Growing Concerns 561: Weeping cherry not weeping, divide hostas

In this issue:

Clipper guide for weeping cherry on a bad hair day
• Make the most of it when you divide that hosta
• Recognize the signs, fruitless plant jealousy
• Help for winter-burned evergreens
Yuccas cut back like cheese
Preventing construction damage to a landscape
• Not as cold as you think: Put those houseplants out
Stop tree hackers: Check tree removal crew credentials

Suckers at the root of weeping cherry's wild look

Dear Janet & Steven,

I've pruned my weeping cherry regularly but it's still wild-looking. There are straight pieces sticking up like a bad hair day. What can I do to make it weep like it should? - W.W. -

Dear W.W.,

Trace each straight piece back to its origin and cut it off there. They are suckers that are guided by the genes of the roots or the straight trunk below the graft. You've probably cut them in part but haven't removed them.

Once all the suckers are gone, stand back, take a look at what's left and start a three-year plan to gradually improve its shape.


Dividing a hosta

Dear Janet & Steven,

Is it too early to divide hostas? How small can I divide them? - K.T. -

Dear K.T.,

If you can dig them, you can divide them. Split each in four and replant just one quarter in place of the original. Refresh the soil with compost in a volume equal to the ousted three-quarters.

Now divide the remainder as small as you like. Each eye, with its roots, makes a whole new clump, sooner than you think. Those little pieces are also much easier to plant among tree roots where you may need groundcover.

Short reports

Plant jealousy says "Hello" from San Bernadino...

...where we're thinking we just shouldn't travel any more to new places. We return from each trip coveting at least one new plant we northerners shouldn't even try to grow. It's so silly since we haven't even learned how to grow all the true Great Lakes plants yet.

Bleached or scorched tips on your evergreens?

Boxwood, holly, rhododendron, azalea, euonymus, pieris, yucca and even some yews did burn this winter from cold and wind. You can green them up by cutting off every discolored leaf or just the burned portions of each blade. Although that last option is simple on a yucca it's hours of work on a boxwood.

A quicker option is to cut whole branches back to below the damage, even to bare, leafless wood. All of the plants listed here, if otherwise healthy, will develop new shoots with fresh green within four or five weeks of a spring cut.

If you must cut back to bare wood, do so then step back to assess the overall situation. Replacement growth will come from just below the cuts so take this chance to shape the plant's comeback. If you want the shrub to be round-topped, make the cut limbs describe a dome, too. If the plant had been showing ugly ankles -- leaflessness in its lower parts -- then cut some limbs shorter than others so it will now have multiple levels of greenery.

Yuccas as cheese?

A yucca is an evergreen with branches below ground. Cutting it back in spring to refresh its looks can mean razing it at ground level. You can cut it by hand or wrap a strong, thin rope around its base, then pull that with your lawn tractor or car to slice through it like a string cuts cheese.

Warn away onlookers since in this process a snapped rope can be deadly.

Did you say "build," "remodel" or "add on?"

Guard your landscape while that construction is underway. We developed a checklist for preventing construction damage to show you how to and guide your building contractor to save all you can of your landscape. You can bring that guide out of its place in the queue and onto this site right now. Sponsor us, and tell us in your sponsorship email that preventing construction damage is the topic you're interested in!


Green thumbs up

to putting some houseplants outdoors now. If it feels cramped indoors after a long winter at close quarters and your family's browsing catalogs for machetes, push your hardiest greenery out the door. Check each plant's cold tolerance in a houseplant book. On a warm day recently we hustled our 30-inch jade (okay to 40 degrees), bushel-size rosemary (25 degrees), hip-high bay tree (25 degrees) and monstrous aloe (30 degrees) onto the shaded porch to begin their gradual reacclimation. We can recall them if real cold threatens. Meanwhile we have room for dinner guests. Or to acquire more plants!


Green thumbs down  

to tree hackers who focus on speed alone as they take down dead trees. All the work associated with our ash tree disaster (emerald ash borer) attracts this sorry crowd. It has lured people from other States and professions, many unskilled  in arboriculture. As these people move through our landscape they are leaving wakes of permanently disfigured and critically injured bystander trees. We can't afford to lose more trees.

Check your tree cutting candidates' credentials and references to hire a responsible arborist who knows how to remove one tree without smashing trunks, limbs and roots of remainder trees.

Originally published 4/3/04