Fall weather is upon us in San Diego (I can tell because this morning I had to scrape icicles off my air conditioner).
Fall is full of meaning and wonderful things but Fall in the garden means cleanup. Here in SD, the season isn’t as drastic as it can be in other parts of the US but we’ve still got our list of things to take care of before it gets too far into winter.
The main thing to take care of in our gardens is what to trim. I’m going to make it very simple for you and lay down some rules. If you follow them, it’ll take care of 90% of your pruning priorities this Fall. (And tune in for more of your Fall Gardening Guide each Wednesday in October).
How to Trim Ornamental Grasses
Ornamental grasses, like fescue or even flax, need to be trimmed twice a year: once right about now as it starts to go dormant (the other right as summer is starting in June).
How to Trim Ornamental Grass:
- Tie the grasses in a ponytail with a rubber band
- Take scissors and give them a buzz cut
I know it seems drastic but your bump grasses, fescues, pampas grass and even society garlic will be much happier getting rid of their extra pounds in time for the holidays.
How to Trim Perennials
Perennials = everything that lasts more than a few seasons (excluding trees, which number two below will deal with). Examples include geraniums, Mexican sage bush, Mexican heather, lavender and others.
With these guys, the best bet to get great growth for next year is to trim down almost to the old woody growth of the plant. This means to cut the new greener stems that grew just this year till there are only about an inch of these guys poking out from the brown stems of last year. This always worries me because I tend to take off way too much and end up with a dead bunch of sticks. What I like to do to prevent getting carried away is trim a few branches every day until I have them at a level I like. Remember, make sure to leave a little green growth on all the brown stems.
How to Trim Trees and Deciduous Plants.
In the Fall, some plants, trees and vines lose their leaves; these guys are considered deciduous. We trim these guys in the Fall for a ton of reasons. The main reason is with no leaves on the plant, it’s easy to see where you may have problems or where you just think something needs to be tidied up.
A simple way to go about diving into those tangled messes of vegetation is to keep in mind your goals. Do you want to bring the plant back in size to a manageable level? Do you want to remove dead, diseased, or damaged branches? Do you just want to encourage growth next season? For all these things, keep these guidelines in mind:
- Trim all branches rubbing against each other: they’ll cause sores that invite infection.
- Trim from the inside of the plant out (thinning the middle first then extending to the outside) to promote air flow.
- Make the tops of your plants smaller than the bottoms (think pyramid): this will allow sunlight to reach all the parts of the plant preventing the nasty bare sticks at the base of your plant.
- Try to cut each limb as close to its base as possible—when the branch tries to heal this new cut, it will be much easier to cover if it doesn’t have to stretch down a half cut branch.
Finally I want to encourage you to NOT cut the tops off your trees. While it’s true that some trees can survive this beheading, it’s the source of many unnecessary tree deaths. If you’d like to make one of your trees shorter, call a certified arborist and they can do it for you. It takes years for your trees to get to their size and to accidentally kill them would be horrible.