Garden Advice: Don’t Prune that Crown!

Quercus_Oak_COS-CO_LAH_1854It’s a common question. You’ve just planted a new tree. In the process, the plant has lost a significant portion of its roots—sometimes up to 95 per cent! Should you prune back the crown to compensate?

The intuitive answer would be yes. We assume that with fewer roots, there’s no way the plant will be able to sustain all that foliage on top—and that’s the advice I see on website after website. But if you do decide to prune, you’ll be doing the tree a disservice. You might even kill it! How can this be?

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Planting a Tree

Improper staking_LAH_5226How do you plant a new tree? Most people know to dig a hole “twice as wide and deep as the root ball” (according to the label I found hanging from the branches), then stick in the tree, making sure the roots are well buried. Amend the backfill with plenty of compost, pile it over the roots and tamp it down firmly. Finally, securely stake the thin trunk so it won’t wiggle in the wind. Right?

Wrong!

This advice was being questioned as far back as 1980, but it is still widely practiced, much to the detriment of the poor plants.

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Murdering Seedlings

Lettuce seedlings_LAH_9883I’ve waiting all winter for spring to finally arrive (and it took forever this year). The garden was planned, veggie varieties were chosen, seeds were ordered. When the package arrived, the seed packets were sorted and stuffed into baggies to wait until May. With the first warmer days, I finally ventured outside, prepared my planting beds, hooked up the soaker hoses, and sowed those seeds. Then I misted them daily, lest they dry out and die. Weeds sprouted and were carefully extracted from the seed bed. Then, at last, the first tiny cotyledons showed above ground. My seeds were germinating!

And now you want me to pull half of them out? You must be crazy!

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Timing the Garden

Seeds in baggies_LAH_6137The calendar may say “Spring” but here in Colorado it’s still winter. Still, the first signs of spring are there if you look for them. Days are getting longer. Birds are wearing their courting feathers and breaking into spontaneous song. Buds are swelling on bare branches. And gardeners are reemerging from their winter hibernation.

Hopefully, you’ve already tested any stored seeds for viability, then placed your seed order or picked from the racks at your local garden center. When your packets arrive, store them in a cool, dry place. I like to sort mine into zip-lock baggies, then arrange the bags in a clear plastic shoebox. Colorado is naturally dry, but reusing the bags of desiccant that come in products such as new shoes and purses will help in more humid regions.

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To Seed or Not to Seed?

Pepper cotyledons vs leaves LAHGardeners seem to come in two varieties: those who buy seeds, and those who buy transplants. Which are you? Are you the do-it-yourselfer who prefers to start your plants from seed, nurturing each and every flower and vegetable from infancy? Or are you more the no-nonsense, practical type who figures that there’s no point in fussing when you can so easily purchase transplants? There are pros and cons to each approach.

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