About the SFMGA

Saturday, January 26, 2008


  • Pruning dead or diseased wood can and should be done any time of year. If there is any chance of disease, tools should be sterilized with a 10% solution of bleach after pruning each plant. If branches are infected by Fireblight, tools should be sterilized after every cut.
  • Pruning deciduous trees in fall at the time of leaf drop should also be avoided.
  • Pruning paint is not recommended to seal a fresh cut. The plant’s own sap is effective in ridding the bacteria that has accumulated on the fresh cut.
  • If a limb of an evergreen is cut back to a point where there are no longer any needles, it is unlikely that the plant will re-produce growth from the cut.
  • Use tools that are sharpened, oiled, and the right size for the job. A sharp tool that is large enough for the job will make a clean cut. Jagged pruning cuts attract insects and disease.
  • A carefully pruned plant will look better after pruning, with an even distribution of branches and un-noticeable pruning cuts. There will be no short stubs. Weak and dead growth will be taken back to main branches or trunks. Old canes will be removed at the base of the plant. Root sprouts will be cut back to below ground level. And the pruning will be timed so that the flowers and fruit remain in abundance.

Dividing the Rhizomes: What, How and Why

By Cindy Bellinger

Now is the time to divide plants that grow from rhizomes such as the Papaver Poppy, the Bearded Irises and Daylilies. Rhizomes are fleshy, underground rootstalks that send out shoots from its many nodules or eyes as they're sometimes called.

Why Divide

Dividing improves the vigor of plants. In some cases, like the irises, if they get overgrown they may develop a kind of soft, mushy rot that can be taken care of by separating parts of the root. If left undivided, the root systems become enmeshed resulting in:

  • the reduction of size and numbers of flowers
  • many shoots that remain undeveloped
  • new foliage grows poorly

When to Divide

Most can be divided as soon as they are through blooming for the year, and it all depends on the growing conditions. If your plants are happy, they may need dividing sooner because that means they're growing quickly. But here's the rule of thumb:

Papaver Poppies
every 5 years
Bearded Iris
every 2-3 years
every 3-4 years

Late summer is the best time to divide these plants because they've finished blooming and the plants are resting before going into dormancy. When poppies are growing, they become sensitive to disturbance around their roots; so it's best to wait until they've finished their blooms. Irises and daylilies aren't so particular.

How to Divide

The best tools to use are garden forks or rounded spade shovels.

  • water the plant the day before to keep the soil intact
  • dig around and under the entire plant; lifting it carefully
  • prune the blades to about 6 inches; daylilies about 12 inches
  • separate nodules by breaking or using a sharp knife

Planting New Divisions


These plants don't like to have their soil disturbed so try not to knock off the dirt. Set immediately into new holes about 12 to 15 inches apart. They like improved soil. Cover with ½ inch of soil.


Dig hole deep enough to accommodate all those gangly roots, spreading them out the best you can. Iris are tough little guys and don't require much fussing, especially in the Santa Fe area. Our soil dries out enough to discourage rot. But they still like to have portions of the root exposed a bit to catch the air.


Dig a wide shallow hole, making the depth slightly less than the height of the rootball and 6 to 9 inches wider. Place in the hole and backfill with soil, lightly tamping into place.

Gardens and Rabbits: A Relationship Forever

By Cindy Bellinger

My neighbor, who doesn't garden, has taken to naming the cute little bunnies that run around his place. And there seems to be a lot of them as summer comes to a close. So far they haven't nibbled at my place, but I suspect it's just a matter of time. And since I'm getting ready to do some fall planting, it only makes sense to use plants these critters don't like.

Following is a partial list of plants that rabbits usually stay away from. I say usually because it all depends. If they're hungry, they'll eat just about anything. We keep a full list of rabbit resistant plants in our garden center: read another article from our library:

Rabbit Resistant Plants

Try Planting for the Rabbits, Too

A new line of thinking these days is to install a perimeter around a garden with plants that rabbits like. The idea is to give preferred food so they'll leave the rest of the garden alone.

Food Rabbits Like

To plant for rabbits consider the following goodies:

  • parsley
  • mint
  • oregano
  • kale
  • comfrey
  • cauliflower
  • borage
  • basil
  • and don't forget the carrots.

Clover and plantain are other rabbit favorites.

More Rabbit Notes

Master Gardener, Bob Hatton of Amarillo, Texas writes: My cottage garden is home to several rabbits--young and old and year 'round. And if they're hungry enough, they'll eat most anything. But usually I grow the following without damage:

  • Roses (they'll nibble my miniature ones in early spring, but haven't killed any)
  • Abelia, Monarda (Bee balm)
  • Rumex sanguineus Bloody Sorrel)
  • Campanula rotundifolia (Bluebells)
  • Ilex cornuta (Burford holly)
  • Berlandiera lyrata (Chocolate flower)
  • Clematis 'Madame Julia Correvon'
  • Heuchera sanguinea (Coral Bells)
  • Petroselinum (Curly leaf parsley)
  • various Dianthus, Catananche coerulea (Hibiscus)
  • Liatris spicata (Gayfeather)
  • Teucrium chamaedris (Germander)
  • Eupatorium coelestinum (Hardy ageratum)
  • Centranthus ruber (Jupiter's Beard)
  • Ruellia brittoniana (Mexican Petunia)
  • Scabiosa columbaria (Pincushion flower)
  • Ajania pacifica (Silver and gold chrysanthemum)
  • Cerastium tomentosum columnae (Snow in Summer)
  • Verbena goodingii (Verbena)

How often should new plants be watered?

Ask yourself the following questions to develop a feel for watering frequency.

  1. How long since transplanting? Newly planted plants require more frequent watering than established plants. Begin to cut back the frequency after 2 to 3 weeks as the plant roots start growing out into the surrounding soil and the above ground portion of the plant shows strong signs of new growth.
  2. How hot and windy is it? Heat and wind cause increased water loss by plants. When daytime temperatures move into the 80’s, water newly transplanted plants every other day. Once the air temperature hits the 90 degree mark check the plants morning and evening, looking for wilted leaves as an indicator of dryness. Initially, a daily watering WILL be needed for small plants.
  3. How deep did that last rain penetrate the soil? Rain amounts can be deceiving. Always stick a shovel into the ground after a rain and do a visual check as to how deeply the water soaked into the soil. The soil needs to be damp at least 4 inches deep to do new transplants any good.
  4. What pot size was the plant was grown in? Small perennials and bedding plants transplanted from 4 packs and 4” pots will need more frequent irrigation than 5 gallon sized trees. Don’t water 4” and 5 gallon plants on the same schedule.
  5. Have the plants been mulched? Mulching plants can cut watering frequency by half (e.g. every other day vs. daily, twice weekly vs. every other day.)
  6. What type of soil you have? Compost enriched soils hold more water in the root zone that unprepared soils. Clay and loam type soils hold more water than sandy soils. Sandy soils dry out very quickly and plants will need very frequent irrigation when first planted. Also keep in mind that when climate conditions are very dry, extra water is needed to replaced moisture lost to the dry soil surrounding the planting hole.

To minimize the frequency of watering, mulch thoroughly, enrich the soil with compost and mix in water holding crystals (Broadleaf P-4). As a point of reference, during hot, rainless periods a healthy, established annual or perennial plant should be watered one to three times a week. A woody tree or shrub under these same conditions would need a thorough soaking once or twice weekly.

How much should the plants be watered?

Always construct an ample water saucer (well) around each plant and mulch. When it is time to water, fill the well twice allowing the water to be absorbed completely before filling it a second time. During the dry, hot months of the summer conventional turf lawns and groundcover beds will need one inch of water every week. Native grass lawns and xeric groundcovers need one inch every other week. Set out a rain gauge or coffee can to measure the amount applied.

When you water, soak the soil thoroughly. It is preferable to water more heavily and less frequently than to water lightly with much greater frequency. Deep watering promotes deep root growth.

What are signs of over-watering?

When the soil stays wet and the leaves of recent transplants become yellow and chlorotic looking, cut back your watering by half. Not half the amount, half the frequency. If you’re watering every other day, cut back to once every forth day.

If you are watering regularly but the leaves look wilted all the time, the plant roots are dying of suffocation. Too much water keeps the soil waterlogged and oxygen deficient. Pull back the mulch from the plant and let the top inch of the soil dry between waterings.

But these plants are supposed to be xeric!

“I planted my xeric Penstemon and watered it that day. I came back two weeks later and it was dead! I thought this plant didn’t need any extra water?” To this I say “yes and no”. No, xeric plants don’t need much extra water once established. But yes, even xeric plants need careful attention to their watering needs during the first growing season. Xeric plants have extensive root systems that pull water from the surrounding soil, but until a new transplant can re-establish its root system, it needs regular irrigation during rainless periods to grow and prosper.

Forget the Thumb over the end of the hose Method

When hand-watering with a hose, it is of critical importance that some type of water breaker be used. A hard stream of water straight from the end of the hose will dig-up smaller plants and expose the roots of trees and shrubs. We use a water wand (a tubular metal extension handle with a hand grip and thumb operated on-off valve) with a round waterbreaker on the end. The waterbreaker divides the forceful stream of water into hundreds of small streams thus dissipating the force of the water and creating a gentle rain to water with. Dramm makes an excellent water wand and waterbreaker combination.

When watering small seedlings or plants on a slope, I like to use a rose flare type waterbreaker to provide a gentle, low volume water flow. When hand watering on a slope with a rose flare, water until the water is not being absorbed by the soil and begins to run-off. Stop, let it soak in a few minutes and start again. Repeat this process 4 or 5 time until the soil is wet to a depth of 4 or more inches. This technique will reduce the amount of run-off and slope erosion.

And a Rule of Thumb

Watering schedules depend on where you live, the type of garden soil, the type of plants. Generally, non-xeric plants need irrigating 1 to 2 times weekly in the summer. Xeric plants need a deep soaking once every week to ten days. Very xeric trees and shrubs need a deep soaking monthly if conditions are dry.


  • A 5-gallon potted xeric shrub/tree needs 5 gallons of water per application
  • Most perennials need 1 to 2 gallons of water 2 times a week.