pruning

Tomato 101

Tomato 101

By Jim Hole

There’s no shock as to why tomatoes are so well-loved. Whether it be salsas, sauces or salads, their versatility is unmatched by other garden vegetables. Tomatoes are actually quite simple to grow with the right technique, patience and care. This “Tomato 101” will send you on your way to producing a bountiful yield of this summer favourite.

Varieties

With the vast number of tomato varieties, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. For cherry tomatoes, some of my favourites include Sun Gold, Minimato and Rapunzel. For eating tomatoes, Primo Red, Mortgage Lifter and Stupice. And of course for cooking, be sure to try San Marzano, Mamma Mia and Sunrise Sauce. Stock up on your favourite varieties soon–as many sell out fast!

Soil

Proper soil is crucial for a successful tomato yield. It may be tempting to purchase the “cheap stuff” at your big box stores, but these brands lack the richness needed for tomatoes to thrive. Soils lose organic matter if it is not added back in regularly, so my recommendation is using a 1:1 ratio of Sea Soil and Jim’s Potting Soil. Avoid using manure in your soil as the salt content per bag is inconsistent. More often than not, you will end up scorching your plants and be forced to start over.

Fertilizer

Tomatoes are heavy feeders, which means it is important to fertilize them regularly. I recommend using Garden Pro Tomato Food (5-10-5). This granular fertilizer is also supplemented with calcium to prevent “blossom-end rot”. Simply mix Garden Pro Tomato Food in with your soil and water thoroughly. Another product I like to use on my tomatoes is Epsom Salts. Epsom Salts contain magnesium and can be applied every couple of weeks.

Watering

We often have customers come to the greenhouse with wilted leaves, brittle stems and yellowing tips. After a quick look, I know they aren’t watering enough. I use the analogy of filling up your car with gas to help explain the importance of watering. When you go to the gas station, you don’t put $5 worth in your car, drive till it’s empty, fill up $5 worth again and so on. The same goes for watering your tomato plants. When you water, ensure that you water the entire root zone completely with a good soaking.

Weed Control

There is nothing more frustrating than pouring time and energy into your garden, only to have it scattered with weeds. Not only are they an eye sore, but they also draw the essential nutrients out of your soil, leaving nothing for your tomatoes. Before you plant, I recommend encouraging the weeds to grow–watering like you would for any garden. Once they are a mature size, spray the soil with Bye Bye Weed to kill off any vegetation that is present. Wait 7 days, and plant your garden as you normally would. NEVER APPLY BYE BYE WEED TO YOUR GARDEN PLANTS. IT IS RESTRICTED TO APPLICATION ON WEEDS ONLY. Pulling weeds throughout the summer is an obvious technique for eliminating weeds, but spraying saves you the headache altogether. 

Pruning

Tomatoes come in two growth types–determinate and indeterminate. Determinate tomatoes usually grow wider, do not need pruning and grow well in a cage. Whereas indeterminate tomatoes grow tall, require staking and pruning, but usually have higher yields than determinate varieties. Pruning indeterminate tomatoes is quite easy–simply pinch off the shoots or “suckers” that grow out from the stems. This redirects energy to the fruit of the plant rather than the shoots. In turn, this produces much larger, healthier tomatoes. Watch our video on how to prune tomatoes here: www.holesonline.com/blog/how-to-prune-tomato-plants.

 

Still not feeling quite confident on growing your own tomatoes? Be sure to check out our e-book on tomatoes at www.holesonline.com/ebooks/tomato-favourites.

Q: What causes black or brown rotten spots on the bottom of my tomatoes?

A: This condition is called “blossom-end rot” and it is caused by water stress and calcium deficiency due to heavy clay soil or irregular/inadequate watering. Watering regularly is key to preventing blossom-end rot. Even if the soil contains lots of calcium, without sufficient water, the plant cannot absorb essential minerals.

Training Trees to Fantastical Forms

Training Trees for Fantastical Forms

SHANE NEUFELD

There’s something magical about a tree that’s been carefully trained into the form of a graceful beast or an intriguing abstract shape. A trained tree or two in the yard attracts attention like no other feature. Creating formed trees involves pruning, shearing, grafting, wiring, training, staking, or combination of these. Some forms, such as those involving grafting, need to be started  while plants are young, while others—pompons, for example—may be undertaken once the plants have reached maturity. Trained forms require constant maintenance to maintain their shape. Imagination and perseverance are the only limits to the kinds of forms that can be created, though most fall into one of the following groups:

Topiary

Also called “sculptured” by some artists, topiary forms include anything you can imagine. One interesting topiary scene features a dancer and an admirer who watches her while quaffing a glass of beer. Naturally, there are simpler topiaries, too—baskets, spheres, cubes, pyramids…topiaries can be as simple or complex as the creator desires. They can often be spotted on large estates and in city parks. Yews, spruce, and broadleaf evergreens like laurels and boxwoods are particularly suited to this art form.

Bonsai

Many people associate bonsai with small shrubs, but larger plants can also be trained in the traditional Japanese manner. However, cabling or staking may be required to train parts of the tree to various heights. Any tools and equipment used to create traditional bonsai may be used to create the larger forms—the scale and plant variety is all that changes.

Espalier

Espaliers are typically two-dimensional forms, with branches trained to grow horizontally, nearly flat along a fence or wall. Pyramids and diamonds are common “pictures” drawn with espaliers, though the possibilities extend far beyond such simple shapes. The cordon, a variation of the espalier, is a form often used for fruit trees. In cordons, the branches are often trained to follow a vertical or oblique pattern.

Oriental Pompon

Oriental Pompons usually appear as upright, multi-branched forms, each branch topped with a sphere of foliage. A variation is “Hindu Pan,” which usually (but not exclusively) uses pines and is larger than the typical oriental pompon, which uses most evergreens and broadleaf evergreens.

Spirals

Spirals are relatively simple forms—a tree is trained to grow in the form of a corkscrew. Spiral forms are excellent for framing an entrance to a garden or driveway. Junipers and cedars are the most common trees used for spirals.

Serpentine

Trees trained into a serpentine form have an upright, snake-like main stem; smaller branches hang or weep down from this main stem. Birch and larch trees are the most commonly used trees for serpentines.

Dautsugi

In dautsugi, two or more different cultivars of a plant are grafted onto a single rootstock. For example, a globe spruce may be mated to a weeping Norway for a striking combination of upright and weeping branches.

Standards

Standards describe any trees that have been grafted onto a compatible understock. The height of the graft varies according to the desired effect. Top growth is usually spherical, and there are no branches along the trunk. The resulting form resembles a popsicle.

Create a Privacy Screen with Clematis

Create a Privacy Screen with Clematis

Many residential districts these days are constructed along a certain pattern—bigger houses and smaller lots that bring neighbours closer together, often with only transparent chain-link fences to separate them. While being close to your neighbours is good thing, so is a little privacy, and in areas where bylaws restrict construction of new fences, getting a little space to yourself can be difficult. Fortunately, perennials expert Jan Goodall has a simple, yet beautiful solution—clematis.


Perennial Privacy

Clematis is a vine-like, very hardy perennial (some species overwinter even in Zone 2) with a compact growth habit that easily covers 2 m of fence or trellis. It’s perfect for covering the gaps in a fence that’s too see-through for comfort. Here are three species of clematis ideally suited for privacy screens.

Clematis alpina easily covers a 2–2.5 m fence with a thick, vertical carpet of foliage. Foliage emerges on old wood in early May; by the third week in May, it’s usually fully leafed out. As a bonus, small, 5-cm bill-like flowers appear in May or June in pinks, blues or whites. A smaller flush of blooms follows in the fall. During high summer, there aren’t many blooms, which Jan says is an advantage—that’s BBQ season and fewer blooms mean fewer bees on your patio. The growing point, or base, is fairly small, only about 60 cm across, so you won’t need a lot of soil space.

Clematis macropetala looks and performs much the same as alpina, but with fully double flowers in pink, white or blue.

Clematis tangutica is a more rambling variety, suitable for covering a larger area and more height; it will grow up to 9 m wide and 3 m tall, and produces yellow blooms from June to September. In Jan’s experience, tangutica, unlike other varieties, grows equally well in shade or sun. The basal growth is relatively small for this species, too, despite its massive top growth.

For the average home, one plant is usually sufficient for a privacy screen for one fence. However, like all perennials, clematis takes time to mature. Clematis alpina and macropetala grow large enough to suit most privacy needs by the third growing season, the faster-growing tangutica by the second.

Planting

Plant in rich, well drained soil. If you plant more than one clematis, make sure to plant them at least 1–1.5 m apart.

Since clematis is a climber, you’ll need to provide support. Jan uses stucco wire—it’s strong enough to support the weight of the plant even when it gets old and heavy, yet flexible enough that the entire plant can be laid down if you need to work behind it. You can use a fancy trellis, but Jan suggests this may be a waste, as the plant’s foliage soon hides the trellis from view.

Care and Nurture

Fertilize your clematis once a month with 20-20-20. Clematis is very tough and needs little care beyond fertilization and regular watering. Pests leave it alone, and it competes very well against weeds and even the native plants on Jan’s acreage. Plus, the above listed varieties are not prone to clematis wilt, a disease that affects some of the other clematis varieties.

In the fall, clematis looks somewhat messy with dead leaves and dried seed pods. To tidy, Jan uses a stiff corn broom to brush away the bits of detritus. It’s an easy job that takes only a few minutes, though you’ll have to rake up the debris, too—you were raking your lawn anyway, right? Don’t take down your clematis for the winter; these hardy plants will survive quite nicely left on their supports.

Pruning

Clematis alpina and macropetala are compact, never get leggy and, therefore, require less pruning than tangutica. As it ages, tangutica tends to leaf out in June. To prevent an overabundance of growth in the summer, prune it back by 1/3 in the spring. The goal is to train the plant to grow thick lower down, as this helps the vine bush out and the end result is much more aesthetically pleasing. Prune the dead branches of any clematis species at anytime. According to a Robert Frost, “good fences make good neighbours.” A screen of clematis , so much more attractive than a fence, makes a good neighbour indeed.

Boulevard of Dreams

Boulevard of Dreams

By Lois Hole

Originally published on September 18, 1999, the impetus for this article came when a boulevard tree with a root ball girdled by a nylon cord was brought into our greenhouse in St. Albert, Alberta. The cord could only have been left there as the result of carelessness, and the indignation I felt forced me to examine what could be done to improve the health of city-maintained trees.


A city that has boulevards lined with vigorous, healthy trees tells me something about that place: it tells me that its citizens care about beauty and the environment. A stately procession of big, beautiful elms or maples lining the streets takes my breath away. But I’ve come to realize that these trees are not just the city’s responsibility.

Back in August, our son Bill saw that some well-established boulevard trees up the road still had braces on them—long after the trees could stand on their own. Fortunately, Bill noticed the braces just as they were beginning to cut into the bark. A quick phone call to inform the city’s parks department solved the problem. The endless profusion of cords and straps wrapped around the trunks and branches of young boulevard trees is a definite problem. These devices look harmless, but they’re killers. Christmas lights are lovely on outdoor trees, but the straps that hold the strings of lights in place must be removed annually. Leaving these straps on the trees makes it easier to hang the lights every year, but as the tree grows, the straps inevitably cut the circulation to the branches, ensuring premature death.

We must realize that planting trees is just the first step. Diligent maintenance is just as important as proper planting. While limited city budgets and honest misconceptions can make it difficult to provide long-term care to boulevard trees, regular upkeep and a little common sense can preserve a community’s investment. Several practices contribute to the downfall of boulevard trees, but a little care and planning on our part can ensure that they have a long and healthy life.

One practice that countless boulevard trees are subjected to is the relentless torture by weedeaters. Trees appear so tough and sturdy that many people don’t realize the extent to which these buzzing devils can damage trunks. Young trees are particularly vulnerable: the snapping cord of the weedeater slashes through and injures the thin cambium (the layer of bark responsible for growth) very easily. The damage is easy to spot: it manifests as a raised circle that girdles the trunk. Weedeater wounds can stunt growth, make trees more vulnerable to insects and disease, or kill them outright. It is simple to prevent such wounds. Just allowing the grass to grow a little taller around your boulevard trees can eliminate the problem, although many people think this looks unkempt. A plastic collar or a circular bed of annuals around the trunk can solve the problem, too. In the short term, it’s an expensive solution, but far less expensive than replacing the tree.

Like any trees, boulevard trees need regular pruning. If left to their own devices, many trees develop weak branches attached to the main body of the tree at dangerously narrow angles. Unless they are pruned at the appropriate time, these branches may snap off during a strong wind and expose the trunks to insect and disease pests. Most cities have excellent pruning programs, but occasionally a tree or two gets missed. If a tree looks particularly neglected it might be worthwhile calling the city’s parks department.

Construction is a necessary evil in cities but can cause severe damage to nearby trees. A magnificent 80-year-old silver maple that I drive past regularly is surely doomed: a couple of years ago I watched, horrified, as construction crews tore up the earth around it to put in parking spots. The idea was to create a few lovely shaded spots under the tree, but at least one of the tree’s largest roots was severed during construction. Ironically, the soil preparation for that pristine circle of asphalt will likely cause the tree to crash on top of the cars parked beneath its huge canopy.

Most Canadian cities are forced to use salt on the roads to increase traction in the winter. Unfortunately, salt usage has a number of disadvantages, including tree damage. Whenever a snowplow dumps a load of brown mush onto the boulevard, the ground beneath absorbs the salts, cutting off root absorption of water. While larger trees have a sufficiently extensive root system to evade salts, young trees don’t. In our area, a related problem is the all-too-common practice of homeowners dumping sump pump water, high in sodium salts, onto the soil around boulevard trees. Saline sump water should never be dumped around the base of trees.

Sometimes, a tree’s poor health can be traced back to the day it was planted. On one street close to home, there’s a long line of superb lindens—but every August, their leaves turn an ugly brown. Since this occurs during hot weather, there’s a tendency to blame the change on high temperatures. However, closer inspection reveals that the trees were planted in small holes cut into the sidewalk. Removing a chunk of concrete and planting into a little hole with compacted clay leaves little room for roots to expand and absorb water. The loss of moisture through the leaves far outstrips the capacity of the confined roots to draw in water. During periods of drought, the leaves invariably turn brown, severely weakening the tree.

Fortunately, awareness of the importance of maintaining city trees is growing. Just a few months ago, an venerable and rare horse chestnut smack in the middle of downtown Edmonton, Alberta made the news when a concerned horticulturist noted that the paving recently installed around the stately old tree would surely kill it. A group of concerned citizens raised enough cash to remove the pavement and re-landscape, saving the chestnut and beautifying the whole area. Many citizens contributed time and money to the project; my family donated lilies. I hope this story reflects a growing concern about the plants that are so very important to a city’s image. It’s everyone’s job to look out for their health.

Training Shrubs to Single-Stem Tree Form

Training Shrubs to Single-Stem Tree Form

Looking to add a distinctive feature to your yard? Try training shrubs into a long, branchless central stem topped with a full head of foliage. With quality plants, the right technique and patience, you can transform your favourite shrubs into dynamic tree silhouettes. Here’s how.

  • Start with a high-quality shrub in a one or two gallon pot and plant as you would any shrub.

  • Examine the shrub and select the largest, healthiest stem. This will become the ‘trunk’ of your tree-form shrub. Prune off most of the other stems, leaving some extra branches untouched for the moment. The extra foliage of these branches will give the plant the energy it needs to grow.

  • Maintain the tree form by pruning off new side shoots so that all of the plant’s energy goes into the remaining stem.

  • Stake and rod the stem to keep it upright. The rod and stakes should remain in place until the selected stem is able to support the weight of the plant.

  • Once the shrub reaches the desired height (1.2 m of clear stem is a good guideline), clip the top to force buds out, and remove any buds on the stem. This is also the time to remove those extra branches you left on the stem for plant growth. Treat like a normal shrub to produce a nice round head.

  • The shrub will continue to produce shoots in unwanted areas. Remove these shoots to maintain the tree form.

Make sure your expectations are realistic—training will not transform a 2-m tall shrub
into a 4-m tall tree, though your shrub may grow a little taller than usual because the
plant’s energy has been redirected to a single, central stem.

You can train almost any shrub, but here are a few suggestions to get you started.

Amur maple
Russian olive
Lilac
Evans cherry
Ninebark
Potentilla
Dogwood
Hardy roses
Hydrangea
 

Multi-Stemmed Tree Forms

Many large shrubs can be trained to multi-stemmed tree forms of three, five or seven
stems. Russian olive and amur maple look beautiful when trained to these forms.

Buying Tree-Form Shrubs

If you like the look but don’t feel like doing the work, you can buy mature shrubs in tree
form. Some of these shrubs are trained to tree form (dogwood, potentilla, ninebark, hydrangea), while others are created by grafting a shrub such as lilac or caragana to a
compatible rootstock. Note, however, that grafted tree-form shrubs are generally easier
to maintain than trained tree-form shrubs, as the rootstocks are chosen both for height
and their tendency to avoid creating side shoots. Grafted tree form shrubs come in a
variety of heights. In some cases, the central stem may be a metre tall, in others only
half that. It all depends on what the grower has chosen.

The Lifespan of Trees

The Lifespan of Trees

By Jim Hole

When it comes to understanding lifespan, most people have a pretty good grasp of the concept--at least when it comes to animals. But we’re not quite as clear on the lifespans of many plants. Everyone knows that bedding plants are only supposed to last one season, but when it comes to perennials, trees, shrubs and hardy roses, sometimes gardeners forget that these organisms, like any other, are mortal. This especially applies to trees; people seem to expect them to live forever, and often can’t figure out what they’re doing wrong when venerable trees begin to die. The truth is, you may have done nothing wrong at all; the bell may simply be tolling for your tree, so to speak.

Old Soldiers, Fading Away

While it’s true that a few trees can and have lived for thousands of years, most typical backyard trees will experience considerably shorter life spans. Older trees have one obvious feature that separates them from their younger cousins: they are a lot bigger. And although this isn’t a startling revelation, being taller and broader does have some serious implications on tree health. Water and nutrients travelling through an older tree have a greater distance to cover than those travelling through a younger tree of the same species, for example. As a result, there’s more opportunity for that journey to go awry.

Cavitation, or the breaking of the continuous, cohesive chain of water columns can be a problem in large trees. When a solid column of water breaks apart, an air bubble is formed that is comparable to an embolism in a human body. The air bubble can force water to take an alternative route. Sometimes the rerouting causes certain branches to lose their water and nutrient supply, leading to their eventual death. If enough branches are affected this way, the tree can be seriously weakened.

Drought conditions frequently put a greater strain on older trees than younger ones because older trees require more water due to their size – the greater the number of leaves, the larger the water loss due to evaporation.Therefore, one key component of managing older trees is to provide them with lots of water, particularly during prolonged periods of drought. 

Another question that many homeowners ask about older trees is whether or not to fertilize. The answer is yes, but sparingly. With younger trees, the goal of applying fertilizer is to promote growth; with older trees, the priority should be to maintain health. A large dose of fertilizer won’t help an older tree. It shifts the tree’s biochemical balance in favour of producing new branches and buds while sacrificing the production of a tree’s defensive chemicals, used to ward off pests. So while an older tree will likely produce more leaves when it gets a surge of nutrients, it will be less able to fend off insect and disease attacks.

Finally, pruning is often the last thing that one thinks about with old trees, unless a branch is about to tumble from the tree and damage the house or car. Pruning large old trees requires specialized equipment that homeowners simply don’t have, and therefore pruning can be expensive if a professional arborist is hired.

Nevertheless, pruning is beneficial to old trees. Perhaps the most important reason for pruning older trees is to reduce the risk of limbs falling off. But pruning has other benefits: it reduces the distances nutrients and water must cross, and therefore also reduces the risk of cavitation. It also eliminates dead branches, removing them as a harbour for insect pests and as an entry point for disease. Keep in mind that pruning a little every year is far better than pruning in one big session once a decade. Just as with human beings, steady care over the years is far better than emergency surgery.

To Everything a Season

Although they are mortal, with proper care most trees will have a long and rewarding life. They key is addressing their changing needs as they grow older, a practical approach that, when you think about it, applies whether you are a tree or a human.

3D Pruning: The Basics of Summer Pruning

One of the main reasons that many people avoid summer pruning of trees and shrubs is a deep-seated fear of causing irreparable damage to these woody plants.

But while one should have a basic understanding of the science of summer pruning, there are 3 pruning cuts that can be tackled fairly easily by most gardeners pretty much anytime. It’s called 3D pruning.

3D pruning is simply the removal of stems and branches that fall, roughly, into 1 of 3 categories: Dead, Diseased, or Damaged.

Let’s look at each category:

Dead

Dead stems and branches don’t require any in-depth analysis! If they are dead they should be removed and the sooner the better. Dead branches provide plenty of "fuel" for a number of "plant pathogenes" or disease fungi that can attack healthy tree and shrub tissue. 


Diseased

black knot.jpg

Some stems and branches can harbour some serious diseases and still look quite healthy.

"Black Knot" is a good example. It is a devastating disease that attacks Mayday and Schubert Cherry trees and is easily recognized by black, lumpy-looking growths on a tree’s branches. Removal of the branches the moment the disease is evident is critical to minimize spread of the disease to uninfected branches.

Damaged

Damaged branches and stems may be diseased, but often they are damaged due to other causes like winterkill, storm breakage, and insect pests. It’s best to remove damaged branches to allow your trees and shrubs to dedicate their precious resources to production of healthy tissue that can contribute to the overall vigour of your plants. 

 

Summer Pruning Notes

Once you feel confident in tackling 3D pruning there are 3 more things to consider before starting:

  • Use high-quality pruning tools and the right ones for the job. A razortooth pruning saw, secateurs, and loppers are the basics for pruning. Don't make the mistake of using a carpenter's saw as isn't designed for cutting trees—a razortooth pruning saw is what you need to properly cut the wood of your tree.
  • Be aware that Elms cannot be pruned from April to October due to the risk of spreading Dutch Elm Disease. Elms, in our part of the world, can only be legally pruned November to March.
  • Safety. Prune only those branches and stems that you can prune safely. Leave all other pruning for the pros!
razortooth saw.jpg

Second Pruning Workshop Added!

Thanks to everyone who attended last weekend’s pruning workshop. With close to 400 people attending, it was a little crowded and I thank everyone for their patience and a special thanks to those who helped move additional chairs into the greenhouse!
 
I apologize that I was unable to answer everyone’s questions on Sunday, so I thought it would be wise to have another pruning session on Saturday, October 15th at 1pm here at the greenhouses. If you missed last Sunday’s pruning workshop, or if you didn’t get your questions answered, please feel free to sign-up online or by phone for the workshop.
 
Also, thanks for so many great questions from the audience members. There was a lot of territory covered; everything from pruning raspberries and grapes to training apple trees into an espalier form. I suspect the next workshop will be a little smaller and a bit more intimate, however, it will be the last pruning event until early next year.
 
Now I know that some of you are probably thinking that I need to space out my pruning workshops for safety’s sake. This past spring I talked about the incredible sharpness of the "Corona Razortooth Pruning Saw" and no sooner had the words come out of my mouth, I then proceeded to cut my left index finger. On Sunday I, once again, talked about the sharpness of the pruning saw and managed to cut my left index finger in the same spot.
 

So whether you are coming to workshop to learn about pruning or just want to see if I will have a "threepeat" I look forward to seeing you on the 15th !


~Jim Hole

FREE Pruning Workshop with Jim Hole!

Over the years, I would say that the main reason people don’t prune their trees and shrubs is due to a fear that pruning of the irreparable damage it cause.
 
But while it’s true, that a bad pruning job can lead to some serious tree and shrub problems, doing nothing can be even worse. That is why I’m putting on a fall pruning workshop.
 
Given that the spring pruning workshops were so popular, and the fact that a lot of pruning can be done in the fall, I’m offering an hour long pruning session on Sunday, September 21st for everyone who would like to know more about the principles of tree and shrub pruning and the equipment required to get the job done safely and effectively. The session is free and all that you need to do is sign-up on line and pop out.
 
And don’t forget to bring along your questions on anything from fall raspberry pruning to pruning huge American Elms.
 
And, no, there won’t be any lessons on how to climb a 20 metre tall Elm with a chainsaw in hand – that’s for certified arborists – but I will talk about all of the pruning jobs that you can comfortably tackle yourselves and the essential tools needed for safe and effective pruning.
 
Looking forward to seeing you on the 21st!


~Jim Hol