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    Gardening: Why the four guiding principles of pruning apply throughout the year
    • October 27, 2023

    Five things to do in the garden this week:

    1. A while ago, I featured Sedum Harvest Moon (Sedum spathulifoium) as the California native of the week, lamenting that I could not find it in the nursery trade. John Lewallen sent me two online sources for this species. One is Earth and Jungle ( and the other is Bluestone Perennials, The succulent Sedum genus is replete with species showing off a variety of leaf forms. Foliage is often colorful and may be variegated, too, and the species in question has leaves that show off a captivating blend of silvery gray and and purple. Sedum flowers may appear in white, yellow, pink, or red, depending on the species. 

    2. At Bluestone Perennials (bluestone, three species of Bergenia, also known as “pigsqueak,” are available for fall planting. This is probably the toughest flowering perennial you can find for partial sun to shady locations. It can grow in virtually any kind of soil and most species are extremely hardy, capable of withstanding Alaska winters. Its large, cabbage leaves are an instant attraction. Flower color is a mix of pink, rose, and magenta although a type with red flowers is also available. The name “pigsqueak” refers to the sound made when rubbing a leaf between two fingers after a rain, a phenomenon which invariably endears this plant to kids.

    3. Fran and Bill Arrowsmith, horticulturists in the South Bay, saw a toyon in their garden (Heteromeles arbutifolia) die from fireblight. This is a disease caused by bacteria that enter a plant through the nectaries at the base of its flower petals during wet weather in late winter or early spring. Leaves turn a fiery orange or red before wilt begins and the plant slowly dies. The question was raised as to what would be a good alternative plant for “front and center in our front yard.” Plants susceptible to fireblight are confined to the rose family, including apple, quince, and pear trees, pyracantha, toyon, and photinia shrubs, and others. So long as long as the replacement plant is not in the rose family, there is no concern that this disease will be a problem. I suggested a Howard McMinn arctostaphylos, commonly known as manzanita, variety. I have one that is nearly 20 years old and is almost a perfect sphere with a diameter of eight feet. It is a slow grower so you will want to plant the biggest specimen you can find. The flower display of pinkish-white urn-shaped flowers during winter to early spring is unmatched.

    4. Although fall is generally regarded as the best month to prune, the four D’s, or guiding principles of pruning, apply throughout the year. The first of these is “Dead,” and concerns the removal of dead stems and branches, which can be done in any season and rightfully so, since dead wood is a source of interest to certain pathogens and insect borers that may be passing by and could cause further damage. The second D is “Diseased” growth which, as in the case of Dead, can seriously endanger the life of a tree or plant by being left in place. The third D is for “Damaged.” A branch that spits away from the trunk of a tree, for example, but is still attached to it, is a problem. Insects and/or fungi may use the area that opens up between branch and trunk, where water is likely to collect, as a safe haven, causing havoc as they later proliferate throughout the tree. The last D is for “Deranged” and refers to growth that is not healthy, especially for a tree. Such growth includes two branches rubbing together, one of which must go since the point of contact is also likely to be visited by fungi or insects. Suckers that come up from the base of a plant and water sprouts – the vertical shoots that you see on fruit trees in particular – are also considered to be Deranged, having no useful purpose and divert energy that could otherwise be used for flowering and fruit production.

    5. Orchard floor management, which anyone with a few fruit trees should consider, is necessary to ensure the health of your trees. Never allow rotting fruit, leaves, or branches to remain on the ground since these can harbor fungi and insect eggs that can lead to the establishment of the pest in question when growth resumes next spring. Weeds around trees should also be removed since they can attract insects that carry pathogens in their saliva which, injected into the leaves of trees, and can bring about disease. Consider planting a cover crop among your trees. An aggressive grower like tansy leaf Phacelia (Phacelia tancetifolia) will not allow weeds to develop and will serve as green manure, enriching the soil around your trees when it matures and is turned under. 

    Send questions and comments to [email protected].

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    ​ Orange County Register