Deferred Maintenance

There has been a lot of “turnover” as they call it, in my neighborhood. Houses that were owned by older couples are being bought by younger families with children. And this is nice to see. Things like that always reinvigorate a neighborhood.

What’s always a wonder to me, however, is when a growing family buys a house with a meticulous landscape and then, clearly, lets that landscape deteriorate.

We have such a situation–or two–in my neighborhood. And mind you, this has nothing to do with the fact that these folks aren’t maintaining the homes.

In the first instance, they have a lawn service mowing, so that’s fine. What I object to–and perhaps it will be remedied eventually–is that they have ripped out every shrub around their foundation and sunk the home in a sea of black dyed mulch. They’ll discover the consequences of that shortly as the artillery fungus shoots spores all over their yellow home.

In the second instance, the couple bought a house that had shrubs that had been neatly manicured to within an inch of their lives. It wasn’t to my taste, but at least it was a “look.”


These folks are barely mowing the lawn–and this is one of their specimen rhododendrons. I am sure they haven’t got a clue but I hate to see ancient shrubs killed off under weeds like this. This just makes me sad.

This isn’t a question of money–there’s a huge hulking Lexus SUV in the driveway and the guy roars by me in his Jaguar sports car (an oxymoron?) every morning.

I suspect that they just don’t know plants–or don’t care. But what a shame.

I hope the folks are at least enjoying living in a lovely place.

But at least I know this is not just happening in my neighborhood.


You can barely see the gold thread cypress under all the Virginia creeper here. There’s even some poison ivy mixed into this mess which is probably why no one will deal with it.

Sadly, this shrub is at a commercial building near my vet. It’s a doggie day care place. I am not sure I would leave my dog at a place where the shrubs are over-run with poison ivy.

Wilting Black Lace Elderberry? A Perennial Problem?

Last year, I did a post called “Why Is My Black Lace Wilting?”  At the time, I didn’t know.  I surmised that aphids had transmitted a virus to is causing a wilt.

One of my readers wrote to say that her Black Lace (the plant I’m referring to is a plant known as sambucus nigra Black Lace, or Black Lace Elderberry, by the way.  It’s so well known by now that most of us just call it “Black Lace”) was wilting as well.  She had taken pieces of it to her garden center and they had found worms.  She had destroyed her plants.

I was out of town when I read that comment but when I returned home, I went right down to my garden, started cutting up the wilting portions of my Black Lace, and–sure enough–I could see evidence of the fact that borers had gotten into the stems and caused the wilt.  Ah hah!  Mystery solved!

So I wrote to the lovely folks at Proven Winners and asked them about this.  I asked them if they were aware that borers were an issue with this plant and if so, how to treat it.

The response was very quick, very polite and very helpful.  They said that in general, borers can be an issues with all elderberries, although Black Lace is less susceptible than most.  To solve for this problem, it is best to prune out all affected stems, and especially after an incident with borers, to give the plant a good hard pruning.

So I was ruthless in my pruning with the plants, as was suggested in my email correspondence.  I took out my oldest stalk on both the plants, and gave them both a hard cutback.  We shall see how this works. This plant has great wildlife value for me (as well as being particularly attractive) and I’m not willing to lose it to some pesky borers!

The Value of a Good Haircut

Unfortunately, I did not take “real” before and after photos.  I just have “head-on” shots of the garden after it was mulched (and before it was pruned) and then after it was pruned, but not really designed to show the pruning.  So you’ll have to use your imagination when I say that I really did a very hard pruning on the garden that I’ve referred to as my Wildlife Garden over the past weekend.

There were several reasons for this: last summer’s drought, coupled with this winter’s heavy and frequent snows, had done a number on many of the shrubs.  So there was a lot of deadwood to be removed.

Also, in a follow-up post that you’ll see tomorrow, my two Black Lace Elderberry had never been pruned.  After an issue with borers last year, and a lovely and informative discussion with Proven Winners, I discovered that they were supposed to be pruned regularly.  Oopsie.

Finally, certain shrubs were just getting too large and needed to be headed back a bit.  So off I went with the pruners and the loppers.

It’s a little difficult to see what’s what in this picture–suffice it to say that you can see that there’s a lot of

“stick-iness” that needs to be pruned out here.

I think it’s clear how much more visible the tree trunks of the woods behind this garden are now.  I carried out 5 armloads of brush, some of it much taller than my 5’4″ frame.

The biggest job was the 2 butterfly bushes (buddleia davidii Black Knight) which were well over 8′ tall and which I cut down to about a foot or so.

Probably the next biggest reduction was my hydrangea Lady in Red which has a circumference of about 6′ and had never been pruned or thinned.  There was quite a bit of deadwood in that so again I removed well over half its canes.

There are also probably 10 other assorted hydrangea macrophylla in there which had varying amounts of dieback and dead canes that had to be removed.

And finally the two Black Lace Elderberry you will read about in depth tomorrow but suffice it to say I did remove the oldest canes on each.  Quite a project!

A Shrub to Know and Grow

A great shrub for multi season interest is kerria japonica. I just have the straight species–and I’ll post photos of it in a few weeks when it bursts into bloom, because it is great for early spring interest as well.

But I wanted to post a photo of it before it leafs out because it is a great winter interest shrub, and it is one that gets very little attention as such.

This plant is every bit as striking as yellow twig dogwoods (cornus sericea or stolonifera) or yellow twig willows (salix lutea) for winter color with its acid-green stems but it rarely gets mention for the twigs.  In fact, it rarely gets mention in the literature at all.

It is exceptionally well-behaved, needing little to no care at all.  It is growing in early spring sun here, but once the deciduous trees leaf out it will only get about an hour of mid-afternoon sun–not what the plant tags recommend but it is easily reaching its mature height of 5-7′ (although because plants can’t read, I have seen heights listed from 3′ to 9′!  I’d hate to get one of the 9′-ers, although it seems to take pruning nicely).

Last year was the first time I pruned it in 5 years.  I removed dead wood at the base and tip dieback.  Again it is remarkably accommodating when it does die back–it usually does so to a node so pruning is a snap!

This photo shows the branch color a little better.

It’s adaptable to most of the country, growing in zones 4-9.