Pruning, Yes You Can!

I often get asked about proper pruning techniques. How? When? Why? What about Hydrangeas!?! Many people seem to be tentative about tackling this task. Driving around the metro area I see many badly pruned plants so I can understand why people would have doubts about their abilities. There are professionals who can help but there are also many companies out there taking short cuts with sheering tools that I would ban from touching my plants!

Once you feel confident in pruning technique it can be very meditative and rewarding, I promise. I learned to prune when I worked in the Founder’s Memorial Garden on the University of Georgia campus. Day after day I had practice and my patient supervisor would check my work explaining ways I could improve. It does take a while to get confident and if you are interested in learning you have several ways you can proceed. 


Start with some written instruction such as the linked image above from Monrovia. The University of Georgia Extension Service has publications as well. The one I have linked below has some great diagrams to help readers understand pruning. Reading articles like these really helped me understand how to “think like a plant”. I have heard pruning described as a game of chess in that the pruner must think several moves in advance to understand what their action is telling the plant. 
If you are a person who learns by reading and like diagrams you will be happy with these links. In addition, or if you learn by doing, you will want to check out local gardening calendars for workshops that will teach pruning. Getting to see someone showing the cuts they choose as well as getting practice with a teacher will instill much more confidence. Local garden celebrity

Walter Reeves

keeps an updated garden related

events calendar

on his blog and

Cobb Extension

 (or the Extension in your county closer to you) is a good source of teaching events. 

Many people are confused on when to prune, especially Hydrangeas. This confusion is caused by some plants that bloom on “new wood” and some that bloom on “old wood”. New wood is the growth of the plant since the winter dormant period. If the plant blooms on new wood and you prune in winter, it will still flower because the buds will be set on the new growth. Conversely, if the plant blooms on old wood, you need to prune after it blooms for the season or you risk cutting buds set on last season’s growth. If the plant doesn’t bloom (or isn’t grown for its blooms) it is less crucial when you prune because you won’t potentially be cutting off much coveted flower buds! So if you can’t remember when it is okay to prune you can look up if it blooms on old or new wood!

Learning to prune can seem daunting but like any other skill, once you understand the method and get some practice under your belt it can be a very rewarding skill to have!


A flyer for an upcoming pruning workshop.



Fond Memories of the Southeastern Flower Show

The Southeastern Flower Show was an annual event held in early spring in the Atlanta area. When I first began attending it was held inside what is now Ponce City Market (an amazing old warehouse location which was originally a Sears store and catalog fulfillment center). It was later housed in the larger space at the World Congress Center and its final location was the Cobb Galleria exhibit halls. The last year it was held was 2013.

I read an article recently (I will share it at the end of this post) that reminded me of the now defunct Southeastern Flower Show and what a special event it was

There were many exhibits such as flower arrangements, photography, award winning orchids, small rooms staged for events, garden related club displays, and of course vendors! But the highlight of the show was always the large indoor landscape gardens build by local companies. Because of the time of the year, many of the plants outside were still dormant and bare but the landscape gardens at the show were designed to look lush and verdant. It was such a treat to come in from the cold to the smells and sights of what appeared to be growing landscape gardens! 


I participated in building a garden and working the show two different years. One was a large garden when I was lead designer at Cascade Design Group. That company later split up and part of it became Terranova Atlanta. With that company I participated in a small garden design and build. Both builds meant long hours – the gardens have to be build from scratch in 3 days and 24 hour a day shifts are common. For me it was hard to appreciate with the lack of sleep and stress but looking back it was amazing working as a team to build such an intricate design in such a short period. 
The work begins much earlier in the year than the days before the show though. The design is created in the fall of the previous year and plants are brought into the greenhouses to be forced through December and January. The greenhouse not only has heated air, and timed grow lights, it also has to have heated water for the roots of the plants. I also worked closely with several artists who were commissioned to create sculptural details for the garden.  Our regular employees worked in a rented warehouse space to build walls and wood structures that could be brought in piecemeal and locked together like building blocks according to the design. 
The hard work paid off and both times, the gardens I worked on both won Best in Class and the large one took Best in Show. Then the show opens and the general public comes to tour the work. The vistiors have lots of questions and appreciatively marvel at the projects. I love to talk about design and plants so it’s nice to have so many people who are there for just that! When the show closes, it all gets dismantled and the exhibit hall is readied for it’s next trade show. 

Seeing the exhibit hall empty as we moved the plants in by forklift, experiencing the show, then seeing it clean and empty again at the end of the week is a transformation that is almost unbelievable

The article that reminded me of these Flower Show memories was here:


an image from the Japan Kei Truck Garden Contest

The article details the Kei Truck Garden Contest in Japan where landscape designers pull up in their iconic Kei trucks and spend several hours building a landscape design in the truck bed as part of a competition. 

Although the Southeastern Flower Show is no more, this past year the Atlanta Botanical Garden attempted a spring flower show. Maybe the idea of these truck gardens will catch on here and soon Atlanta will be hosting its own truck bed landscape competition. I would love to be part of that!





entry to the landscape garden I worked on


the entire garden was raised (including the real bluestone path) to make room for the root balls of the trees and the pool of the water features


A Japanese Maple that had been forced in our greenhouse with the waterfall in the background








Poison Ivy – are you itchy just from the thought?

National Public Radio recently shared a goodarticle on how to better spot Poison Ivy. Reading it may help you get better acquainted with all of the forms the hated plant can take. With practice, you can become a seasoned spotter of the “leaves of three” and cut down drastically on your chance of itching after weeding in your landscape. 

I’ve written about special plants you may want to enjoy in your landscape but this one is an unwelcome addition

The way I combat it in my own yard is to wear long sleeves and gloves and hand pull out the whole plant, including the root, and disposing of it in the trash (not compost pile). I do this once in the spring when all the weeds come out and again now in late June. My method when continued yearly,seems to keep the vine at bay and [knock-wood] my family and the kids that play here don’t find any. I don’t love chemicals like Round Up and it doesn’t seem to do a very good job on Poison Ivy anyway so hand pulling is what I recommend.
That said, I don’t currently react to the oil but I have been told that continued exposure can cause a person loose “non-allergic” status. So I continue to take precautions.
Be very careful with those hairy vines going up trees. It is either Virginia Creeper (harmless) or Poison Ivy so to be safe, DON’T BURN those logs!
If I am at your property, I am happy to do a mini Poison Ivy quiz for you! This is the one plant (if not more)I want everyone to be an expert at identifying!