Prune your darlings

When I’m wondering how much to prune a plant — if I’m thinking I’d like to cut a lot off but am not sure —  I tend to hear a grandparental voice saying ‘Cut it right back, dear.’ I’ve killed plants through over- and under-watering, I’ve lost them to insects, but I don’t recall that I’ve ever lost one through pruning, and I’ve certainly revitalised a couple by getting medieval on them with the secateurs. (Here, btw, is an explanation of how pruning actually works.)

I recently pruned my mussaendas, which were getting very rangy and giving me a view of little but their spindly trunks as they shot up for the sky. I’ve always been a bit conservative with how much I cut them, but this time I went hard, after receiving assurances that it would do them good, and sure enough they’re now budding all over. To hide the appearance of their stick-like remnants I’ve moved the gardenias behind them — I don’t think the gardenias were getting enough sun anyway, and they make a nice green bushy filler when they’re not in flower.

I thought my trumpet creeper was dead, so cut it down to the ground and tried to pull the roots out — twice — but chickened out rather than risk damaging the roots of the plant it shares the pot with, in case they’re entwined.* Well, it isn’t dead — the stump is sprouting, hooray. (*In most cases I wouldn’t worry so much, but the other plant is the easter lily vine. I’ve killed one of them repotting it and when I repotted this one it dropped most of its leaves and sulked for a year — it’s only flowering again now. In absence of other knowledge I’m assuming it’s sensitive about its roots.)

I also think one of the trees planted in the ground might be dead. The landlady suggested cutting it back to its trunk and seeing if it sprouts. I decided to try something less drastic first and cut off large amounts of its branches (it’s a spindly tree, within my lumberjacking capacities) which all looked dead. I did run into plenty of dead wood, but also some hints of green. So I’ll see what happens, and if no joy, cut lower.

The potted allamandas weren’t a great success growing over the porch — I found them hard to wrangle and they ended up as an untidy bundle of sticks with flowers at the far ends. So I’ve cut them right back, dear, and moved the bougainvillea to porch duty, with one of the strophanthus for a friend.

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