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10 Most Misunderstood Plants in Sonoma County


10 Most Misunderstood Plants
in Sonoma County

By Mary Frost, The Gardening Tutor 

As I drive around the county, I notice many plants that would look much more beautiful if they were trained more to their natural form. Many of these plants are being pruned in a way that eventually kills them or sheared in a way that distorts their natural beauty.

Sometimes the issue is simply that the plant is left to grow on its own without any shaping because the gardener does not know that some pruning would encourage the plant to be fuller and/or have more flowers. Other times the issue is that one sees what one's neighbor does to their plants and believes that's the way to tend to things. Some plants benefit from shearing (like boxwood hedges) but many plants are sheared only because it is fast and the neighbor does it. Shearing creates dense foliage on the outer perimeter of the plant and because this growth cuts out sunlight to the interior of the plant, the interior stems become bare.

Many plants are like human hair, they take regular grooming to keep them looking attractive. Knowing how to groom your plants is going to make a world of difference to the health and beauty of your garden.

Here are some tips for pruning and shaping the plants that fall into The Gardening Tutor's  "Top Ten Misunderstood Plants" category:

10 Most Misunderstood Plants in Sonoma County - PhormiumsPhormiums - Once you prune off the tip from the swordlike leaf of a phormium, that leaf blade does not grow a new tip. So, it seems extra sad when, in an effort to keep the plants shorter, people shorten all the leaves with a straight cut somewhere mid height. Phormiums can be kept shorter with regular grooming. When you do make a pruning cut, make the cut at a diagonal (this helps the cut blend in with the natural pointy leaves) low in the canopy. You are actually going to remove that leaf completely either that day or over time. Once you have pruned the leaf down as far as you, come back in a few months to remove it completely (by than it should be weaker or dead). Sometimes all a Phormium needs is to have all the dead leaves removed; you can do this by gently but firmly pulling them out or cutting them out-be careful not to pull out an entire chunk of your plant.

Erigeron - Although some people find this little gem a nuisance because it can reseed freely, erigeron can actually be quite useful in the garden. In order to keep it more compact and reseeding to a minimum, shear to about two inches high three to four times a year. You can tell when it's time to shear by looking at the blooms; when about 75 percent of the blooms are done, shear it. Once sheared erigeron will fill in quickly and be filled with lots of pretty, tiny blossoms.

10 Most Misunderstood Plants in Sonoma County - Berberis thunbergii

Berberis thunbergii - Sometimes I hear people say "Oh, Berberis? I hate that plant." When I ask a few more questions I find out that what people 'hate' are the thorns (they are like needles!). Once people learn how to treat Berberis with caution (like a rose or any other plant with thorns) they love the color, form and drought tolerance that Berberis offers.

Instead of shearing Berberis into globe shapes, do your best to keep the lovely fountain shape form of Berberis by pruning to an outward facing bud low in the canopy. Berberis tends to push many stems from a single cut. This type of pruning cut high in the canopy creates the look of a firework on top of a straight stem. Pruning low in the canopy will help create a more natural bushy appearance by beginning its new growth closer to the ground.

When Berberis is completely taking over a space or its form has been distorted over the years, you can do a complete rejuvenation pruning. This means pruning all the stems down to about 3 inches from the ground and completely removing most of the oldest stems to the ground.

This has been a primer to get you started, there are more details to the share about each of these plants but hopefully this inspires you to think about and care for your plants in a new way.

To learn more about pruning from Mary Frost, sign up for the fall short course-Hort 151 Pruning Ornamentals- at the Santa Rosa Junior College or for One-On-One Tutoring you can contact Mary at 707.545.6863 or Sign up for the free newsletter and visit The Gardening Tutor Facebook page!