Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
May, 2004
Regional Report

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Believe it or not, this is a redwood tree -- the result of a bizarre pruning job.

It's Not Easy Being Green

People do cruel and unusual things to plants without intending to. Pruning with chain saws or even hedge shears can be lethal to some species, but neophyte gardeners perform this type of excruciating punishment every day, stripping away the foliage and leaving ragged cuts where diseases and insects gain easy entry into the delicate systems of shrubs and trees.

"Poodling" is a pruning term applied mostly to junipers. The practice of poodling began in Japan (although I don't think that the Japanese use that exact term) where gardeners created flat pads on sturdy stems to collect snow in the winter months. It is a very formal style of pruning, and not every shrub is suited for it, but people around the bay area either don't know or don't care because I have seen poodled Australian tea tree (Leptospermum), mock orange (Pittosporum) and even poodled citrus! And, not a snowflake in sight!

Poodling is just one example of inadvertent plant cruelty, but there are many other ways people mistreat plants. Probably the worst case scenario is a poor redwood tree (Sequoia Semperviren) in south San Francisco that has been pruned to look like a gigantic Q-Tip. All redwood trees will create a new leader if the top of the tree is lost to lightning or storm damage. The uppermost remaining branch will quickly bend and take over as the crown of the tree. However, this poor tree doesn't have the chance to make a recovery. I have no idea how they get the ladder up that high, but the tree has never been allowed to grow in any other shape. I have been watching it for more than eight years now, and it's a miracle to me that it survives at all.

Not watering, watering too much, and watering only on the surface are probably the most common forms of plant abuse. So is planting ferns in the sun and cacti in the shade. Giving indoor plants hot coffee is another common practice. Coffee is good for acid-loving plants, but please ... only at room temperature! I know of a woman who swears that her ferns thrive on gin and tonic.

One young lady I know actually nailed her philodendron to the living room wall. She wanted to provide support, so she hammered the nails right through the stems! She was curious as to why the plant wasn't doing well. Gee, I wonder?

Or how about all of those Easter lilies that will never see the sun again? Most lilies thrive when planted in the ground after the flowers have faded; some species have been found to be viable for over 1,000 years. But shamefully, most of them end up in the garbage.

Young trees seem to get the worst treatment. Stakes pounded through the root ball, nails hammered directly into the trunk to hold the ties; and once they have been planted, they are often ignored and left to die. The newly planted street tree across from my office was wilting. When I mentioned it to the business owner, he said "It belongs to the city. They haven't come to water it yet." He continued, "I hope they come soon, because it's too hot in the store without some shade." All that business owner would have to do is fill a bucket and carry it outside once a week. It would make all the difference in the world to that little tree!

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