Renew gold conifers

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Three false cypresses, three globe arbs. All had been repeatedly sheared into unnatural shape and also allowed to become too tall. They were nearly bare except up top, and their stems were so weak that each arb was encircled by cord to keep it from splaying. Cutting them down to acceptable height would mean removing almost all the foliage. That's not a cut done lightly to species like this that don't grow back from bare wood. But we were up to the challenge. 

'Gold Mop' false cypresses and globe arbs, reclaimed!

From too tall, foliage-thin and awkwardly shaped to graceful density in 2 years.

Look here, and come try your hand.

We also prune evergreens to restrict their size. For instance, you've recently seen us reduce a spruce and a false cypress, following a procedure just like that we used in Cut back a redbud... except the spruce and falsecypress each had just one main limb to the redbud's five.

The evergreens shown here are also done following the redbud-cutting procedure, except they have many more main branches to be headed back. We don't intend this article to reiterate the process, just to help you see the realistic possibilities.

It can take a few years to rehabilitate a plant. That's almost always true when it's an evergreen that's overgrown or has been pruned repeatedly to an inappropriate form. Add more time and finesse if it's a species that is not likely to push out new leafy tips when cut back to bare wood. Those species: juniper, arborvitae, pine, spruce, fir and false cypress.

We knew this particular reclamation would take more than a year. Since the client was willing, we set out to return these gold thread false cypresses and globe arborvitaes to pleasing size and form.

These photos mark the beginning and end of a 25 month project. Finally this week we declared, "That's worked! Now we can start treating them like normal dwarf conifers and prune them only every year or two in August."

Below, to begin: Too big, with bare patches all over and shorn out of all of the species' natural  lacy, fluffy character.


Below: Immediately after the first cut. "Oh my goodness, Janet!" said the owner, "There's nothing left!"
"Indeed," we replied, "all is gone except what, if it grows back, will be acceptable. Let's give them a few weeks. If they are too bare we can simply replace them and start over." 


Below: The shrubs did rally and we cut them three more times -- after 12 months, 18 months and 24 months. Now the bare spots are almost gone, all are leafy to the ground, with strong stems and none are too big.


Hard to follow the change? Focus on just one of the false cypresses from beginning (left) to first cut (center) and now (right):

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We will eventually assemble photos to show the whole cutback and rejuvenation process applied to these conifers. Some will be added here over time. Sooner, you can see them at the Conifer College described below. We must get on the stick, since there are hundreds of photos involved from which we'll pick only a handful that speak most eloquently.

We apologize for the confusing shadows on some of these photos. We garden for a living, whereas this reporting is a personal project. So garden work takes priority over the reporting. That means when light doesn't cooperate we try to compensate, but cannot reschedule the actual work.

To learn by seeing and participating in the play by play

If you want to become more adept at keeping your evergreens in shape, bookmark our calendar of events and watch our weekly newsletters for where we'll be appearing.

We love to work hands-on with you in our Garden by Janet & Steven sessions. We also have many hands-on and in-depth workshops, such as coming up this July.

July 12-14, 2012, Thursday - Saturday, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the American Conifer Society offers everyone a great chance to learn more about selecting the best, pruning, tending, and diagnosing problems of garden conifers. It happens at their National Conference Friday and Saturday, plus a special all-day Conifer College preceding the conference.

Janet's speaking about pruning evergreens and Steven about diagnosing conifer problems, and we're especially excited to be part of this event because we've seen few so jam-packed with very special experts and great topics... for very little expense.

Registration for this excellent symposium and conference is about to close, so register now. Download the meeting brochure and the conifer college brochure as well as the registration form from the American Conifer Society website.