Prune Roses now for beautiful blooms

Carefree Beauty RoseJust as most plants in the garden are starting to shoot up, it’s time to whack back your roses. Oh no, you say, I couldn’t possibly do that. But if you want healthier plants and more prolific blooms, take your shears in hand.

It’s important to prune roses to reduce thin, weak or crowded stems and to increase airflow through the plant. Pruning off inward-facing canes improves circulation and helps prevent pests and diseases. Shaping the healthy stalks by cutting them back by one third or more helps maintain a compact plant.

Screen-shot-2013-05-28-at-2.06.24-PMIf you have climbers or one-time bloomers, wait until after they have finished their spring blooming because they bear flowers on last year’s wood. For continuous bloomers, a thorough spring pruning in Central Texas is usually done between the middle of February and the first week in March.  Don’t worry if your rose has already sprouted growth, it’s still important to prune them now – they will reward you if you do. The ever-blooming varieties will then put on a show all summer because they bloom on new growth, which is prompted by pruning.

Make sure you sterilize your pruners with alcohol before you begin.  This prevents the possible spread of any diseases. You’ll need to use curved-edge, scissor-like pruners, to prevent crushing the branches, and long handled loppers, and a pruning saw. You’ll also want to use long leather or extra thick rose gloves – sometimes I think those thorns actually reach out to grab me.  I’ve found a great tool for pruning my roses — it actually grips the branch after it’s been cut. Then you simply release the handle and drop the branch into your brush bag without endangering your digits.

Hybrid Teas and Grandifloras

First, begin at the bottom and prune off any dead, old, brown or non-producing canes.  Next, take out canes that are rubbing against or lying on other canes.  Then cut stems that are growing in toward the center of the shrub. Cut off any growth of suckers at the base of the bush.  Finally, cut remaining stems that are smaller than the diameter of a pencil.

The pruning and shaping cuts should be made at a 45-degree angle, about ¼ of an inch above a dormant bud, or eye, that is facing the outside of the plant.  The eye  looks like a small round and swollen bump on the branch and is not sprouting.  Other, growing buds are already on their way to producing – pruning these dormant buds will promote more new growth and result in profuse blooms.  The result should be a rose that is about two feet tall with about a half dozen canes.

Climbing roses

Climbing roses are pruned so as to encourage them to grow upward, instead of creating a compact bush.  With these roses, trim as you would with Grandifloras, but allow more long, vertical canes to grow unless they are dead, unhealthy or are outgrowing  their space.  Then trim the horizontal side branches to about 5-10 inches, making sure the cut is above a bud eye and is aimed up at a 45-degree angle.

Floribundas and antique roses

These roses are generally not pruned as dramatically as the others.  For these bushes, follow the same basic process, but cut fewer of the main canes off of the bush and prune only about 1/3 off the remaining healthy branches. For antique roses, you only need to remove the dead or crossed canes and give it a light pruning on last year’s growth. If they get too lanky, you can eliminate some of the older canes as needed.

Once pruning is complete, be sure to clean up and dispose of any leaves that have dropped around the base of the bush, just in case they contain fungi spores. Use a dormant spray, available at most independent nurseries, immediately after pruning. This will ensure that there are no remaining insects and fungi.

The American Rose Society recommends waiting 3-4 weeks before applying a rose fertilizer, but local sources recommend feeding right after the roses have been pruned.  In our warm climate where the plants are already budding out, it should be safe to feed immediately after pruning.

And, as with all plants, apply an ample layer of mulch around the rose bush, being careful not to place the mulch right up to the base of the plant.  This will prevent water evaporation, lessen the likelihood of weeds and protect the plant from extreme heat when the weather starts to warm up.

Local Landscape Designer and Garden Coach Diana Kirby provides landscaping tips at http:/ and writes a garden blog at


By | 2017-11-29T23:27:02+00:00 February 28th, 2015|Articles|Comments Off on Prune Roses now for beautiful blooms

Plan, prep for Spring’s garden

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Getting more organized rests somewhere in the middle of my lengthy list of New Year’s resolutions. It includes staying on top of my regular gardening chores and getting ahead of each gardening season before it’s upon me.

With spring around the corner, the first step is taking stock of the garden and setting some goals. This is the time to make not just a mental list, but to put pencil to paper and get tough on your landscape. Think about both tasks and major projects that you either need to do or want to accomplish.

Does your walk around the garden with a critical eye make you cringe?  Cracks in the patio, rotting wood, and muddy trails can all make your outdoor space tired and worn. Do raggedy landscape borders, splitting plastic edging, and washed out beds—devoid of soil and mulch—taunt you?

Then it’s time to take care of business. Use the end of winter to repair or take on new hardscape or structural projects. Plan out your project and shop building supply sources for sales or hire some help to take care of the more complicated projects. Start now, and you can check the big projects off your list. Then you’ll be ready in time for the fun stuff when local nurseries are filled to the brim with budding plants.

In addition to tackling sizable projects, there are also many simple chores you can cross off your list now.

Winter to-do list

Clean out your pots and containers. It’s important to start fresh when you pot up new plants.  Old pottery can contain salt deposits or diseases borne by last season’s plants. Physically remove old dirt or debris with a scrub brush. If you can, submerge the pots in a solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. If the pots are too big for that, pour the water all around them.  Then be sure to rinse them well and dry them in the sun.

Take stock of your garden tools. Rusty, dirty, dull, or broken tools need to be prepared for the hard work you’ll demand of them when the weather warms up. First, scrub your tools with soapy water and dry them well. You can use steel wool or a wire brush to remove rust.  Then smooth out old wooden handles with a little elbow grease and some sandpaper. Sharpen your clean equipment with a metal file, smoothing out nicks or jagged edges. Finally, apply a little lubricating oil to the metal blade and wooden handles and rub it in well so it isn’t slippery. And if your pruners have seen better days, consider buying a new pair. Nothing makes garden work easier than a shiny new pair of pruners.

Check your irrigation system. Whether you have a sprinkler system or you’ve set up your own drip hose system, give it a good inspection, looking for leaks, clogs and areas not receiving adequate coverage.  Making sure everything is in good working order will save time and money later, preventing you from having to dig up dead or dying new plants in the spring.

Amend your soil.  Does clay or limestone make digging impossible in your garden? Did the scorching summer heat turn the soil in your beds rock-hard? Use this time to amend the soil in your beds.  A good soil blend, with some form of compost, granite sand and gypsum can help to lighten up our poor soil. There are many good independent local sources for soil–both in bulk and bagged–that work well in Central Texas.

Clean your birdhouses.  In March, make sure your birdhouses are ready for their new inhabitants. If the house is vacant, open the roof or the back door to the house and empty out the nest. Wipe down the box with a bleach solution like that used for cleaning your pots. Then hang it back up with a welcome sign for a new brood of baby birds.

While winter is a slower season in the garden, it doesn’t last long here in Central Texas. The time for putting your feet up and perusing seed catalogs is quickly coming to an end. Make sure you’re ready when the garden calls again.

Local Landscape Designer and Garden Coach Diana Kirby provides landscaping tips at http:/ and writes a garden blog at

By | 2017-11-29T23:27:03+00:00 January 24th, 2015|Articles|Comments Off on Plan, prep for Spring’s garden

Trends driven by awareness

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A groundswell of consumer awareness is driving changes in gardening communities across the country.

Today’s gardening trends reflect the global move to use local resources and make choices that directly affect the course of our future. Environmental and health concerns are influencing a growing consumer desire for a more natural, healthy lifestyle.

Concerns about the effects of pesticides, GMOs and potential bacterial contamination in processing have fueled a movement to greater gardening self-sufficiency. Spawned by the desire to save money and control growing methods, more people are creating their own vegetable gardens, either at home or in community gardens.

The pages of gardening catalogs and magazines are filled with glossy advertisements for easy-assemble kits for starter vegetable beds and a growing array of creative containers for growing edibles in limited spaces.  From click-together vegetable bed frames to raised patio planters and lightweight plastic grow-bags, more and more options are being tailored to meet the unique needs of individual gardeners. Don’t have room for a raised bed because you only have a balcony? No worries – hang a planter bag from the ceiling.

The trend encompasses people on both sides of the restaurant table as well.  As customers become more discerning about the food they eat, restaurateurs are also embracing the movement, partnering with local farms and growers.  Locally sourced food has become a sign of the times. Promoted in advertising and featured in food reviews and blogs, it, too, is driving and being driven by changing consumer behavior.

In his book, “Jack Allen’s Kitchen,” local restaurateur, Jack Gilmore, chronicles his adventures in food, highlighting the role that local farmers and farmers’ markets have played in his successes. The book includes not only his story and his recipes, but also the stories of at least a dozen local farms and the symbiotic relationship he has with them. The tagline of his restaurant is: Jack Allen’s Kitchen — Local in source, Texan in spirit.

“It’s great to know where you food comes from and it’s great to get to know the farmers that are actively growing for you,” said Gilmore. “We want the best and freshest ingredients we can get locally, and it’s up to us to help take care of the local farmers as well.”

According to Gilmore, food harvested and shipped from other states can take a week to 10 days to reach Austin, whereas local sources provide food from the field to the restaurant in one day.

News reports of environmental concerns not only influence the rise in home gardening and local sourcing, but also affect what we are growing in our gardens.

While seeking food, thousands of species of bees and other insects and animals enable plants to reproduce. More than 90 percent of the 240,000 flowering plants around the world need an insect or animal to distribute their pollen to set fruit and seed. That includes one-third of all crops grown for human consumption.

But the growing die-off of dramatic numbers of honeybees due to colony collapse disorder is threatening US agriculture since honeybees pollinate many crops like fruits, berries, nuts and vegetables. According to the USDA, the US is facing an “impending pollination crisis,” in which pollinators are disappearing at alarming rates. Pollination is responsible for $15 billion in increased crop value each year.

A cause has not been identified, but some of the possible factors being researched include pesticides, mites, malnutrition, loss of habitat, and competition from non-native species.

As awareness of the effects of colony collapse disorder among honeybees rises, more and more gardeners are committed to doing their part, using their own small gardens to support pollinators. That means not using pesticides, planting pollinator-friendly plants and providing habitat for the bees.

Organic garden products are ubiquitous, available now not only at independent local nurseries, but also the big box chains seeking to answer consumer demand for natural products.

A variety of hand-made pollinator houses, which can be hung around the home garden,  are also available for sale.  Just as with humans, the way to a pollinators’ heart is through his stomach.  Providing food for pollinators is critical to encourage population growth. Some of the native plants that are friendly to pollinators include butterfly weed, bee balm, Joe-pye weed, spiderwort, columbine, blue bonnet, lantana, zexmenia, and goldenrod.

The common thread weaving through these trends? Consumer awareness and a desire to become more personally involved in the cycle of life that starts in our very own gardens and extends to the global community beyond our doors.

Local Landscape Designer and Garden Coach Diana Kirby provides landscaping tips at http:/ and writes a garden blog at

By | 2017-11-29T23:27:03+00:00 December 27th, 2014|Articles|Comments Off on Trends driven by awareness

Keep poinsettias blooming to next year


Holiday festivities just wouldn’t be the same without dazzling displays of the poinsettias and Christmas cacti, lighting homes with the colors of the season.

Last year, more than 34 million poinsettias were sold in the U.S. There are now more than 100 varieties of poinsettias in shades of pink, white, cream, salmon and purple, though the most sought-after color remains bright red.

While it appears in stores and nurseries in November and December, it is not a winter-hardy plant, but rather a tropical and a member of the vast euphorbia family. In its native Mexico and Central America, the poinsettia is actually a small tree, growing up to 12 feet tall with leaves 6 to 8 inches wide.

In the 14th century, the Aztecs prized this unique plant, using it to make dyes for clothing and makeup, and for medicine. Its botanical name, Euphorbia pulcherrima means “very beautiful,” and in Mexico, the plant is called ‘La Flor de Nochebuena’ or the flower of the holy night (Christmas eve).

Joel Roberts Poinsett, an amateur botanist and the first U.S. Minister to Mexico, appointed in 1825, is credited with introducing the plant to the U.S.  As it gained in popularity here, the plant was eventually given a new name in honor of Poinsett.

In spite of the common myth, poinsettias are not poisonous, but they can make you sick and should be kept safely out of the reach of children and pets. The milky sap produced by poinsettias can cause skin reactions, irritations, nausea, and vomiting.

Though they are frequently thought of as blooms, the red leaves of the poinsettia are not actual blooms, but modified leaves called bracts. The actual blooms are the small yellow tips in the center of the bracts.

When selecting a plant, be sure to look for one with dark green foliage.  Avoid plants with yellowing or drooping leaves or green around the bract edges. And don’t leave it outside if temperatures drop below 50F; they are very tender.

One of the most common questions about poinsettias is how to keep a poinsettia after the holidays and make it bloom again. Through the winter, place indoor plants in a sunny location and keep watering the plant when the surface soil is dry. They do not like to be too wet or too dry. They also dislike high heat or drafts; their ideal temperature range is 60-70 degrees. Use an all-purpose fertilizer every two to three weeks.  In May, cut back the plant to about 8 inches from the base of the soil. Pinch it back just a little in mid-summer to encourage a full, bushy plant by winter.

The secret to producing red bracts and blooms again lies in keeping the plant in total darkness at night. To achieve the brilliant, characteristic red color, the plants must have 15 hours of darkness a day for approximately 10-12 weeks.

Starting in late September, an indoor plant should be moved into a dark closet or placed under a cardboard box or black plastic bag at 5 p.m. every day. Remove it every morning at 8 a.m. It should receive 15 hours of total darkness daily. The blooms will only set if the plant experiences these shortened periods of light for at least 10 weeks’ time.  If light can get in through cracks in the closet or fabric, it will delay the bud set.  Kept on this schedule, by the first of December, yellow blooms and red bracts will appear and the plant can then be placed in a bright, sunny location

Many of the same elements of care hold true for the beautiful blooming Christmas cactus.  If you’re buying one now, it’s likely already blooming or about to bloom. After the holidays are over, with the right prompting, you can enjoy its flowers again next winter, too.

The name Christmas cactus is deceiving. As a member of the genus Schlumbergera, it is a tropical plant — nothing like the arid-loving desert cactus.  In its native habitat of Brazil, these plants grow on trees and among rocks and thrive in shade and humidity.

Just as with poinsettias, after the holidays, water the cactus on a wet to dry cycle – water only when the first inch of soil is dry. Prune the cactus in the spring when it begins to grow again.

In September, like poinsettias, they require 12-14 hours of total darkness at night in order to set buds in time for the holiday season. The optimum temperature for bloom formation during this time is between 60 and 65 degrees. Do not water the cactus in October; begin watering lightly again in November.

So, decorate with these festive plants this season, and consider enjoying them throughout the year. Next fall, you, yourself can nurture them into another season of beautiful blooms.

Local Landscape Designer and Garden Coach Diana Kirby provides landscaping tips at http:/ and writes a garden blog at


By | 2017-11-29T23:27:04+00:00 November 22nd, 2014|Articles|Comments Off on Keep poinsettias blooming to next year

Plant trees now for successful growth



As the nights finally begin to cool, ushering in what we call fall in Central Texas, it’s the right time to begin planting trees. Planting in the fall and winter enables new trees to become established over the dormant cold season – putting their energy into growing strong root systems that will enable them to take up water better and handle the heat of the following summer.

How to plant

It seems so simple: dig a deep hole, shovel a lot of good compost into the bottom and plop in the tree, right? Wrong. Many well-intentioned homeowners inadvertently make planting mistakes that can kill their new investment.

So, it’s important to understand the process and follow the right steps.

First, dig the hole and set the soil aside as you will need it again. Don’t remove the tree from its container or burlap bag first and then leave it out in the open air while you start digging, hit a rock, take a break, take a nap or forget about it entirely.  And, if you can’t dig the hole when you bring home the tree, be sure to water it regularly in its container until you have time to plant.

The hole should be about 2 to 3 times wider than the root ball and the soil on the sides of the hole should be broken up a little with a shovel or other gardening tool. Make sure the sides of the hole aren’t slick because this can discourage drainage and drown your tree. And, with our Central Texas clay soils, this roughing up of the edges is also critical to encourage upper roots to grow out into the soil from the side.

Do not dig the hole any deeper than the depth of the existing root ball. The bottom of the ball needs to sit on undisturbed soil. The tree should be planted at the same level as the original container or the soil at the top of the root ball. Setting it on loosened or amended soil will make the tree settle and sink too far into the hole.

Before placing the tree, take a look at its root ball. It should be firm and not broken. If its roots encircle the root ball, you’ll need to gently loosen the pot-bound roots a little. Left alone, they will continue to grow around instead of outward, girdling and eventually killing the tree. Always handle the tree by the root ball, and not the trunk.

Once you’ve placed the tree, backfill the hole with the original soil that you set aside. Do not add fresh soil or compost. Amended backfill can slow tree development and prevent it from establishing a widespread root system. Do not add fresh soil to the top, either. Adding soil above the original container level and covering the flare of the trunk will cut off oxygen to the roots and can cause the tree to rot.

Be careful also not to compress the soil when you backfill the hole with the original soil; the tree needs both water and air. Then, water the newly planted tree slowly until you have saturated the roots and the hole is soaked.

Once the tree is planted and watered, create a ring of mulch several feet in diameter around the tree to help avoid runoff of precious water. This will also help to protect the soil, insulating it from extreme heat or cold. Do not mound up the mulch like a pyramid against the trunk of the tree. Create instead a doughnut-like ring. Keep the mulch closest to the trunk at about an inch high, leaving the area immediately next to the trunk bare.  Pile the outside of the ring about 4 inches high.

Watering your tree

New trees require more water than established trees. The most common cause of death for newly planted trees is over or under watering during the first year or two after they have been planted. It can take that long for their roots to get established. Remember, as the tree canopy grows, so will the root zone, so the tree should not be watered fast and hard at the base of the trunk, but rather gently and slowly around the root zone under the canopy. Soaker hoses and drip irrigation are excellent methods for slow, deep supplemental watering of trees. Depending on your soil and rainfall, new trees should be watered once a week for the first few growing seasons. They should be allowed to dry out between watering; you can check the moisture level by sticking your finger or a tool into the soil under the tree mulch to see if it’s still wet or not.

There is no standard watering rule, but many experts recommend 10 gallons of water each week per inch of tree caliper. So, a 3-inch caliper tree would need 30 gallons of water each week. Trees should be watered at this rate even through the winter, because their roots continue to grow all year long. Obviously, you should adjust for rainfall.

Different trees have different needs, so watch for any signs of water stress – too much or too little – and adjust your watering accordingly. Native and well-adapted trees or those with smaller leaves may be happy with a slightly less water. Bear in mind that site conditions like soil type, rockiness, or steep slopes should also be considered as you are caring for your tree.

Local Landscape Designer and Garden Coach Diana Kirby provides landscaping tips at http:/ and writes a garden blog at

By | 2017-11-29T23:27:04+00:00 October 24th, 2014|Articles|Comments Off on Plant trees now for successful growth