Sunday, November 9, 2014

Yesterday

While I have a few posts in the 'hopper' I wanted to talk about yesterday. Yesterday was the perfect fall day to work in the garden. The sun was shining the air was cool, just lovely. My garden was suffering from total neglect since July, it looked like crap. Why you might ask. It gets stinkin' hot in South Carolina and the bugs are in full force, making being in the garden less than pleasurable. The last few weeks I have been becoming reaquainted with my garden. The shoreline was a mass of weeds, so I decided to work a couple hours each day, dragging out four or five large garbage bags of weeds and crabgrass out the the shoreline garden. I am almost finished. Maybe Monday? Who knows. 

Yesterday was a planting day. I had visited a local garden center and found a sweet little Itea virginica 'Little Henry' and was looking for a spot to plant it. There were multiple stems coming up around the circumference of the container. I know I can get a couple plants in this case. I had the main plant and three 'babies' to place in other spots.  Don't you just love the bright red fall color?


While figuring out where to plant some of the babies, I took a critical look at my native azalea, Admiral Semmes. Planted a few years ago it has failed to thrive. The first year it was gorgeous, it had big yellow blooms in the spring. I had visions of years down the road, this beauty would fill the space where it was planted. Well that didn't happen. Each year since it has declined, it has been maybe two years? Well, yesterday I dug it up, telling myself it needed to be in a better area and I could put a little baby Itea in its spot.  The azalea was about the size of the main plant of the Itea in the above photo....pretty small for a shrub that has been in the ground for a couple of years. 

The root ball was equally small. The mass of roots was less than a softball in size and inside the small roots was a tangle of fairly large roots, circling the stem/trunk area. It had clearly been rooted in a small container, left too long and the roots were growing in a small circle.  It was time for some root pruning. I first dunked the root mass into my watering can as I didn't have other water close by. See the hole at the top of the can? The roots fit in quite easily. 


Repeated dunkings and washing away soil and old potting mix and still the roots would not release. Have you pruned roots before? If you find a plant that has circling roots, you need to either uncurl those roots and pin them apart in the ground OR cut those roots apart. I tried to manually separate the roots over and over again. I was unsuccessful. I felt bad cutting so many roots...but kept telling myself that left alone the shrub was not going to do well. I cut straight down on two sides and repeated the dunking and pulling process. Once done I put the azalea into a new hole and spread out the remaining roots, covered with soil, and watered. 

I have done this before, another azalea that I bought earlier this year had severely girdling roots and needed some tough love. (see below) The one thing you must remember is to water frequently as the roots need soft moist soil to grow into. The azalea from earlier this year looks pretty good. The leaves held on and the stems are strong, no drooping.  I look forward to this having a great presence in the garden.



As for Admiral Semmes- see the photo below....sad. I will let you know how he does this spring -- there might not be blooms but if I get a lot of spring growth I will be happy. Root pruning, taking out girdling roots, is beneficial for the growth of shrubs and trees. Imagine if those closely circling roots never were cut, just growing larger and larger, squeezing tighter and tighter, not allowing water and nutrients to travel to the body of the plant. 


I am trying to make it a practice, when planting new woody shrubs and trees, to check the root structure-- all the way to the center of the root ball. A little prevention early in the life of the plant will allow strong growth. 
Have you pruned roots?



©Copyright 2014 Janet. All rights reserved. Content created by Janet for The Queen of Seaford. words and photos by Janet,The Queen of Seaford.



24 comments:

  1. I planted some small hollies two weeks ago, and the roots needed a good 'combing' to get them untangled. I pray they were pruned enough, as I believe cutting too much out will lessen the plant's ability to take up water during the winter.
    Ray

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    1. I agree Ray, it is a delicate balance but sometimes the roots need to come free or the plant will decline anyway. Good luck with your hollies.

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  2. Ah, I do like Itea! It needs more acid soil than we have here, so I haven't attempted it in this garden, but I used to grow it in Mobile. Down by the lake shore should be perfect spot for it.

    Smart move with the root pruning. It's hard to actually yank a plant out of the ground and start hacking on its roots, but sometimes the emergency move is absolutely necessary.

    My biggest "root" story was a Viburnum obovatum that I had planted and watched struggle for several years. Eventually, like you, I decided that I needed to dig it up and put something else in its place. When I did, I found a large air pocket around the roots.... (Yikes. I thought my planting ability was better than that! My only consolation is that this is the only time I've found this situation...and I've planted hundreds, if not thousands, of plants.)

    I replanted the viburnum about 6 feet away, taking special care not to leave any air pockets. Within a year, the plant started growing strongly and before long, it had tripled in size. I have to wonder how big it would have gotten if I'd planted it right the first time!

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  3. I've never done root pruning before but you have certainly inspired me to do it if I need to. I have some native azaleas that haven't been doing well and need to be moved to a different spot, Admiral Semmes is one of them! I hoped to get it done this fall still but I also have some plants that have been sitting in the holding area for over a month now and need to get in the ground before it gets too cold! Impressed with all your weeding. I spent several hours pulling dollar weed and there is still more to do! It came in on a pass along plant and has taken over one of my beds. Ugh!

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    1. Karin I think if they aren't doing well you have little to lose. The key is to soak the root ball over and over again, and cut as little as possible.
      I think we have a few more days before the cold. I really hate weeding...especially along the shoreline as the slope is pretty steep.

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  4. I hope your native azalea is happier now and thrives for you, Janet. The one you planted this year certainly looks good. A question for you on azaleas--the two Encore azaleas I planted last fall never bloomed this year. I thought they were dead at first; after our awful winter, I wasn't surprised. But then they sprouted new green growth on the bottom of the plants. I didn't prune off the bare wood at the top of the plants, and I probably should have. Do you think I should wait to prune them back till next spring, especially since the polar vortex is headed our way this week? Your post makes me think I should dig up my clethra that has never done well and see if it has a problem with its roots.
    Good to have you back blogging!

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    1. Thanks Rose, I hope 'Admiral Semmes' bounces back too. I haven't had huge success with the one Encore azalea I have....I chalked it up to bunnies or deer eating the buds. I would wait now and prune after the typical bloom time in the spring but before the first of July. Maybe you will be rewarded with fall blooms?

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  5. Great to see you back in blogosphere - and to hear that you are back in the garden! A great reminder that it is worth trying to check the rootball of a plant that isn't thriving, after all, what is there to lose, a bit of root pruning could/should totally rejuvenate the poor thing, but so often we let fear or ignorance or impatience rob us of what could be yet another good garden plant. Hope your azalea thrives, but wow, what a wonderful colour on that Itea!

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  6. Thanks Janet, good to be back. Yes, it is hard to dig up and prune a root system. Like you said, what is there to lose?

    I look forward to getting around to all the blogs and reading what you all have been up to.

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    1. Take it easy there, I know how daunting it can be trying to catch up after a blogging hiatus!! BTW, my Edgeworthia, after a tricky Spring, has been rather wonderful this year, and I think I may have seen signs of flower buds forming, which would be the first time... Cautious excitement...

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    2. Yes...it could be VERY daunting. There are so many good blogs out there with multiple posts.
      Good news on your Edgeworthia. Will keep my fingers crossed for you!

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  7. I have, but I still learned some new things from this post. Thanks, Janet.

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  8. I've pruned roots when the plant was root bound in the pot. The plant almost always rebounds much stronger than before. It seems brutal at the moment but it's worth it in the end.

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    1. I am counting on that Tammy, my success rate has been pretty good with it. It does seem brutal, good word.

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  9. This is a great tip Janet. I have ripped apart root balls when initially planting but never after the fact. It's not something I would have thought to check. I do tend to be pretty brutal though when first planting, often cutting the roots apart right then in an attempt to untangle everything.

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    1. Thanks Marguerite, I also pull roots apart when planting...but sometimes it needs a little more. I have dug up a couple others over the years but I think this one was in the worst condition.

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  10. While I have tidied up the obvious, I really haven't been in the garden much either. I like to wait until we have had a good freeze, then get out the machete. Cut and clean, clean and cut.

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    1. Les, I need to mulch after it is cleaned up a bit. Want to get the mulch down before bulbs start coming up.... we shall see. Might be like last year .....mulching in the spring trying to avoid all the newly emerging plants.

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  11. Fascinating Janet...I have never pruned roots but I like your philosophy...

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    1. Thanks Donna! Seems I need to do this more often!

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  12. I have pruned roots because as you said, sometimes they encircle the plant, other times it keeps plants in check for growth. I am glad we are past the planting time. We can still work the ground, but happy it has gotten colder.

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    1. Donna, wish we had some solid 'down time' .....sort of. I just made a new garden bed and planted a Daphne odora today. Our cold weather doesn't last long...a couple days here, a couple days there.

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