Pruning Shears and Loppers, Essential Gardening Tools

When pruning woody trees and shrubs, the right tool makes all the difference.  The two must-have tools for pruning trees and shrubs whether you are a gardener, homeowner, or professional landscaper are pruning shears and loppers.  We’ll go into the basics of each tool type, important aspects such as the blade type and handle composition.  How to choose pruner or lopper? Well, it is mostly about size, branch size and whether those branches living or dead wood.

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Why Prune Plants?

The moment you prune a plant, it changes its form and how it will grow. Pruning helps to enhance plant health. Think of it as the preventive maintenance of the plant world. Pruning rids the plant of its dead, damaged and diseased parts. Branches that rub against each other or point downward also need to be pruned.  Generally speaking, pruning allows you to have the plant in the size that is proportionate with the landscape. To summarize, we prune plants:

  • To enhance plant appearance.
  • To prevent injury and property damage.
  • To control plant size.
  • To enhance fruiting and flowering.

Pruning shears – It’s all about precision

These are the most useful of your gardening tools.  Pruning shears come in two types based on their cutting blades.  They are known as either bypass or anvil pruners.  Some may also have a ratcheting action to increase the user’s mechanical advantage, an excellent feature if you have wrist problems.  We’ll describe both here, but you should probably buy and use bypass pruners.

Bypass pruners have a single-edged blade that slices past a thick base as it closes. Anvil pruners have a blade that slices to the center of a wide lower base, contacting that base at the completion of the cut, like a hammer striking an anvil. The anvil pruner is more likely to crush delicate plant tissues, so only use them only on dead wood. A perfect example would be removing dead canes from Hydrangea.

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Bypass Pruning Shears are your best choice.    Source: HomeDepot

 

Loppers – Get the job done!

If you are cutting branches that are up to 2 inches in diameter, then you need loppers. These are beefy pruners with long handles. While the longer handles will give you added reach to prune higher branches, that’s not their only true advantage. Long handles on loppers give you increased leverage so it can slice through thicker branches with ease.

Loppers are available in anvil or bypass types like their smaller kin. The anvil lopper is great for cutting through dead wood and can usually handle thicker branches without a problem while the bypass lopper is best for cutting through plants that are still alive. Because they leave cleaner cuts, the plant will have a much easier time healing from the pruning.

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Bypass Garden Loppers make clean cuts with power. Source: HomeDepot

Pick your handles wisely

Handles are a big consideration as well and there are many different types to choose from. The traditional and most basic is wood, usually a strong and durable wood like ash is used. Some people prefer the feel of wood, I’ve inherited tools with wood handles and those tools work like new. Wood needs to be taken care of by adding a coat of wax to prevent water penetration from time to time.

Tools that have steel handles are very strong. However, they tend to be heavier than other handle types. Steel tools are usually coated with vinyl or plastic coatings. As a rule of thumb, you will wear out before your steel tool does due to its weight.  A good tradeoff between wood and steel are tools with aluminum handles. Aluminum is much lighter and for some, the lighter weight makes it easier to use.  Fiberglass, composite, and plastic handles are very strong,  lightweight and durable as well. These handles tend to be a little more expensive but the extra price is generally worth it.

Caring for your tools

Buy the best tools you can afford because they will pay for themselves in the long run. Good quality tools hold their edge longer and cut easier. Keep your tools sharpened because a sharp tool means less fatigue on your hands and increased user safety. A sharp pruner is not just easier to cut with, it also makes a cleaner cut that heals quickly.

To be able to use your pruning shears and loppers for extended periods of time, they need to be regularly oiled and kept sharp at all times. You should also check tool components on a regular basis, adjust or replace screws, bolts, springs, and blades. Remember, tools cost money, think of your gardening tools as an investment. Store them in a dry place to prevent rust and keep them in good working order.

Dainty Dogwoods

The flowering dogwood, Cornus florida, is a small deciduous tree in the family Cornaceae. Other older names for this tree include American Dogwood, Florida Dogwood, Indian Arrowwood, and false boxwood.  It is native to the southeastern United States with an endemic population that once spanned from southern Maine south to Florida and west to the Mississippi River. When in the wild their blooms are white.  They can typically be found at the forest edge and frequently on dry ridges.

They are impressive trees to have around and can be used in small groupings, as a lawn tree or along borders.  Their form is often wider than it is tall with a trunk diameter of up 1 foot at maturity. Dogwood trees are extremely sensitive to stem and trunk injuries so mulching around the base is recommended. The leaves are simple and opposite with a length of approximately 3″ to 6″ long.  The leaves of this tree can exhibit good fall foliage color. Dogwoods are commonly planted as an ornamental in residential and public areas because of its showy bracts and interesting bark structure.

dogwood-1208222_960_720Around twenty inconspicuous flowers are produced in a dense, rounded, umbel-shaped flower-head up to 3/4″ in diameter. The flower-head is surrounded by four large white, pink or red “petals” that are actually considered bracts or modified leaves. Each bract is nearly 2″ long with a distinct notch at the apex. The flowers are perfect with both male and female parts. They typically flower in early April in the southern part of their range, and late April or early May in Northern regions. The bloom time is effective for about two weeks. Flowering occurs before leaf out.

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Remember that in the wild, dogwoods are typically an understory tree. The best planting site should be selected and should have well-drained soil high in organic matter with an acidic pH. Dogwoods can be planted in full sun or partial shade, though partial morning sun is best. Plants should be watered weekly during droughts, with watering done in the morning, avoiding wetting the foliage. Their hardiness zone is from 5–9.

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In 2012, the United States sent 3,000 dogwood saplings to Japan to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the Washington D.C. cherry trees given as a gift to the U.S. by Japan in 1912.

 

Starting Seeds Indoors

Why start seeds indoors? It’s simple, gardeners start their seeds indoors in order to get a jump on the gardening season. Doing so allows them to gain a few weeks of extra growing time particularly in regions with short growing seasons.  It also gives gardeners greater selection and more control over growing conditions.

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Another advantage is that it is cheaper to buy packets of seed as opposed to buying young plants from a garden center. The economics is easy more plants at a much lower price. Your garden production will increase and the extra plants can be given to your friends and neighbors.  When you plant your own seeds, you have control over the way they are raised. This may be especially important if you are an organic gardener who wants to control their process from the choice of non-GMO or heirloom variety seeds through to starting mix composition and fertilizer selection.

Which vegetables are best started indoors? Most gardeners agree that vegetables such as peppers and tomatoes, and herbs like basil are best started early.  A good rule of thumb is to start seedlings about 6 weeks before the last spring frost.  Seeds sprout best at indoor temperatures between 65 to 75°F. A heat mat may increase germination rates and is a good investment. Remember young seedlings are fragile and sensitive.  Young plants are easily damaged by fluctuations in temperature and excess watering so water carefully. A mist sprayer is a good choice.

Most veggies need 8 hours of direct sun, so it’s important to have a grow light if you are sowing your vegetable seeds indoors.  If your seedlings get too leggy (tall with small leaves) then additional lighting is necessary.  Amazon offers an excellent selection of grow lights that use LED technology and traditional fluorescent lights.

Lastly, your seedlings need to be hardened off prior to transplanting in your garden.  This allows plants to get slowly accustomed to the great outdoors.  It will also decrease losses and die back. Over a 10 day period move your plants outside in a protected area, like a back porch, for a few hours each day.  Not too much light or wind. Gradually increase their exposure to full sun and wind conditions; your plants are now ready for transplanting.

May you have a successful gardening season.

 

Hopping Good Times

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Common Hops, Humulus lupulus, is a species of flowering plant that belongs to the Cannabaceae or hemp family. It is a native to Europe and is cultivated in North America as well.  The sexes are separate or dioecious with the female plant’s strobili (pictured above) being of economic importance. The male staminate flowers do not have petals. Hops rely on wind-pollination of flowers. The plant is a herbaceous perennial climbing plant which sends up new shoots in early spring and dies back to a cold-hardy rhizome (underground stem) in autumn. You can find leaves with 1, 3, 5, and 7 lobes on the same plant. Plants can produce up to 20 years.

The female cone-shaped fruits from H. lupulus are used by breweries.  The fragrant flower cones, known as hops, impart a bitter flavor, and also have aromatic and preservative qualities. Hops are also used for various purposes in other beverages.

Hops plants grow best in the latitude range of 38°-51° (growing zones 5 – 8) in full sun with moderate amounts of rainfall and nutrient-rich soil with good drainage. Plants use the long summer days as a cue for when to flower around July or August. Plants can grow up to 30 feet tall and are typically suspended by free-standing poles or lattices will trellising twine.

Any hop rhizomes you buy will be female. Male hop plants are not cultivated.  Spring is the best time to plant hops.  First-year plants expend energy growing roots with only a few cones possible.  By the second year, you should see a marked increase in cones.

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A commercial hops yard using a trellis and pole system to suspend hops plants.

How To Propagate Hydrangeas From Cuttings

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It’s easier than you may think to root cuttings from your hydrangea bushes. The first step is to select a choice stem for cutting. A stem for hydrangea propagation should be at least six inches long, with no flower. The stem needs to be a new growth which is a lighter green than old growth. Once you have selected a stem to propagate, use pruning shears to cut the stem off just below a leaf node. A leaf node is where a set of leaves will be attached to the stem. The hydrangea cutting should contain at least one additional set of leaves above the selected leaf node.

Next, strip all but the topmost set of leaves from the cutting. The cutting should have only two leaves left. Cut the two remaining leaves in half crosswise. This will prevent excess water loss from the cutting and will quickly callus over.  Dip the end of the cutting in rooting hormone which will increase the chances of successfully propagating hydrangeas. Put the cutting into damp potting soil. Use a pencil first to make a hole, then firmly press the soil around the stem. Cover the pot with a plastic bag, making sure that the bag does not touch the leaves of the hydrangea cutting.

Place your hydrangea cuttings in a sheltered location out of direct sunlight. Check your hydrangeas every few days to make sure the soil is still damp. In about four weeks, the cutting will be have grown new roots. Your hydrangea propagation will be complete. That is all you need to know about how to propagate new plants for friends and family.

The Botanical Star of Bethlehem Is Really A Beautiful Weed

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Ornithogalum umbellatum, or Star of Bethlehem, is a genus of perennials native to southern Europe and southern Africa. The plant has slender basal leaves and a stalk bearing clusters of white star-shaped flowers, sometimes striped with green, growing from a bulb. The common name, Star-of-Bethlehem, is based on the flower’s star-shape and the star that appeared in the biblical account of Jesus’s birth. But don’t be fooled by those beautiful little flowers, this plant can easily a nuisance in gardens and lawns when allowed to run wild.

A Beautiful Weed Is Still A Weed

This plant can quickly out-perform other species and take over when planted in beds with other ornamental flowers and quickly become a nuisance in gardens and lawns.  Seed production is uncommon, mostly spreading by small, abundantly produced bulblets.  If interested in growing this plant, it is safest to grow it in containers or areas where it can be kept confined.

A Plant Spread By The Crusaders

The Star of Bethlehem flower is steeped in Christian symbolism, from its supposed Biblical reference. It is often used in floral bouquets and arrangements for ceremonies, such as christenings, baptisms, and marriages.

Ornithogalum was originally described by Linnaeus in 1753.

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Aristocrats of the woodland garden

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Commonly known as hellebores, the genus Helleborus consists of approximately 20 species of herbaceous perennial flowering dicots. These plants belong to the buttercup family Ranunculaceae. Common names include “winter rose”, “Christmas rose” and “Lenten rose”; however, hellebores are not closely related to the roses.    The leaves are toothed and leathery leaves. Many hellebore species are poisonous.

The distinctive flowers have five petal-like sepals surrounding a ring of small, cup-like nectaries that are actually modified petals to hold nectar. The sepals do not fall as petals would, but remain on the plant, sometimes for many months.

Hellebores are widely grown in USDA Zone 5 through 8 gardens for decorative purposes. They are particularly valued by gardeners for their winter and early spring flowering period.  The plants are surprisingly frost-resistant and are best grown in groups in wooded or shady borders.

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Interesting Facts About Tulips

 

1. There are over 150 species of tulips.
2. Their flower buds are known for being almost perfectly symmetrical.
3. Most tulips sprout a single flower bud.
4. Tulips are part of the lily family.
5. Tulips only bloom for 3-7 days in the spring.

 

Planting Crocus Flowers Add Spring Time Color

 

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Crocuses are the heralds of spring, often blooming when there’s still snow on the ground.  Their beautiful blossoms attract hungry bees drawn to the rich, golden pollen inside each flower. Crocus plants are not fussy and will thrive almost anywhere. We all want our flowers to thrive. Keep reading to learn these simple facts about planting crocus flowers.

Planting For Success

Here are some tips for spectacular springtime color, year after year.

SUN & SHADE: Crocus bloom best when grown in full sun, but they’ll also grow well in partial shade.

ZONE: Crocus are hardy in zones 3-8.

WHEN TO PLANT: Plant crocus bulbs in fall, once the weather has cooled down. Plant bulbs 1 to 2 inches deep and about 3 inches apart.  Crocuses have a greater impact when planted in groups.

Free stock photo of nature, field, flowers, purple

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