Welcome to my zone 9a habitat garden near Houston, Texas.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Pruning therapy

I've been pruning like mad this week. It's late January, after all, and, here in Southeast Texas, it's time or past time when the grapevines and other fruit trees and shrubs need to be pruned. The grapevines were most critical so I decided to start with them.

If you wait to start pruning until dormancy begins to break in the grapevines, you risk damaging the vines. In fact, it is possible for the vines to actually "bleed" to death as their sap leaks away through the cuts. So I was anxious to get this particular job completed.

The vines grow rampantly each year and, no matter how much we cut them back in the winter, by the end of the growing season, they are a tangled mess once again. It took me several hours - I admit I do take long breaks - and three successive sets of cuts to get the vines back to just the trunks and a few leaders. By next December, they'll be the same tangled mess all over again.

And speaking of tangled messes, the old Ein Shemer apple tree fit that description well, too. We took out a couple of low hanging limbs and some criss-crossing limbs. Then with the hand pruners, I removed all the little "sprouts" that I could reach to open up the limbs at the center of the tree so that more sunlight could get in.

For Christmas, I had gotten my husband a mason bee habitat constructed of bamboo tubes. (I knew he wanted one but, unaccountably, he forgot to put it on it on his list!) I hung the bee habitat in the apple tree. This tree attracts bees by the hundreds when it blooms, so they should have no trouble finding their new quarters.

After we finished with the apple tree, I moved on to the anisacanthus wrightii (flame acanthus). This willowy, blowsy shrub is a rampant grower, not unlike the grapevines. I always cut it back hard in the winter and then I usually have to cut it back again, semi-hard, during the growing season to keep it from getting completely out of hand. When I say "it," you can multiply that by about ten, because I have a long row of these shrubs along my veggie garden fence. During much of the year, they are full of their tubular orange blossoms and colorful butterflies and hummingbirds. But right now they are just brown sticks like most everything else in my yard.

Underneath all that brown, though, they are still green and totally undamaged by the freezes. I thought about waiting awhile to prune them, but this is the time of the year when I usually do this chore, and even if we do have another freeze and some tender growth gets nipped, it's not going to permanently hurt these guys. They are tough. And so I wielded my sharp blades and reduced their height by about half.

On to the hamelia patens (hummingbird bush).

My hamelias die back to the ground each winter, so in January every year, I cut them back to just inches above the ground. Then as things begin to warm up, they grow back from the roots. By the end of the growing season, they are 6 - 8 feet tall again.

But before I tackled the hamelias, I decided to give myself a treat and make a run to the nursery for something in bloom. I decided to stop at Lowe's since it was closest, and they had a lot of their stuff on sale because it was freeze-damaged. I picked up some nice violas, kalanchoes, snapdragons, and heucheras and took them home with me where I spent the rest of the afternoon happily digging in the dirt and planting my treasures.

Yes, pruning is wonderful therapy, a great way to get out all that aggression. But once you've gotten rid of that negative energy, it is nice to reward yourself with the gentler, more positive therapy of colorful blossoms. Looking at all those pretty blooms made me feel ten years younger and ten pounds lighter. Positive therapy, indeed!

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