Spring Must be Here–Even the Dogwood Sap is Running

Cornus Florida, our native dogwood.

No, it doesn’t look like this in Connecticut yet. This image is from last May. But this is the dogwood that I am talking about. It is dripping sap puddles onto our driveway.

I have recalled seeing such a thing in the past, but not quite as pronounced as this year. Perhaps that’s because–for a change–it has been very dry so the puddles have a chance to get large before rain or snow wash them away. This is a tiny, fresh puddle.

Sap puddles

This is the sort of thing that I am talking about. These dark spots are the dried sap puddles.

Notice the drop of sap just about to fall from the branch stub. That is not a freshly pruned branch

And here’s the actual sap dripping from the tree. It’s rather odd.

I am used to maples making a mess. But not my dogwood!

Budding Bay

Flower buds on laurus nobilis

Those of you who live in warmer climates may wonder what on earth the fuss is about. Why am I taking pictures of flower buds on a culinary bay plant and posting about them?

Bay and mint plants, on north side of sun porch

So you can see the location of this plant: on an enclosed, glassed in porch, not heated, but getting no sun because it’s on the north side. (My sun loving herbs, like rosemary, and my tender conifers, are on the southern side of the porch. That’s how the poor bay wound up back here.)

I was never quite so shocked as I was today when I saw the flower buds on it. It’s not as if the plant hasn’t bloomed before. It has–that’s how I recognized the buds. But I didn’t expect it to bloom this early or in this location.

That’s one thing about plants. Every so often they still surprise me. It’s great!

A Croton Second Look

Croton with spike

Remember this from a couple of weeks ago? It was in a post about having plants in the right place, and ignoring advice about how difficult certain plants are to grow.

I said in that post that a plant will be very quick to let you know if it’s unhappy–I have a low light plant in one of my rooms upstairs that has burned patches on its leaves as I type this so I can attest to that. What happened? Did I move the plant? No. The sun moved in the sky and now the plant is getting too much light. Oopsie! It’s a danger this time of year before the leaves fill in on our deciduous trees. So I moved the plant. It told me what it wanted in no uncertain terms!

Croton in bloom

Here’s the update on the croton. It’s blooming. I hadn’t missed the flowers. I feel much better about that.

Larger, non-blooming croton

Its buddy, right next to it, is not blooming, however. And it’s not telling me why either. Hmmm.

STOP! Before You Prune Those Hydrangeas, Know What Kind You Have

A mix of blooming mophead and smooth hydrangeas

I am famous for saying that if I had a nickel for hydrangea question I got (and specifically the question “why isn’t my hydrangea blooming?”) when I was working in retail gardening, I would never have to work another day in my life.

Even with all the newer types of hydrangeas on the market–the “so-called” reblooming hydrangeas that bloom on old and new wood, in my climate, they can be notoriously finicky and NOT bloom when they’re supposed to–or stop blooming completely for some reason.

This is heartbreaking in a state like Connecticut, which is so close to places like Nantucket and Cape Cod, where so many people vacation. They go there, they see huge mounding shrubs of blue hydrangeas–and they come home to sticks and twigs of their own blue hydrangeas with no blooms.

Or worse yet, they come home to incredibly healthy shrubs of hydrangeas–and still no blooms. It’s enough to make one want to get a backhoe and just rip them all out!

I have advised folks about proper pruning, about knowing the type of hydrangea that you have and about replacing the types of hydrangeas that bloom on old wood with those that bloom on old and new wood (because here, we can get very late frosts–or worse, snows–that kill off those developing flower buds).

But if you haven’t spoken to me back when I was working in retail gardening, Proven Winners has put together and excellent guide to hydrangea pruning. It’s called Hydrangeas Demystified,

https://www.provenwinners.com/sites/provenwinners.com/files/pdf/hydrangeas_demystified_2015.pdf and while you still need to know the “type” of hydrangea that you have,  once you determine that, you’ll be able to figure out how to prune and when to prune. You might be able to save yourself a lot of heartache by not cutting off developing flower buds–or having your landscaper do so.

While we still can’t solve the problem of not being able to grow those gorgeous Nantucket type blue hydrangeas here in Connecticut (at least not in central Connecticut!), this guide can at least help us not prune off any flower buds that we might have developing.  I have more than once cut into wood that I thought was dead, only to discover that it wasn’t–I now only prune my mopheads very, very late!

So I hope this guide is helpful–and I hope that I have posted it early enough for most of you. Enjoy!

Decongesting Japanese Maples

Japanese maple, pre-pruning

Pruning just didn’t seem like the right word for what I wound up doing to these Japanese maples–and yet, because they still retain some of their leaves from the fall, all my hard work isn’t all that readily apparent. Suffice it to say that I took 5 cartloads of primarily dead wood out of this one–because after all, it is still a maple so by now, the sap is running. I couldn’t prune it as severely as I would have liked.

Second maple, pre-pruning

Here is my second maple, pre-pruning. It has a sort of “Cousin It” appearance, for those of you old enough to remember the original Addams Family. Still, I prefer that sort of look to the mangled look of the other, caused by the Spoiler’s hedge trimming. Don’t ask.

This was the easier of the two trees to prune. It really just needed the dead wood removed.

Finished maple

Again, I would have liked to cut a few more things, but not with as much sap running in the tree as there was. My timing was bad, but until this weekend we had ice on the ground.

Congested canopy

Back to the first–and worst–tree. You can see how that even from inside and underneath the canopy it was really a mess. I did what I could. If I had been able to get to it earlier, I might have been able to get some of the live, crossing branches off the canopy. But with all the sap running, I didn’t want to do that. I may go back next year–if I can get in there when there’s no ice. Timing is always tricky.

But at least the deadwood is gone so I have achieved something.

The newly pruned tree

And here’s the “finished” tree–or as much as I could finish. The dog is thrilled that she can see under it to the street!

Here’s Why I Love Hellebores

Cars buried in the snow

For all of February, this is what we battled in Connecticut. Now you see why I refer to it as the “frozen north. ” That funny red stick you see in the snow by the tree? That’s a 6 foot snow broom–I use it to clear the cars. You can see where I started on the far right.

But this is a gardening blog with a title about hellebores. I just wanted to give you some perspective for the next photo. Because, as you can imagine, it has taken quite some time for all this snow to melt, particularly when more kept falling.

When all the snow did melt, however, this is what’s underneath.

Lenten rose

I was shocked to see such fully developed buds coming out from under the snow. But of course, the temperature under there would have been stable and relatively warm–near freezing.

Many people find hellebores ordinary or common. Since these–along with the snowdrops–are the first things blooming for me, I am always delighted to see them!