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Garden Hackers

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                  GardenGuides Newsletter 
                       October 17, 2006

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October Gardening To Do List

# Finish planting container-grown trees and shrubs
# Plant needle-bearing evergreens early in the month
# If the month is dry, repeat the September soaking
# Check ties on trees, and loosen any that look tight
# Finish bulb planting early in the month
# Cover compost to keep it warm and working
# Observe trees for fall color; jot names of the best in 
  your notebook
# Dig dahlia roots after tops are frosted
 
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Garden Hackers

There is pruning that we can do now, as soon as the leaves 
are off and we can see a shrub's requirements clearly. But 
there is also a lot that is best left till spring and more 
still that amounts to a hack-back, rather than pruning. 
Hacking back may give immediate satisfaction to the hacker 
but it may be doing a lot of unnecessary damage to the shrub.

Take the vigorous Clematis montana, for instance. It has 
got all over everything. In the interests of the autumn 
tidy-up, it is tempting to give it a short back and sides, 
even if only to show who is master here. What has not been 
appreciated is that every one of those long strands that 
has been removed, contained the embryo of upwards of a 
hundred blooms for next May, and they have all been sacr-
ificed. The solution is to leave all the spring flowerers 
alone for now, and to prune them as necessary immediately 
after flowering. 

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It is the same with forsythia, which is all too often seen 
as an ugly ball of chopped-back shoots. Often the root of 
the problem is that, as a vigorous shrub, it was not given 
enough space in which to develop in a dignified manner in 
the first instance. One way to manage a forsythia is to 
remove its oldest branches, right into the centre of the 
bush, just before it is about to flower and to bring them 
indoors to force gently into bloom there. Early February 
is the best time to do this; certainly not now.

The shrubs to manage after leaf fall are hardy ones that 
it is a good plan to rejuvenate on a regular basis, such 
as philadelphus, deutzia, weigela, kolkwitzia (beauty bush) 
and kerria. Remove their flowered branches, easily identif-
ied by their twigginess, and leave those long, unbranched 
shoots that it made this year and will flower for you next. 
DO NOT tip these. Leave them full length. 	

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The branches you remove should be cut either at ground 
level or, if a strong young branch arises from an old one, 
just above this branch. In this way you open up the bush, 
letting light into its centre and thereby encouraging it 
to make more young growths in its next flowering season. 
You also reduce its overall bulk. An old, unpruned bush 
will take up valuable space but the whole of its centre 
will be useless, contributing nothing and simply accumul-
ating dead or hopelessly weak growth.

If you inherit such a specimen and contemplate it deject-
edly, wondering where on earth to start, since there seems 
to be no strong young growth anywhere, you must be drastic, 
either restoring it to youthful productivity over a couple 
of seasons, or by getting rid of it altogether and start-
ing again (often the best policy and you can buy yourself 
what you know to be a good variety).

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