004 (1024x768) Typical mature mountain ash branch structure.  R. LePage photo 2013. pruningcut treeguy photo (2) franz Big Linden 1 photo (2) sprayunit photo (2)

Beauty is High Maintenance

Pruning

Pest Control

Planting & Design

Consulting

We all look at trees differently whether we realize it or not. One of the most challenging things to do for a customer is to paint a picture in their minds of what a tree will look like after it is pruned, or many years after. The best relationships I have with customers involve trust. That is, my customers trust my experience and professional judgement when working on their tree, and over the years, that trust is affirmed by the tree responding to my maintenance and appearing much as I said it would.

Prune Trees Early to Cut Maintenance Costs Later

Ideally, a tree should be pruned the first season after it is planted, as soon as the roots become somewhat established. The rationale is that the younger the tree, the better we can train the branch structure, and as a result, the stronger and more balanced the tree will be as it matures. Pruning a young tree properly is relatively quick and easy for an experienced arborist, and affordable for the homeowner. A few well-placed cuts a year is all that is required for many years, and depending on the species, the mature tree may require little or no maintenance as a result of proper structural pruning when it is young.

Pruning a mayday in Red Deer. S.LePage photo.

The Most Common Scenario (Less than Ideal)

Most often, I get called to look at trees when they are mature, or over-mature, and have been neglected for many years, or even decades. At that point, there is little I can do the tree’s branch structure. Instead, I can improve the appearance and health of the tree by removing dead and diseased wood, repairing storm damaged areas, and improving the tree’s balance and overall shape.

Old, neglected trees take time and money to improve, and it can take many years and several pruning cycles to get the tree to look its best. Is it worth the time and money? That depends on the homeowner, what they want out of their yard, the length of time they plan to stay in their house, how much they value their trees, etc. I always make it clear how much work a tree will need and why, and what the future maintenance requirements will be.

Tree maintenance is kind of like dental care. We don’t have to go to the dentist for a check-up and cleaning every year, and we don’t have to floss our teeth, but if we keep up with our dental care, our teeth will look better and last longer. It’s the same with trees and tree care.

Pruning with a Purpose

We prune trees with the future in mind. We always look at the past and current growth rate of the tree and make pruning decisions based on that growth rate. I always envision the tree 5 to 10 years beyond the time of pruning. Every single cut we make has a purpose and we are accountable for our decisions. I never make cuts for the sake of making cuts. My customers are welcome to question the decisions I make, and I am always happy to explain my pruning rationale.

Removing an old elm in Red Deer. E.Brennan photo.

Be Proactive

Find an arborist you trust. Do your own research to back up his or her claims about your tree. Ask a lot of questions. Young tree maintenance is affordable. Pruning old, neglected specimens the first time can be expensive, depending on your maintenance budget.

It is more affordable to maintain your trees regularly, rather than letting them go for many years. Once again, dental care comes to mind. I’d rather have an annual cleaning and see a smiling hygienist than endure the burden of drills, needles, and crowns.

(c) 2012 Shane LePage, Wild Rose Tree Service, Red Deer, AB (403) 755-5899

 

Why is the Top of My Birch Tree Dead?

Posted by shane - December 15, 2014 - Insect Pests, Insects, Diseases & Other Problems
All over Red Deer and other Alberta towns and cities, the big mature birch trees are dying.  Why?

There are a number of factors that contribute to the decline of a weeping or paper birch.  First, the majority of our soils in the Red Deer area are clay-based, alkaline grassland soils, which are not particularly well suited for birch trees that prefer moist, acidic forest soils.  So they can be expected to live an abbreviated existence by that fact alone.

Dead top due to bronze birch borer infestataion.

Dead top due to bronze birch borer infestataion.

Birches also prefer moist, well drained soils, and aren’t exceptionally tolerant to drought conditions.  Stressed trees are prone to insect attack by birch leafminer wasps, and bronze birch borer, both of which heavily infest Red Deer trees. Birch leafminer is very common.  If your birch leaves are brown and crispy by late June, and the leave look like skeletonized, that’s leafminer.  There are several species with up to many generations of attack per growing season.  Birch leafminer doesn’t kill the tree directly, but it does add stress to already troubled trees, opening it up to attack by the more serious boring insects.  Leafminer attack tends to stunt the growth of trees by limiting sugar production in the leaves through photosynthesis. The presence of bronze birch borer indicates that your tree is in decline and most likely won’t recover, unless you can catch it in the very early stages, which is tough to do.  The first sign of attack is yellow, sparse, or stunted growth in the upper part of the crown.  This leads to twig and branch dieback  (see picture).  Trees often decline for several years before dying, although if conditions are right, they can die quickly.  I’ve pruned trees that seemed okay in late summer, only to have them die over the winter.

 So what can we do about bronze birch borer?

Every spring, as soon as your birch tree “leafs-out”, inspect the canopy.  Look at the ends of the branches for deadwood.  I always take tip-dieback in the crown more seriously than dead branches within the crown.  Tip-dieback can be a sign of serious problems, such as root dysfuntion or boring insects.  If you see tip-dieback, chances are it is out of your reach and you will need to contact a professional arborist.  I’m not telling this to make you spend money. I’m telling you this because if you want to save your tree, now is the time and you will need someone who can: 1) access the tips, and 2) knows what and where to prune the branches once he gets there.  So if you remove the die-back early enough, the arborist may be able to remove the borer infestation as well.

Inspect the tree in summer.  If there are branches that have flagging leaves (yellow/orange leaves that are dying but not falling off the branch), that is an indication of borer attack.  Now is also the time to call the arborist for the same reasons mentioned above.

There are chemical controls for bronze birch borer, but there effectiveness is limited.  I believe they slow the insect down but the trees continues to slowly decline.

What can we do about birch leafminer?

Birch leafminer is becoming so common that almost every weeping birch I see in Red Deer is affected by mid- to late June.  Some trees look so bad I wonder how they survive.  There are a number of controls.  Some work and some do not.  Many people are finding live nematode treatments from local garden centres.  They are costly and the feedback I’ve continue to receive is that they don’t work.

Leafminer infested trees in Westpark neighbourhood, Red Deer.  S.LePage photo 2014.

Leafminer infested trees in Westpark neighbourhood, Red Deer. S.LePage photo 2014.

There are two chemicals that I use that offer good control: TreeAzin (derived from neem kernel oil), and Orthene (a conventional systemic insecticide).  I will also mention the chemicals Cygon and Lagon (same thing, and dimethoate is the active ingredient).  Cygon and Lagon are banned for use in residential areas, because they were found to leach into groundwater to enter our streams and rivers.  They offered excellent control (almost 100%) and I haven’t found anything that offers as good of control since.  That said, the other two systemics I use are very good and offer 85+% control.

TreeAzin: as close to “organic” as you can get.  Very safe for the applicator, homeowners, kids, and pets.  Applied by trunk injection and taken up into the trunk and into the leaves within 48 hours.  It is a feeding suppressant and the leafminer larvae starves inside the leaves.  This is a safe and effective chemical that will be the dominant treatment we use for this insect in the coming years.

Orthene: a system chemical applied to the foliage by spraying.  Orthene works very well, but it is also a very toxic chemical for humans, pets, birds, fish, and pretty much everything.  I use it in areas where spray drift can either be controlled, or is not a factor.  If there is any chance the drift will contaminate a neighbouring property, or there is any evidence of children or pets, I will not spray this chemical.  Thanks to TreeAzin, Orthene use is becoming obsolete for use on birch.

Chemical controls are best administered as a preventative treatment in late May.  Some people like to wait until they see damage, but by that time a large portion of the tree can be affected. If your tree is normally infested each year by leafminer, there is an excellent chance that it will be infested next year too, as the larvae overwinter in the soil beneath the tree.  Preventative control works.  Systemic chemicals must be applied annually.

TreeAzin applied by trunk injection.  S. LePage photo 2014.

TreeAzin applied by trunk injection. S. LePage photo 2014.

 If I remove my infested and declining tree, should I plant another birch?

Maybe.  That depends on how much you like birch.  When someone asks us to remove a sick birch, I normally recommend 4 or 5 different species to use as a substitute for the next planting.  I don’t plant very many birch trees anymore, but if I do, it is only because the homeowner insists on having birch and is prepared for the annual preventative maintenance of controlling the pests.  Leafminer species attack all species of birch, including river birch, dwarf birch, actic birch, and hybrids.

What are some suitable species to use instead of birch if I want a nice shade tree?

We like ‘Prairie Cascade’ weeping willow, Silver-leaf willow, ‘Silver Cloud’ maple, ‘Patmore’ elm, ‘Sienna Glen’ maple, bur oak, trembling aspen, and others, depending on the exposure and the site.

(c) 2014 Shane LePage, Wild Rose Garden & Tree Service Inc., Red Deer, AB

Beauty is High Maintenance

Posted by shane - January 15, 2012 - Gardening Tips

One of the most frequent comments I hear from customers is that they want a “low-maintenance” yard.  But they also say they want a nice yard.  In my experience, there are three ways to have a low-maintenance yard:

1) Move to a condo

2) Pave over your entire yard

3) Get used to ugly, also called “natural.”

Folks, natural is the Rocky Mountains, which are beautiful.  “Natural” in a yard is a homeowner convincing himself that his neglect is somehow pretty.  Natural = neglect.  And neglect = invasive weeds, runaway perennials, unruly shrubs, and trees that self-destruct, over time, from poor branch structure.

Unless your yard looks like this, it will need work! R.LePage photo.

Beautiful urban landscapes take time, effort, and money.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of landscapers out there that are selling lies, convincing people that they can install a low-maintenance yard full of beautiful plants.  This just isn’t true.

All that said, there are ways to minimize the amount of required maintenance.  But if you have a yard, you will have to work on it, or hire someone else to do it.  I think the term “low-maintenance” is often heard as “no-maintenance.”  Once again, if this is what you want, move to a condo.

So how does one reduce the amount of maintenance in their yard?  There are a few ways:

1) Plant drought-tolerant species from good nursery stock

More and more, I’m moving toward the native species and those that have proven drought tolerance.  Pine, trembling aspen, dogwood, wild rose, dwarf birch, various willow shrubs, and others, may not be the most showy plants, but thoughtfully planned, you can design a great yard from these trees and shrubs.

Avoid species of trees that are prone to disease, such as mayday, ‘Schubert’ chokecherry (black knot), and mountain ash (fireblight).  Also avoid trees that have annual insect problems, such as birch (leafminers, aphids, bronze birch borer.)

2) Plant trees and shrubs in the right place

Very few, if any, people seem to read the labels on the plants they buy.  If they did, they would be able to determine the mature height and spread of the tree or shrub, thus saving themselves a lot of pruning  later on, trying to make their tree fit their yard.

Properly planted crabapple. S.LePage photo.

Pick the right tree for the right place, and you will have very little future maintenance.  I recently drove through the new Vanier neighbourhood in Red Deer to have a look at what new homeowners were planting in their tiny, postage-stamp yards.  What I saw was a disaster.  Almost every  yard had the wrong tree species planted in the wrong place.  In 5 to 10 years, those trees will have over-grown their spot and will become a problem.  In 20, most trees planted in their current locations will be gone, removed as nuisance trees.  I suspect these new neighbourhoods won’t look like much in 20 years, which is too bad, because gone are the days of the big yards, with all those big shade trees, which make up what we call the urban forest.  Careful planning is a must.

The rosybloom crabapple in the centre of the above picture was planted such that when it is mature, its spread will only reach as far as the fences that surround it.  It will not encroach on the neighbour’s yard, or the parking area behind the fence.  It will need structural pruning each year for a few years, but essentially, it is a low-maintenance tree.

Also, plant your trees and shrubs properly.  Do some reading beforehand to make sure you’re doing it correctly.   A lot of my maintenance work is a result of improperly planted trees.

3) Don’t over-prune & stop “shaping”

Professional high-maintenance pruning in White Rock, BC. S. LePage photo.

There is a disease in the urban landscape that I call “Bored Man Syndrome.”  It’s everywhere and I pray I never get it.  This is where guys get really bored and continuously, and indescriminately, cut and shape their trees and shrubs, such that everything is short and round.  Ironically, these are the same people that want a low-maintenance yard the most.  No wonder!  They are slaves to what they’ve done!

Trees and shrubs respond to hard pruning by putting on a new flush of growth to replace what has been cut.  In a low-maintenance yard, with good nursery stock planted in the right place, little pruning is needed, except to remove diseased or deadwood every several years.  As soon as trees and shrubs are shaped, they will need to be re-shaped, and re-shaped, and it never ends.  Hard pruning, without understanding the nature of the plant, can also ruin the structure and natural beauty of that particular species.

4) Create mulched areas, or beds, around all your trees and shrubs

Mulch is so important.  It holds in soil moisture and greatly reduces watering requirements, prevents competition between the lawn and the trees, and breaks down slowly to provide nutrients to the plants.  It will also slow down weeds, and make the weeds that do grow through it easier to pull.  Simply, mulched trees are healthier and “low-stress”, and that’s what you want.

Don’t waste your money on expensive landscape fabric.  It doesn’t work, and its a nuisance to deal with if you have to pull out plants later on.  And it’s plastic!  Do you really want to bury a bunch of plastic in your yard?

5) Don’t go after the “perfect” lawn

I’ve seen a lot of yards.  The nicest lawns are meticulously cared for by people who have the time to devote to it.  They need constant water, fertilizer, and weed control.  For low-maintenance types, that’s insane.

Minimize the amount of grass in your yard by expanding the mulched tree and shrub areas.  Trees are far less maintenance than lawn.  If you are putting in a new lawn, I recommend using low-maintenance grass species: fescues as opposed to Kentucky bluegrass.

Taller grass is lower maintenance than short, constantly mowed grass.  Reduce the amount of irrigation and fertilizer.  Last year, in Sylvan Lake, I only watered my lawn once.  By summer, it was just as green as my neighbour who had a fertilizer company come out every 3 weeks.

These are some helpful hints to lower the cost of your yard maintenance.  If you feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start with your yard, it is best to call a professional arborist or hoticulturist for a consultation.  A couple of hundred spent on an assessment and some advice can save thousands later on.

(c) 2012 Shane LePage, Wild Rose Garden & Tree Service Inc., Red Deer, AB.

Top 5 Formal Hedges for Alberta

Posted by shane - March 11, 2015 - A-Z Plant Maintenance, Hedges, Pruning Techniques, Shrubs

Hedges are an important part of the urban landscape, softening the hard lines of existing structures, and providing a sense of enclosure or privacy.  They mark our territory, provide a screen to funnel or block a view, and help to control dust and noise.  They can also prevent the mailman from cutting across our yard and wearing a trail in our lawn!  So what are some of the best hedging plants I’ve encountered in Alberta?

Typical mature mountain ash branch structure.  R. LePage photo 2013.

Fall colour on a cotoneaster hedge. R. LePage photo 2013.

1) Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster lucidus) – whether or not you like this plant, it makes an excellent hedge with beautiful fall colour, which ranges from yellows to orange and reds.  It tolerates repeated clipping better than most other plants,  can be grown to 8′ or more, and can be maintained as a thick or narrow hedge.  Old or overgrown hedgerows can be cut back to the ground, and new plants will readily grow from the existing root systems.  Despite being prone to a number of insect and disease problems (fireblight, aphids, oysershell scale, scurfy scale), cotoneaster is resilient and hardy.  This is probably the most common hedge in Alberta, and for good reason.

2) Common Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) – This is probably my favourite formal hedging plant.  A properly hand-cut lilac hedge is truly regal, and there is little that can compare to it in our region.  That being said, it is rare to find a properly hand-cut lilac hedge, probably because it is a difficult, time-consuming, and expensive task to fulfill.  Common lilac, like cotoneaster, tolerates repeated trimming, and hard-cutting into old wood.  It readily rejuvenates from a freshly cut stump.  Common lilac is essentially bomb-proof.  I’ve seen hedges maintained at widths from 18″ to 10′, and heights from 4′ to 14′.  This is a versatile formal hedging plant, and I highly recommend it.  Be prepared for some work, however.

Lilac hedge in Ponoka

Common Lilac hedge in Ponoka.  Notice the hand shears!  S. LePage photo 2009.

3) Dwarf Korean Lilac (Syringa meyeri ‘Palabin’) – This is an uncommon hedging material, but only because I believe the plant’s properties are poorly understood.  When repeatedly clipped, it forms a tight mass of tiny ovate-shaped leaves, which are perfect for creating straight or rounded hedges, or cloud forms.  For hedges up to 4′ in height, I have seen no equal to this plant.  The best way to shape this plant is to trim it once per season, in July, after the flowers are finished.  While the fall colour is not remarkable, the summer flowers and associated fragrance are a “must-have” when growing this plant.  Dwarf korean lilac plants are very hardy, and insect- and disease-resistant.  Like common lilac, overgrown plants can be cut back to the ground and will grow new plants from the root system.

4) Mugo Pine (Pinus mugo) – Mugo pine is overlooked as a a hedging plant in Alberta, but makes an easily maintained, easy to control evergreen hedge up to about 5′.  In 13 years as an arborist, I’ve only maintained one truly formal mugo hedge, but it is so attractive that I am hoping people read this and decide to plant one of their own.  Trimming is done not by hedgers or hand shears, but with hand pruners (aka. secateurs) or pruning scissors.  You simply maintain an the overall shape that you want by clipping back wayward branches.  Breaking the candles each year in June will help to thicken the hedge and control the height as well.  Mugo pine is one of the hardiest plants for Alberta, and rarely has any insect or disease problems.  The one drawback with conifers is that if you cut them back hard into old wood, they will not sprout like broad-leaf species, and you will have ruined the hedge.

(5) Saskatoon (Amelanchier alnifolia cultivars) – I’m going out on a limb here because I’ve never seen a truly formal hedge of saskatoon in a residential yard.  So scoff at me if you must.  However, I have seen a row of native saskatoon, in a public wooded area, across from a residential house, repeatedly clipped by a the homeowner, and it was so lovely and unusual as a hedge, I noticed it right away as I was driving by, backed up the truck, and got out and examined it.  It really was a great tall hedge to about 12′.  The leaf size and shape are well-suited to hedging, and tolerate regular clipping, which is not surprising since many hoofed animals commonly use saskatoon shrubs as winter browse.  Saskatoon also has an excellent floral display and exceptional fall colour in oranges and maroon.

I hope this helps when deciding on what to plant as a formal hedge.  If you have tried any other plants as a hedge and are pleased with the results, please send a picture to me.  I’m always interested in what people are trying to do with different plants.  Happy hedging!

(c) 2015 Shane LePage, Wild Rose Garden & Tree Service Inc., Red Deer, AB.

Pin Cherry

Posted by shane - February 11, 2015 - A-Z Plant Maintenance, Fruit Trees, Trees

Prunus pensylvanica

Pin cherries

Pin cherries

This is a very attractive yet underutilized Prairie tree.  It has a nice white flower display in spring, glossy green foliage and red berries in summer, followed by excellent reddish-orange fall colour.  The flaky, dark maroon-coloured bark makes this a four-season tree.  The other nice thing about pin cherry is its size, only about 16′ in height with a 10′ spread at maturity, making it ideal for today’s smaller yards.

 

Exposure

Full sun

Pruning Time

Late fall to mid-Spring, on the Prairies.

Pruning

Train young trees as a central leader standard for the strongest branch structure.  Remove dead, diseased, or crossing/rubbing branches each year.  Prune as you would a mayday, ‘Schubert’ chokecherry, or amur cherry.

Crown Reduction

Inappropriate.  At planting, allow enough space for the mature size of this tree.

(c) 2015 Shane LePage, Wild Rose Garden & Tree Service Inc., Red Deer, AB.

 

Spirea

Posted by shane - February 11, 2015 - A-Z Plant Maintenance, Shrubs

Spiraea japonica cvs.

Spiraea trilobata (3-Lobed Spirea)

Spiraea x ‘Arguta’ (Dwarf Garland Spirea)

Spiraea x bumalda cvs.

'Goldflame' spirea

‘Goldflame’ spirea

There are many Prairie-hardy varieties of spirea, and it is one of the most common ornamental shrubs in Alberta, often planted with potentilla, barberry, and juniper.  There are early-flowering white varieties, and many late-flowering summer varieties, with varied flower and foliage colour.  A healthy spirea shrub can be a nice addition to the shrub bed.  The trouble is, it is uncommon to see a truly healthy spirea in our region.  Like roses, spirea are prone to severe winter-kill, and more often than not, specimens look half dead until mid-summer.  Older, neglected shrubs appear messy, and to make matters worse, most specimens I encounter have been mutilated by the power hedgers, leaving them torn, ragged, and unsightly.  Most arborists I speak to agree that spirea doesn’t have a place in most Prairie gardens.  Unfortunately, the landscapers don’t agree and these plants are everywhere.

The nicest specimens I saw were in Anders on the Lake in Red Deer, growing in a deep, irrigated, raised planter.  They were truly stunning and looked as good as spirea can in Alberta. Ironically, the client wanted us to rip them out and replace them with hydrangea.  Normally I applaud someone for removing their spirea plants, but in this case, I was reluctant.

3-lobed spirea

3-lobed spirea

As with potentilla, if you really are enthusiastic about planting spirea, I suggest you give it the best start you can.  Choose only healthy stock from a reputable source.  Avoid buying these plants at hardware stores! Plant spirea in a deep, well-drained garden loam, with a 2-3 layer of wood chip mulch surrounding the plant, but not contacting the stems.  Make sure the plant stays evenly moist throughout the first growing season. The mulch will hold moisture and protect the plant roots, and supplementary irrigation shouldn’t be that important in successive years.

I prefer the white varieties over the purple, as they seem to be more reliable.  Dwarf Garland spirea looks excellent in a mixed planting with shaped dwarf Korean lilac, mugo pine, with an icee blue juniper ground cover.

Exposure

Full sun.

Pruning Time

In summer, to remove dead patches and dead seed-heads.  If a sheared specimen is desired, shear from late Fall to mid-Spring, prior to bud-break.

Pruning

Spireas are frustrating to prune because of the messy appearance and shear volume of die-back normally present.  If the plant is 1/3 dead or more from winter-kill, I often choose a hard renovation (ie. cut the back to about 3″ above grade) and grow a new plant from the existing roots.  This doesn’t always work because the roots might not have the energy to grow a new plant.  A plant that is half-dead in Spring is a good candidate for removal and replacement. Otherwise healthy plants may just need a very light shearing to remove the dead seed-heads.

Shaping

Well-suited to light shearing.  Avoid hard cutting.  The summer-flowering varieties are a perfect shrub size at maturity and, rather than constantly shaping these plants, it is much better to let them grow to maturity, and simply remove the dead flowering tops each year.  The white-flowered varieties are best left un-sheared, as they look best in their natural, cascading form. Simply reduce the length of a few wayward, or aggressively growing, branches each summer.

(c) 2015 Shane LePage, Wild Rose Garden & Tree Service, Red Deer, AB.

‘Prairie Cascade’ Weeping Willow

Posted by shane - February 9, 2015 - A-Z Plant Maintenance, Trees

Salix x ‘Prairie Cascade’

15-year old 'Prarie Cascade' in Red Deer. S. LePage photo.

15-year old ‘Prarie Cascade’ in Red Deer. S. LePage photo.

I am very impressed with this tree and see it as a potential substitute for the weeping birch that are dying throughout Red Deer as a result of bronze birch borer infestation.  Prairie Cascade is very quick-growing and has nice glossy leaves and bright twigs, with a distinct weeping form after its first few years of growth.  It is insect and disease resistant.  As with all willows, it is messy, and frequently drops a lot of twigs after windstorms.  Proper structural pruning is essential with this species, in order to avoid storm damage as the tree ages. Weeping willows get large and need their space. Don’t plant any closer than 20′ to a house or garage, and allow for a 30’+ height and spread.  Don’t plant in areas close to water or sewer pipes as willow roots are aggressive.

We recently planted 65 of these trees along a long acreage driveway near Mirror, AB.  We’re excited to see the results in a few years.  It will be a driveway like no other in Alberta, I’m sure.

Exposure

Full sun

Pruning Time

Willows are best pruned in the dormant season, from late fall to mid-Spring.  Deadwood can be safely removed at any time of year.

Pruning

Newly planted and young trees should be pruned annually to encourage a strong framework of scaffold limbs.  Willows will, almost always, form self-destructive structures if left unpruned. Mature trees are best pruned by professional climbing arborists.

Crown Reduction

Not appropriate for this species.  At planting, allow sufficient space for the mature size of this tree.

 

(c) 2015 Shane LePage, Wild Rose Garden & Tree Service, Red Deer, AB.

Potentilla

Posted by shane - February 9, 2015 - A-Z Plant Maintenance, Shrubs

Potentilla fruticosa cvs.

dscf06091-640x480.jpg

This native plant is one of the most commonly planted shrubs in Alberta. Flower colour ranges from yellow (most common), to white, pink, and orange.  It is drought-tolerant and will survive inhospitable planting sites.  It is commonly planted in dusty commercial parking lots and boulevards, or found mingling among the cigarette butts along a drive-thru. I have seen a few very nice specimens in my career, but more often than not, these plants look ragged and unkempt, often butchered with power hedgers, and often full of winter die-back.  While this plant is very hardy, it doesn’t look good in spring and often doesn’t look like much until mid-summer.  I only include this plant in design work if specifically requested.  If you really like potentilla, I suggest providing a good, deep, well-drained garden loam, and make sure it gets adequate irrigation throughout the growing season.  It is drought-tolerant but it prefers an evenly moist, good-quality growing medium.  Expect to spend some time removing die-back each spring.  These plants are insect- and disease-resistant.

I prefer seeing this shrub in its native habitat, on Rocky Mountain slopes or the backwoods of the Okanagan.  It is a beautiful plant in its own right.

Exposure

Full sun

Pruning Time

In late spring, once in full leaf, to remove dead patches.  In mid-summer to reduce the width of stems to re-balance the shape of the shrub.  If this plant is to be sheared into a formal shape, it is best shaped twice per season, once shortly after the growth flush in late June, and again in mid- to late summer to improve the shape.  I recommend a light shearing as opposed to hard cutting into old wood.  Light shearing keeps a tighter shape, and improves the flower density.  Hard “cutting-back” makes the shrub look mutilated and unsightly.  Properly shaped shrubs should look good through all the seasons, not just in summer.

Shaping

Well-suited.  Use sharp hand shears, not power hedgers.  Shears slice, hedgers tear.  You wouldn’t get your hair cut with a steak knife, would you?

(c) 2015 Shane LePage, Wild Rose Garden & Tree Service Inc., Red Deer, AB.

 

Ninebark

Posted by shane - January 8, 2015 - A-Z Plant Maintenance, Shrubs

Physocarpus opulifolius

Sheared 'Diabolo' ninebark in Calgary.  S. LePage photo.

Sheared ‘Diabolo’ ninebark in Calgary. S. LePage photo.

This is probably among the top five commonly planted shrubs in Alberta.  A healthy ninebark makes a nice accent in a shrub bed, and different cultivars offer a variety of foliage colours, from amber to purple to greenish-gold.  One of the nicest formal hedges I have seen was a hand-sheared golden ninebark hedge.  I don’t use ninebark in landscape design for two reasons: 1) it is in every other yard, and 2) it has a tendency to die-back severely over a harsh winter, leaving it one-sided, or just plain ugly.  I prefer shrubs that have a better chance of getting through winter intact.

If you choose to plant this shrub, give it the best chance of doing well by planting it in a good, well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter and a nice wood chip mulch.  Keep it moist and well-irrigated during the first season of planting.

Exposure

Full sun

Pruning time

Late winter for an open-centred shrub.  Mid-summer onward for a sheared specimen, and again in late summer for a touch-up trim.

Pruning and Shaping

There are three ways of dealing with a ninebark shrub.  The first is to let it grow naturally and do nothing to it, except cut back the odd wayward branch to balance the shape.  When the shrub gets severely overgrown, you can cut it back to within a few inches of the ground and grow a new shrub from the existing root system, and start the process over.

The second method of pruning is to create an open-centred shrub, and prune it in the same manner as a lilac, forsythia, or tatarian honeysuckle.  Each year, remove 1/3 of the stems from the base of the plant.  Remove major crossing, rubbing, and dead branches, and basically give the shrub a clean vase-shape appearance.  Some people like to shorten the remaining stems by about 1/3, but with ninebark, it just stimulates another growth flush on the top and the new growth twig colour looks awkward compared to the older stems.

My preference is the third method, which is to annually shear the ninebark into an upright oval shape, after the growth flush in late June or early July, and again later in the summer to “tighten up” the shape.  Most shrubs aren’t suited to shearing but ninebark tolerates it very well.

(c) 2015 Shane LePage, Wild Rose Garden & Tree Service Inc., Red Deer, AB.

 

Manitoba Maple

Posted by shane - January 8, 2015 - A-Z Plant Maintenance, Trees

Acer negundo

Acer negundo ‘Sensation’

A squirrel in a residential maple at Lac la Nonne, AB.  S. LePage photo.

A squirrel in a residential maple at Lac la Nonne, AB. S. LePage photo.

People seem to love or hate this tree.  Personally, I like it.  It’s a nice, medium- to large shade tree, often with an interesting twisted trunk and unusual structure.  Older specimens fit well in a creative garden.  The nice thing about Manitoba maple, aka. Boxelder, is that it grow so well in our region – sometimes too well, and I guess that’s why people consider it a weed.  Volunteer maples always seem to be popping up in the worst places, like that one foot space between the shed and the fence, in between the old boards and the firewood pile.

Manitoba maples are prone to aphid outbreaks every few years, which can leave a tree mostly defoliated and dripping with sticky honeydew in summer.  We often see severe tip-dieback after an aphid outbreak, which looks unsightly and is difficult to remove on large trees without a lift truck.  Maples recover very well from insect attack and readily put on new growth.  This is one of the fastest growing shade trees on the Prairies.  Older specimens can get severe root rot, and can topple from the base if the ground is saturated, such as after heavy rains in early June.  If you have an old maple, I recommend having it assessed by an arborist for safety purposes.

There is a newer variety called ‘Sensation’ that boasts nice orange spring colour and oustanding red fall colour.

Exposure

Full sun

Pruning Time

Late May until mid-September, while the leaves are still green.

Pruning

Train young trees as a central leader standard.  Subordinate co-dominant leaders and ensure well-spaced scaffold (main) branches.  Older trees will benefit aesthetically from occasion deadwood removal.  Reduce over extended limbs to prevent storm damage.  Avoid large pruning cuts as maple readily decays, substantially weakening cut limbs.  Annually, remove suckers at the base of the tree and trunk to improve the appearance.

Row of maples along a garden.  S. LePage photo.

Row of maples along a garden. S. LePage photo.

Crown Reduction & Shaping

Not recommended.  Avoid.

 

 

 

 

(c) 2015 Shane LePage, Wild Rose Garden & Tree Service Inc., Red Deer, AB

Silver Cloud Maple

Posted by shane - January 8, 2015 - A-Z Plant Maintenance, Trees

Acer saccharinum ‘Silver Cloud’

A silver maple in its third season after planting.  S. LePage photo.

A Silver Cloud maple in its third season after planting. S. LePage photo.

This is one of my favourite shade trees in recent years.  Silver maple has very attractive silvery-green foliage and a light grey bark.  It grows quickly in the right location, and is once formative pruning is complete, is relatively low-maintenance.  Silver maple gets large, up to 40′ tall and 30′ wide, and the biggest mistake I see people make with this tree is to plant it in a small spot right up against the fence, building, or alleyway.  That will be a problem long term.  There are some beautiful specimens in Red Deer but it is not a commonly planted tree.  We would like to see a lot more specimens in the Red Deer area in coming years and actively include this species in our landscape designs.

It is important to plant silver maple correctly.  If it is planted too deep, it will quickly die-back from the top.  This species doesn’t tolerate topping or crown reduction, and will decay heavily and quickly at topping cuts.  I find it very disappointing to remove a rare and once-beautiful silver maple because the homeowners needed it pruned, thought they were getting a deal, and unknowingly hired a fly-by-night topper to mutilate their tree, thus making it a future hazard and financial liability.

Exposure

Full sun

Pruning Time

Late May until mid-September.

Pruning

Prune as a central leader standard.  Subordinate co-dominant leaders and ensure well spaced scaffold (main) branches.  Annually, remove dead, damaged, or major crossing and rubbing branches.

Crown Reduction & Shaping

Not recommended.

(c) 2015 Shane LePage, Wild Rose Garden & Tree Service Inc., Red Deer, AB.

Mayday

Posted by shane - January 8, 2015 - A-Z Plant Maintenance, Trees

Prunus padus var. cummutata

DCF 1.0

Mayday is extremely common and, not surprisingly, of the of species we prune most frequently.  They are a nice medium-sized shade tree that offers an excellent, scented flower display in Spring.  They are very hardy, and although prone to infection by black knot disease, can still grow vigourously even if heavily infected.  Sadly, too few mayday owners understand the impact of black knot disease.  After many years of neglect, I get the call to assess the tree, and often end up recommending removal because the disease is too advanced to allow for proper pruning.  Mayday is a nice tree to have in the yard, but mature specimens require annual monitoring and pruning for them to look their best.

We don’t include mayday trees in our designs, unless requested, due to their higher than average level of maintenance.

 

Exposure

Full sun

Pruning Time

When the leaves are off the tree, from early November until mid-Spring, prior to bud-break.

A heavy infection of black-knot disease in a mayday in Red Deer.  S. LePage photo.

A heavy infection of black-knot disease in a mayday in Red Deer. S. LePage photo.

Pruning

Prune as a central leader standard as you would a ‘Schubert’ chokecherry of flowering crabapple.  Most mature specimens I encounter have poor structure as a result of insufficient training as young trees.  At planting, subordinate co-dominant leaders and ensure well-spaced scaffold branches along the main trunk.  Reject specimens that have multiple limbs growing from the same point on the main trunk.

Annually, remove dead, diseased, or damaged limbs, and remove major crossing and rubbing branches, or branches that are growing back toward the main trunk.  It is important with mayday to have a branch structure that is growing up-and-out from the trunk, and that each branch system has its space.  Inspect the crown for black knot disease, which appears as a small swelling of branch tissue in Spring, but later develops into a large, elongated black growth by late summer.  When removing black knot, cut back at least 6″ from the end of the “knot” to a lateral branch.  Do not leave a stub as this will look unsightly.

I find it useful to reduce over-extended lateral branches to prevent storm-damage from snow load.  Maydays and ‘Schubert’ chokecherries do not recover well if branches are bent severely by late-Spring or early-Fall snowstorms.

Crown Reduction and Shaping

Not recommended.  At planting, allow sufficient room in your yard for the mature form of this tree.  Mayday is not a very tall tree and the limbs are very strong so branch failure is unlikely. Shaping a mayday opens up the tree to further infection by black knot spores.  If a tree must be reduced in height, use proper reduction pruning cuts to limit the size and number of cuts made.

(c) 2015 Shane LePage, Wild Rose Garden & Tree Service Inc., Red Deer, AB.

Muckle Plum

Posted by shane - January 7, 2015 - A-Z Plant Maintenance, Trees

Prunus nigrella ‘Muckle’

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Flowering muckle plum in Red Deer. S. LePage photo.

Muckle plums are rare in the landscape, which is too bad, because their flower display is among the best of the ornamental trees on the Prairies. This small tree is extremely useful as a specimen in a small yard, near a patio or deck, or planted next to a water feature.  We use this plant widely in our designs, especially in front yard gardens, because the hot pink flowers are hard to beat.  Muckle plum foliage is glossy green in summer turning to a nice orange fall colour.

Exposure

Full sun

Pruning Time

Late Fall to mid-Spring, prior to bud break.

 

Pruning

Train as a central leader standard, with well spaced scaffold (main) branches.  Subordinate co-dominant branches.  Annually, remove dead, broken branches, and major crossing and rubbing branches.

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Newly planted muckle plum in Red Deer. S. LePage photo.

Crown Reduction and Shaping

Not recommended and unnecessary.  This tree only gets to be about 10-12′ high in our region. At planting, allow sufficient space for the mature plant.

Health Issues

Many of the muckle plums we planted this year appear to have gummosis, which is the formation of a gummy substance on the twigs near wounds or infections.  In particular, I noticed gummosis occuring at hail damage wounds.  I mistook it for a bacterial infection.  While gummosis doesn’t appear to affect the health of the tree, time will tell.  I will update this section next season.

(c) 2015 Shane LePage, Wild Rose Garden & Tree Service Inc., Red Deer, AB.