Early Spring Pruning

That forsythia. I didn’t manage to get any pictures of it last year, but I’m sure that part of the reason was because it was so… unphotogenic. Overgrown, scraggly, with weird bits poking far too far out the top of the bush.

At first, I considered asking our (former) landscapers if they could prune it. In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t; they either would have just scalped it with power tools and called it a day, or actually done it right and cost us a fortune.

I talked in a previous post about the research I did on how to prune a forsythia, and how some say it’s best done after flowering and some say before. I opted for before, and scheduled a personal day for when I knew it wouldn’t be warm enough for the bush to have started flowering yet, but it also wasn’t supposed to snow.

Monday was the day.

I took my son to daycare at the normal time, then came home and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast (during which I realized I’d forgotten how to properly poach an egg, due to not having done so for at least a year). I reviewed my forsythia battle plan, which I’d mentally revised since I’d gotten a closer look at the bush the previous week. First, I’d do some management of existing runners — low-hanging branches canes that touch the ground and spawn new plants. Then, I’d work on the dead canes, then take out a couple of old ones, then the extra tall ones, and finally I’d hit the crossing or just plain weird ones.

It was a good thing I’d internalized my plan, because the process was much more organic than all that.

I did start with the runners (and, yes, I felt like a Sandman from Logan’s Run whenever I targeted a runner). By doing so, I discovered that the second forsythia I thought I had was actually a small offshoot of the main one. Since I already have a honeysuckle on one side and some other flowering bush on the other, the new forsythia had to go — as did all its little friends that were spread around it like stalagmites. The ground was frozen, so I couldn’t pull them or dig them up. I just cut them down to a couple of inches so I can find them later and take care of them for good.

That was on the side of the bush facing the street. Around the house-facing side of the bush, on the other side of the split-rail fence, there were also runners and almost-runners going batshit crazy.

At first, I was overwhelmed. This tangled mass of canes was what I had to wrap my head (and my pruners) around:

I spent probably the first hour just taking out all the canes that were bending too close to the ground and cutting off the new baby canes at the knees. Some were dangling over the fence into our neighbor’s garden, so I did some gymnastics to trace those to their sources. Some were growing in the chicken-wire-like mesh that they use to (try to) keep the bunnies out, so I had fun extricating those, too.

In the process of identifying where each of these low-hanging canes originated, I’d sometimes find something that was obviously dead or damaged, or a wacky crossways cane, so I’d cut it out while I was there. I’m sure that there was a bit of collateral damage, thanks to my inexperienced usage of the pruning saw, but I tried to keep it to a minimum.

I spent two hours pruning.

Oh, Crap.

I could have kept going, but this was what my brush pile looked like:

And I knew I’d have to bag all that.* So, despite the fact that there were still a dozen or so stupidly tall canes sticking up out the top of the bush, I figured I’d call this year’s battle a victory and start breaking everything down.

It took me another two hours to bag.

(* In retrospect, if the city were to pick up yard waste for an additional charge of $50 or less, it would absolutely have been worth spending the extra money to have it hauled off. However, the City of Toledo and Republic Services have such fantastically unnavigable websites that I have no idea what the charge would be.)

In the end, I filled three leaf bags with smaller canes, and Aaron and I snapped the bigger ones (less than 2″ diameter, mostly 1″) into pieces that would fit into our city-issued garbage can.

I’m pleased with how it turned out, even though I’ll probably need to do another major-ish pruning next year to get the rest of the scraggly tall canes and a few dead ones and take out at least one more old one. For now, though, it has a pleasant vase shape, rather than being an amorphous blob of a bush.

From the street (though it’s harder to discern much change from this angle):

And from the house (where the difference is much more pronounced):

That was probably the most intensive pruning I’ll need to do this year. The next most will probably be when I tackle my overgrown Dortmund climbing rose.

But that’s not for at least another month…

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