Herbs For Your Garden

Enhance your recipes and cultivate a connection with nature with herbs that you’ve grown yourself. Herbs can be grown in a large landscape or in pots on a windowsill. Whether Herb gardening is a seasonal ritual or your first edible venture, here are the essential herbs no gardener or cook should go without.

Basil  (Ocimum spp.)

Basil’s bright, showy leaves and intensely sweet aroma epitomize summer gardens and dishes. Many edible gardeners start with basil, and the number of available varieties will never leave you tired of its refreshing flavor. In fall dry or freeze it for use the rest of the year. Basil grows easily from seed or nursery seedlings.

Dill  (Anethum graveolens)

Dill is one of the few herbs on this list that does best when grown from seed. Sow the seeds through summer in full sun. It’s tolerant of rocky soil but needs good drainage and enough room to establish its taproot. Dill is an annual, but it can self-seed and will most likely return the following year. Cut back the flower heads and collect the seeds to plant where you want them.

Oregano/Marjoram  (Origanum spp.)

Oregano is another one of those herbs that really don’t put up a fuss. Plant oregano or its milder relative, sweet marjoram, anywhere that receives good sunlight and has good drainage. Harvest the leaves just when its flower buds are forming. These plants grow well from seedlings.

Mint  (Mentha spp.)

Grown in a pot by the kitchen, fresh mint refreshes everything from dressings, salads and sides to drinks and desserts with a sprig or two. It grows best in full sun to partial shade and prefers regular water. It has a tendency to spread where it’s unwanted, so many suggest growing mint in containers. Grow it from seedlings.

Parsley  (Petroselinum crispum)

New varieties are adding pizzazz to the world of parsley. Though it’s treated as a summer crop in colder climates, gardeners in warmer regions can grow parsley year-round. Be sure to choose a site with sheltered afternoons, since too much summer heat can scorch it. Plant parsley from seeds or seedlings.

Chives  (Allium schoenoprasum and Allium tuberosum)

Both garden chives and their larger, bolder flavored relative garlic chives make delicious and attractive additions to the edible garden. These easy to grow cool-season perennial herbs feature green tubular stems, topped with edible flowers in spring and summer. Grow them from seed and in full sun. Chives self-sow and can be divided every few years, so you’ll be sure to have them in your garden season after season.

Lemongrass  (Cymbopogon citratus)

Dive into the exotic edibles with lemongrass, using it to season soups, teas and more. This strappy plant will thrive in full sun to partial shade with regular water. Though it may die down to the ground in winter, it will revive in spring. Lemongrass does best in mild climates, or it can be planted in a container and brought inside. Plant cuttings or divisions for best results.

Tarragon  (Artemisia dracunculus ‘Sativa’)

A French cuisine staple, tarragon takes an herb garden beyond the basic. French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus ‘Sativa’) is prized for its culinary value, tasting and smelling similar to anise or licorice. French tarragon is a little fussier to grow, preferring afternoon shade and regular water, but is the best in terms of flavor. Gardeners in more extreme climates may turn to Russian tarragon or Mexican tarragon, which are easier to grow but less flavorful. French tarragon must be grown from cuttings or seedlings.

Common Sage  (Salvia officinalis)

With its velvety gray leaves and soft mounding shape, sage softens garden edges and fills in planter corners. Sage requires little water once established and will produce all season long in full sun or partial shade in intense heat. Harvested leaves can be dried for later use. Be aware that not all Salvia is edible, so check before you eat. Sage can be grown from seed, though seedlings tend to produce better results.

Thyme  (Thymus vulgaris)

One of the most commonly called-for herbs, thyme is also one of the easiest to grow. Plant it in a container or allow it to spread as a ground cover. Provide sun, good drainage and not too much water, and this low-maintenance edible essential will stick around for many meals to come. Like sage, not all thyme species are edible, so check before you plant. Thyme can be grown from seed or seedlings.

Lavender  (Lavandula spp.)

Lavender tops many gardeners’ lists for ornamental value alone; resilience, drought tolerance and the fact that it’s a bee magnet only further illustrate why this sun-loving Mediterranean native is a great herb garden addition. Oh, and it’s a killer cocktail ingredient. Choose from a variety of widely available species, and plant it in containers or directly in the ground.

Rosemary  (Rosmarinus officinalis)

It can be easy to forget that this tough-as-nails perennial is also edible. Seen cascading over rocky hillsides or potted on sun-drenched patios, rosemary is a garden mainstay in warmer climates. In regions that see freezing temperatures, or for cooks who may want their herbs closer than outside the back door, rosemary grows well in containers and can easily be brought inside. One whiff of its earthy aroma and you can almost feel the heat of the Tuscan countryside. Seeds are available, but rosemary does best when grown from small plants.


What To Know When Taking Out A Lawn

An expansive green lawn may be a hallmark of our landscapes, but with the water restrictions we have been having over the last few years, a growing number of people are looking for more water-wise, wildlife-friendly or low-maintenance alternatives. If you’re ready to embrace a different landscape look, your first step will be to remove the existing lawn. Here are the steps to take to lose your lawn as well as other tips and ideas for transforming your landscape.

Reasons For Losing Or Reducing The Lawn

The reasons to remove a lawn can vary. Homeowners in arid regions may want to conserve water. Wanting a more natural-looking or wildlife-friendly yard, such as a meadow or a native garden, also may be a factor.

Location and terrain also play a role. Grass in shady areas or riddled with tree roots may be sparse and unhealthy. A slope may make it difficult to mow and control runoff. In these circumstances, the best move may be to replace the lawn with plants that are better suited to the growing conditions.

Lawns also require regular and sometimes extensive maintenance, from watering and mowing to feeding, reseeding and dealing with weeds and pests. A large stretch of lawn does not provide the biodiversity needed for a healthy garden and soil.

Whom To Hire

If your lawn area is small, you may consider doing some of the work yourself. However, even simply digging up a patch of lawn takes time and effort. Some removal methods require extra preparation and equipment, additional materials or both, compared with just digging with a shovel or spade.

A landscape professional can provide the expertise and experience to ensure that everything goes smoothly. Look for contractors who focus on eco-friendly and sustainable practices, as they also can help you with eco-friendly lawn disposal options.

If you’re working with a architect or other professional as part of a larger outdoor renovation, he or she will be able to help you and recommend pros for the project.

Design Considerations When Removing A Lawn

Deciding to remove the lawn is your first step, but you’ll also want to consider what you want to replace it with. You can browse through the landscape photos to find ideas or, if you already have a style in mind, to narrow your options. Create an ideabook to capture what appeals to you to share with your designer.

Walk through your neighborhood or surrounding areas as well. Are there front yard designs you like? Do any plants call to you? Snap some photos as a memory aid. A knowledgable landscaper in your area will be able to help refine your vision and get you started.

4 Methods For Removing The Lawn, And When To Do It

There are four basic methods for removing lawns in an eco-friendly manner. Each has its pros and cons, depending on the amount of lawn you plan to remove, your timeline and your personal preferences.

The first two options listed below will allow you to replant fairly quickly. The second two require more time until you can replant. Whichever method you use, you will want to incorporate fresh soil and compost to help the new plants thrive.

Dig It Out

If you have a fairly small patch of lawn, digging out the sod with a spade or flat-head shovel may be the logical choice. You can do it yourself, if you feel able, or hire someone with experience to take on the task for you. Some pluses include not having to rent equipment or maneuver it into place. You also can replant fairly quickly.

This process will take time and a great deal of physical effort, even for small spaces. You’ll need to work in small sections and remove enough of the grass to get the roots out without taking out too much of the good soil beneath.

Pro Tip: Water the area you want to remove beforehand so it is moist but not soggy, to make digging easier.

Cut The Sod

For larger areas that you want to replant immediately, using a sod cutter is the best option. The sod cutter will cut the grass out in strips, allowing it to be easily removed. You can also transplant grass removed this way.

While both digging and cutting the sod out will remove the majority of grass seeds, some may still remain and germinate. You will need to watch for wayward patches of grass in the future and weed them out.

Sheet-Mulch It

This method smothers the existing grass while adding nutrients to the soil. It works in sun and shade. Layers of organic materials, including cardboard, newsprint and compost are laid over the grass, topped by mulch. The layers cut off the sunlight, causing the grass to die. The organic materials also decompose, adding nutrients to the soil.

Sheet mulching is not a quick solution. Plan on a minimum of six months to a year before you can replant. You’ll also need to keep the layers of materials in place throughout that time. While you can install new plantings in the space, you’ll need to protect them and their roots from being smothered as well as ensure that they get the water and nutrients they need to grow.


Solarize It 

This lawn removal method uses sun power to kill the grass and sterilize the top few inches of soil. A sheet of clear plastic is placed over a wet lawn and held in place around the edges. The heat of the sun, accelerated by moisture, kills off the grass as well as any weeds, pathogens and bugs in the soil.

This process is best done in summer and takes about six to eight weeks from start to finish. After the lawn dies off and turns a straw-like brown, wait another two weeks and then remove the plastic. Add amendments to the soil to ready it for planting.

While solarization is effective and faster than sheet mulching, some garden experts question the process, as it kills off beneficial insects and bacteria.

Other Considerations When Losing The Lawn

Regulations And Permits

Check for any local regulations or Strata rules regarding landscaping before removing your lawn. Also, make a plan for disposing of the resulting soil and lawn outside of a landfill.

You’ll also want to note underground electrical, plumbing and irrigation lines as well as sewer channels, to avoid disturbing them.

Local Incentive Programs

Many cities, have programs to encourage replacing lawns with more eco-friendly options. These often specify a ratio of hardscape-to-plant replacement and include recommended plant lists, which can be extensive. 

Good places to learn about these programs are local gardening stores and universities. They can direct you to resources designed for your locale.

When To Do This

Where you live and the method you choose will determine when to start this project. In all cases, if you live where it snows or is very rainy and muddy during winter, you’ll want to wait until the snow melts or things warm up.

If you’re considering digging up the lawn or cutting the sod, any time you can work the soil is fine. Keep in mind that you’ll want to replant relatively quickly after you remove the soil, so choose a time that’s optimal for putting in new plants — generally spring or fall.

You can sheet-mulch year-round whenever the soil is reasonably dry. You’ll ideally want to be ready for either spring or fall planting. Solarization is best done in summer, to take advantage of the summer sun.

How Long It Will Take

Digging up the soil or cutting the sod generally takes a few hours to a day or two, depending on the size of the project. You can do it right before you plan to plant.

With sheet mulching, it can take up to a year for the soil to be ready for planting. You can add some plants during this time, although you’ll need to be sure they get moisture and sunlight. Plan on six to eight weeks for the entire solarization process.


Grow An Indoor Garden

Living, breathing, healthy plants boost the spirit like nothing else. Whether you consider yourself to have a green thumb or are just inching your way into the world of gardening, lets get inspiration and motivation for indoor garden growing.

Plants In Any Room

Healthy green plants help clean the air, lift your spirit and fill empty corners. Any room should have at least one green plant or pot of cheerful bulbs.

Sunny Windows

Have an open spot in front of a nice, sunny window? Don’t let it go to waste — put a big plant in front of it. Stands can help smaller plants get the maximum amount of light.

Low-Light Rooms

If your space does not get as much sun as you would like, don’t give up completely on houseplants. Visit a local nursery and ask what’s recommended for a low-light room. It’s true that if your room really gets zero natural light, a plant will not survive there, but if there is any sort of light, you may be able to get something to grow … and it’s well worth the effort to try.

Set Up An Indoor Potting Station

To make things easier for watering, repotting and generally caring for your houseplants, a little indoor potting station within reach can be a lifesaver. A sink in the mudroom or laundry room would be ideal, but the kitchen can work as well if you don’t have another option.

To set up your potting area, at minimum you will want some closed storage for bags of potting soil and tools, a shelf for extra pots and saucers, a work surface that you don’t mind getting dirty and access to a sink for water.

Get Creative With Containers

You don’t always need to use traditional indoor pots for your houseplants — why not try a rectangular planter, an urn or an outdoor container? Just be sure to use a tray beneath the pot or planter to protect your surfaces from water damage.

Keep Aloe On Hand

Wondering what one plant to buy first? Make it an aloe — they are easy to care for, and they are fabulous when you have a burn. Simply cut off a piece, slice it open lengthwise, and place the gel-covered interior directly on your burn.

Cluster Potted Plants and Blooming Bulbs Together

Grouping potted plants doesn’t just look charming, it is beneficial to the plants too. Keeping plants in close proximity to one another boosts humidity, helping the plants stay healthier and go a bit longer between watering.

Tables Make Great Plant Stands

Looking for more room to house your plants? Put a vintage side table or dining table to work. Even thrift store finds are charming when filled with potted greens.

Plant a Piece of Furniture

Ready to get really creative? Pull out drawers from an old cabinet or dresser, line the interiors with waterproof plastic, fill them with soil and pop in a few plants. This can be a wonderful way to give new life to an old piece that is too rundown to use for its intended purpose.


Trees For Containers

Having a small yard or other limited outdoor space, whether it’s a little patch of land, patio or deck, doesn’t mean you have to give up on growing a tree. While they’ll never reach the height of a stately elm or oak, the following trees and tree-like shrubs can add a focal point, shade and even wildlife benefits in limited space. Here are some trees recommended for growing in containers.

‘Emerald Green’ Arborvitae  Thuja occidentalis ‘Emerald Green’, syn. ‘Smaragd’

Why This Tree: 

This small evergreen tree boasts a beautiful green color, dense foliage and a conical form, all of which can be easily appreciated when it is grown in a large container. 

The cultivar was developed in Denmark, which explains both its preference for colder climates and its name “smaragd”, the Danish word for “emerald”.

Growing Tips: 

Arborvitaes are naturally slow growers. Lightly pruning the new growth will keep wayward branches in check and also control the overall growth.

Water thoroughly when the top inch or so of the soil is dry. Don’t overwater; that can result in root rot. You also may need to provide some winter protection in the coldest climates.

Where It Will Grow: 

Hardy to minus 42.8 degrees Celsius - Zones 2 to 7

Water Requirement: Moderate

Light Requirement: Full sun to partial shade

Mature Size: 12 to 14 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide when planted in a landscape, but it stays much smaller in a container.

Dwarf Citrus  Citrus spp.

Why This Tree: 

Dwarf lemons, limes, mandarins, oranges and kumquats are stars in container gardens. They’re naturally small but can be kept even smaller with pruning. They stay green all year and you can add seasonal plants under it and make it decorative. 

Growing Tips: 

You’ll need to start with the right container. A large pot is necessary to provide insulation from hot air temperatures for roots. 

Growing citrus in containers also makes it possible for gardeners and citrus lovers in colder regions to enjoy the fresh fruit. If you have a sunny and warm spot indoors, let the plants spend the winters there.

Where It Will Grow: 

Hardy to minus 3.9 degrees Celsius - Zones 9 to 11; in colder areas, plan to bring it indoors during the winter. In warmer areas, cover it when frosty nights are expected.

Water Requirement: Moderate; less once established

Light Requirement: Full sun, ideally about 8 hours per day

Mature Size: Varies from 2 to 8 feet tall; it can handle pruning to keep it in check

Japanese Maple Acer palmatum cultivars

Why This Tree: 

Few trees offer the delicate beauty and stunning color of the Japanese maple. Japanese maple cultivars grow in a range of shapes, styles and colors: multibranched or with a single trunk; upright or spreading; evergreen or deciduous; and with foliage colors including red, yellow, orange, green and even purple, pink or white. Choose a dwarf or semidwarf variety and make it the solo plant of a container to highlight the form and foliage.

Growing Tips: 

Japanese maples are slow-growing and easy to keep in check. Prune during the dormant season. You may need to provide additional protection in colder climates or if you expect a freeze. 

Where It Will Grow: 

Hardy to minus 26.1 degrees Celsius - zones 5 to 8; provide afternoon shade in Zone 9

Water Requirement: Moderate

Light Requirement: Soft dappled shade or morning sun with afternoon shade is best; too much sun will scorch its leaves.

Mature Size: Varies; dwarf varieties are generally 3 to 8 feet and can be kept smaller with pruning

Hinoki Cypress Chamaecyparis obtusa

Why This Tree: 

This evergreen conifer is naturally upright and slow-growing, so it will take years for it to outgrow a pot. As a bonus, it also provides year-round foliage color ranging from dark green to yellow with minimal to low maintenance. Naturally low-growing choices include ‘Nana Gracilis’ and ‘Nana Lutea’.

Growing Tips: 

Lightly fertilize it in spring. Spring is also the season to do any pruning; you should prune new growth and only as needed to shape the plant.

Where It Will Grow: 

Hardy to minus 34.4 degrees Celsius - zones 4 to 8

Water Requirement: Regular

Light Requirement: Sun to partial shade

Mature Size: 3 to 8 feet tall

Dwarf Pomegranate Punica granatum ‘Nana’

Why This Tree: 

Showy orange-red flowers and glossy leaves that mature from bronze to glossy green to bright yellow make this small hummingbird-friendly plant a standout addition to a small space. Other bonuses are the reddish-brown bark and the small fruits, which are decorative rather than edible. Although usually deciduous, the plant may be evergreen in very warm areas.

Growing Tips: 

This plant loves sun and heat. Prune to keep it to a manageable size and to shape it as a tree.

Where It Will Grow: 

Hardy to minus 17.8 degrees Celsius - zones 7 to 10; move it indoors when the temperature drops below 4.4 degrees Celsius

Water Requirement: Moderate to regular; do not overwater

Light Requirement: Full sun

Mature Size: Reaches 3 to 4 feet tall; can be kept smaller, even as a bonsai, with pruning

Olive Tree Olea europaea

Why This Tree: 

A staple of Italian, French and Spanish gardens as well as those in California and southern Arizona, the olive tree is right at home in a container. It’s naturally slow-growing and shallow-rooted, and can live in a container for years. Choose a fruitless variety, such as ‘Swan Hill’.

Growing Tips: 

Judicious pruning will keep it within bounds, and you’ll be able to enjoy its gray-green foliage, smooth gray trunk and gnarled branches for years. Be aware that the oily fruits will stain when they drop. This tree also may do well in slightly colder climates if you provide shelter in winter.

Where It Will Grow: 

Hardy to minus 9.4 degrees Celsius - zones 8 to 10

Water Requirement: Moderate

Light Requirement: Full sun

Mature Size: Can reach 20 to 30 feet tall and 15 to 25 feet wide, but can be easily kept smaller in a container with pruning

Dwarf Palm Trees

Why This Tree: 

Want your patio to resemble a tropical garden? Dwarf palm trees are the way to go. The hardest part may be choosing just one of the many dwarf and miniature varieties available. Some popular palms that do well in pots are the butterfly palm (Dypsis lutescens), Mediterranean fan palm (Chamaerops humilis), pygmy date palm (Phoenix roebelenii) and lady palm (Rhapis excelsa).

Growing Tips: 

If your climate is subtropical or tropical, your palms will likely survive outside year-round. In colder regions, bring the containers inside to enjoy when the weather gets cold.

Where They Will Grow: 

Generally hardy to minus 1.1 degrees Celsius - zones 10 to 13; some are hardy to minus 6.7 degrees Celsius - zone 9; container-grown palms can thrive in all zones if brought inside during cold months.

Water Requirement: Varies

Light Requirement: Full sun when young; varies as the palms mature

Mature Size: Varies

‘Fastigiata’ European Hornbeam Carpinus betulus ‘Fastigiata‘

Why This Tree: 

Dark-green leaves and gray bark make ‘Fastigiata‘ hornbeam a handsome tree suitable for any style of garden. The yellow leaves in fall just add to its beauty. You can use it as a specimen plant to show off its style.

Growing Tips: 

While the tree can reach a height of 40 feet when planted in the ground, pruning can keep it to a more manageable height for a container.

Where It Will Grow: 

Hardy to minus 31.7 degrees Celsius - zones 4 to 8

Water Requirement: Moderate to high

Light Requirement: Full sun to partial shade

Mature Size: Has a moderate growth rate, reaching 35 to 45 feet tall and 25 to 35 feet wide; can be kept smaller with pruning

Camellia Camellia japonica and C. sasanqua

Why This Tree: 

A favorite in warm-winter gardens, camellias add shades of white, pink and red to a garden throughout the colder months. Though they’re known as shrubs, both Japanese and sasanqua camellias can be easily trained as trees. As such, use them to flank an entry, anchor a mix of plants or create a simple focal point.

Growing Tips: 

Camellias can be fussy, so use a potting mix that contains at least 50 percent organic matter. You’ll also need to watch for sunburn, windburn and camellia petal blight, which turns the flowers brown. If you notice sunburn or windburn, move the plant to a shadier or less open spot. For camellia petal blight, pick and dispose of all affected flowers.

Where It Will Grow: 

Hardy to 0 minus 17.8 degrees Celsius - zones 7 to 9; some newer hybrids are hardy to minus 23.3 degrees Celsius - Zone 6

Water Requirement: Moderate to regular; allow the soil to dry out between waterings

Light Requirement: Light shade but it can tolerate morning sun; sasanqua camellia (C. sasanqua) tolerates more sun

Mature Size: 2 to 20 feet tall; most range from 6 to 15 feet tall and 5 to 10 feet wide

Panicled Hydrangea Hydrangea paniculata

Why This Tree: 

Shrub hydrangeas have long been a popular landscape mainstay. The panicled hydrangea takes the possibilities a step further, as it also can be trained as a standard tree. They can be used as stand-alone sentinels or base-planted with annuals for effect.

Choose a dwarf variety that is already trained as a standard tree. Either ‘Quick Fire’ or ‘Limelight’ make great container presentations, and can be used formally or casually to match the setting.

Growing Tips: 

Panicled hydrangea is one of the easiest hydrangeas to grow and will give you plentiful blooms in summer. It’s also more tolerant of sun, heat and cold than other hydrangeas.

Where It Will Grow: 

Hardy to minus 40 degrees Celsius - zones 3 to 9

Water Requirement: Regular; you can cut back in winter

Light Requirement: Full to partial sun

Mature Size: Look for smaller varieties, including those that will reach only 2 to 3 feet.

‘Grace’ Smoke Tree Cotinus ‘Grace’

Why This Tree: 

It’s hard to overlook a smoke tree. The new foliage is light red, followed by delicate and fluffy pink panicles that can be more than a foot long in the summer. It’s these blooms that give the tree its name. Come fall, the foliage turns shades of red, burgundy and purple. The smoke tree is a showstopper in any small space.

Growing Tips: 

The plant grows easily but can be kept in check with pruning. It’s also drought-tolerant, and pests rarely bother it.

Where It Will Grow: 

Hardy to minus 31.7 degrees Celsius - zones 4 to 9

Water Requirement: Average; do not overwater

Light Requirement: Full sun

Mature Size: Up to 15 feet tall and wide unless kept smaller with pruning

‘Tiger Eyes’ Staghorn Sumac Rhus typhina ‘Tiger Eyes’

Why This Tree: 

Choose a Tiger Eyes staghorn sumac for its color. This dwarf sumac’s chartreuse spring foliage turns yellow-green throughout the summer.

Come fall, the foliage transforms to bright reds and oranges. This sumac even shines in winter. The winter silhouette is a noteworthy feature with its antler-like appearance.

Growing Tips: 

Staghorn sumac has a natural upright form and is easily pruned as a small tree. It’s a great choice for containers, as it can spread aggressively in the ground. Don’t be fooled by the name; the plant is nontoxic.

Where It Will Grow: 

Hardy to minus 34.4 degrees Celsius - zones 4 to 8

Water Requirement: Low to average

Light Requirement: Full sun to partial shade

Mature Size: 3 to 6 feet

Caring for Container Trees

Growing any plant in a container differs from growing it in the ground, and trees are no exception. Here are some general guidelines.

◦  Choose the right plant. Look for plants that will thrive in your climate and the proposed location.

◦  Choose dwarf or semidwarf varieties. These will do well with less pruning to keep them in bounds. Ask for advice at your nursery before buying a tree to grow in a container.

◦  Plant in the largest container you can. You should aim for a soil depth of at least 2 to 3 feet. Make sure the container has a drainage hole. Tip: Place your container on a plant stand with heavy-duty casters to make it easier to move.

◦  Water regularly. The potting mix in containers will dry out more quickly than garden soil, so check plants often. Set up a consistent watering schedule or add a timed drip irrigation system.

◦  Fertilize as needed. The nutrients in potting mixes can be quickly depleted. Fertilize regularly during the growing season, using a diluted solution of organic fertilizer.

◦  Turn your container. Rotating the container periodically will ensure that the tree grows consistently on all sides.


Pruning Terms To Know

When it’s time to prune your favorite shrub or tree — deciduous trees should be pruned in winter, while evergreen trees are best pruned after flowering — it’s important to do so properly so you can ensure a healthy, attractive plant. And if you’ve looked into pruning, you’ve probably heard terms like “crown raising,” “heading” or “thinning,” among others, being used to describe the type of pruning method needed. But what do these words all mean?

Why Is Pruning Important?

Before you head outdoors and start cutting away at the shrubs and trees in your garden, or consider forgoing pruning, let’s take a few moments to understand why pruning is important.

It encourages strong branching and removes weak or crossing branches.

It eliminates dead or diseased wood.

It stimulates new, attractive growth.

It helps to improve resistance to windy conditions.

It promotes good air circulation, which decreases the incidence of fungal disease.

In short, proper pruning practices are an important part of maintaining woody plants like trees and shrubs.

Pruning Terms To Know

Crown:  The upper part of the tree, made up of the branches, stems and leaves — also referred to as the “canopy.”

Crown Cleaning:  Pruning away dead or diseased branches and stems. This also includes the removal of any “stubs,” which are the dead base of a branch that wasn’t pruned back to the trunk.

Crown Raising:  Removing lower branches back to the trunk to elevate the crown of a tree or shrub. Crown raising is often done to provide clearance for pedestrians, cars or anything else that might be under the tree.

Crown Reduction: The removal of a percentage of the outer part of a tree or shrub by pruning back the leaves, stems and branches. This is often done to prevent wind damage or a tree from blowing over.

Crown Thinning:  Involves the removal of select interior branches to improve air flow and reduce the weight of the tree. The overall shape and size of the tree remains the same when this type of pruning is done.

Heading back:  Pruning back branches up to half of their length to reduce outward growth. This is done with shrubs to reduce their size while promoting a natural shape. Heading back is also done to long, overhanging branches on trees to reduce the weight at the ends and to keep them from touching buildings or other structures.

Root prune: Roots are pruned, and a root barrier often put in place, when they cause problems with foundations, sidewalks or walls through cracks or uplifting. It’s important to have an arborist (a professional tree cutter) do this work, since removing too many roots can kill your tree.

Shearing: This type of pruning is done to shrubs using hedge trimmers to remove a percentage of their outer growth. It is commonly used to create formal hedges or topiary shapes.

Structural Pruning: This type of pruning is usually done on young trees and focuses on creating a strong form by selecting the branches that will give the tree a nice shape, along with strength to withstand windy conditions. Branches that are growing in the wrong direction or have a weak attachment to the trunk are removed.

Topping: This is the removal of the top part of a tree, often done to improve a view or keep a tree from growing into power lines. This type of pruning should never be done, for a number of reasons: It leaves the top of the tree susceptible to sunburn and insect infestations, while the new branches that grow back have weak attachment to the tree and are more prone to breakage and are hazardous. Topping also makes the tree grow faster in its attempt to replace the lost foliage, creating a vicious cycle.

Crown reduction can be done by a professional for trees that need their height reduced. The best option is to prevent the problem from occurring by considering the mature height of trees before planting. The good news is that if you have a tree that has been topped, it can be restored by an arborist by a process known as “crown restoration.”

Pruning Tools

Let’s take a look at the common tools used.

Chainsaw: This is a power saw is used to prune larger branches that other pruning tools can’t. They come in different blade sizes and power levels.

Hand Pruners: This is the smallest pruning tool, used to make cuts that are under 1 inch in diameter. While there are different types of these smaller pruning tools, “bypass pruners” are most recommended — made of two curved blades that bypass each other, creating a clean cut. They are used for making heading and thinning cuts.

Hedge Trimmer: This pruning tool comes in two different forms: manual and power. The manual hedge trimmer looks like giant scissors and is best used to create formal hedges, cutting the small, twiggy growth that makes up the outer part of shrubs. The power version looks very different, with oscillating blades that shear back outer growth easily. Hedge trimmers are used for shearing cuts.

Loppers: The large bypass blades of this garden tool cut through branches that are three-quarters of an inch to 2 inches in diameter. They have long handles, which enable the user to prune tree branches and also reach into the interior of shrubs. A pair of loppers is a great tool for pruning rose bushes.

Pole pruner: Pole pruners are for making pruning cuts up into the canopy of trees while allowing you to keep your feet on the ground. There are different types, which include manual and power saws mounted at the end of an adjustable pole, often reaching up to 16 feet in length. Manual pole pruners have a pruning saw at the end as well as a bypass pruner that is operated by pulling a cord. The power option is a mini chainsaw that can reach up to prune larger branches.

Pruning Saw: A manual saw that is perfect for cutting through branches that are over 1½ inches in diameter. Pruning saws are the tool of choice for limbs too big for loppers. The blade is either straight or slightly curved, sometimes folding into the handle when not in use. With some effort, it will cut through most small to medium branches up to 6 inches in diameter.

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