, too. Your photos are inspiring me to get out those pruners next spring and be fearless!

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    1. Rose, just start at the bottom and then keep stepping back after every two cuts to see what you've done : )

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  9. Sometimes I think of gardener is an editor, but in this case I think sculpture is a better creative choice. Pruning requires a good eye and you are thinking about form and shape the whole time you are working. It is this creative side to gardening that I love so much.

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    1. Jennifer, you are so right, pruning is the truly creative part of gardening, more so than design or plant choices I think!

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  10. You are a true artisan! You gave me the chills with this post! I can not get over how beautiful your specimens are!! I have 2 blackhaws...what I would do to make mine look like yours...if only I could have you over to help me! Mine have so many multiple trunks and I have not been brave enough to go after it yet. Yours looks so elegant and beautiful!!! WOW! You have given me so much to think about!

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    1. Nicole, I knew you were growing a couple small blackhaws. If you do want the open bottom, go after them this winter. You can see from my photo that the original cutting looked like a hack job -- I took off branches that left ugly stubs. But the tree recovered and the results were worth it!

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  11. Pruning is such an art--I envy your skills and your forethought!

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    1. Heather, the skills are developing. It turns out pruning is a lot of trial and error!

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  12. I love what you have done to these small trees....

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  13. One of the best rewards of gardening is watching your babies grow year after year and knowing you played a hand in how they have grown. These babies can be seedlings, small perennial transplants, or shrubs and trees. Watching shrubs and trees over time is especially rewarding ... like watching children ... as the caretaker you know just how much tweaking went into what they become. Great job, Laurrie!

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    1. Joene, I love that analogy to shaping and tweaking children as they grow. It really is rewarding (kids and trees both!)

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  14. Absolutely my favorite garden chore is pruning, and limbing up is pruning in its greatest art form, in my opinion. You have done an excellent job and your shrubs/trees will give you so much pleasure in years to come. I am itching to get out into my garden with my own pruners.

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    1. Deb, I remember seeing some of the good work you did limbing up your trees and shrubs. It really is very satisfying to do!

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