A Plant A Day Till Spring – Day 21 – Clematis


“Clematis on Lattice” – Summer 2013 – The Chicks in the Hood Tour – Pittsburgh, PA

“A Plant a Day till Spring” will highlight one plant a day, starting on the winter solstice (December 21, 2013)… And ending on the vernal equinox (March 20, 2014)… If all goes to plan I will be starting with old Snowdrop photos from 2013… And ending with new photos of Snowdrops in 2014…

Clematis are vigorous, woody, climbing vines… The woody stems are quite fragile until several years old… Untangling and pruning is extremely difficult… I pride myself on being able to successfully work with them… I have clients that won’t let anyone get close to their clematis… Except me… Leaves are opposite and divided into leaflets and leaf stalks that twist and curl around supporting structures to anchor the plant as it climbs. Some species are shrubs… While others are herbaceous perennial plants… The cool temperate species are deciduous… But many of the warmer climate species are evergreen. They grow best in cool, moist, well-drained soil in full sun…

Clematis species are mainly found throughout the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere… But a few are found in the tropics…

The timing and location of flowers varies… Spring-blooming clematis flower on side shoots of the previous year’s stems… Summer/fall blooming clematis bloom only on the ends of new stems… Twice-flowering clematis do both…


“Cluster of Clematis” – Summer 2013 – The Chicks in the Hood Tour – Pittsburgh. PA

In the American Old West the Western white clematis was called pepper vine by early travelers and pioneers who took a tip from Spanish colonials and used the seeds as a pepper substitute… The entire genus contains essential oils and compounds which are extremely irritating to the skin and mucous membranes… Unlike black pepper… The compounds in clematis cause internal bleeding of the digestive tract if ingested in large amounts… When pruning them… It’s a good idea to wear gloves… Despite its toxicity… Native Americans used very small amounts of clematis as an effective treatment for migraine headaches and nervous disorders… It was also used as an effective treatment of skin infections…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

New To writing and never had to site sources before… These “Plant a Day Till Spring” posts are simply intended to kill time until spring… My source is Wikipedia.org… The photography is all my own… And I am adding my own information… But much of this is just related from the web…

This website and all of the information presented within is provided free by the author… Me… It is my sole opinion and is not representative of anyone other than myself… Although this website is free… I sell prints of my photography here – www.society6.com/chriscondello – or you can contact me directly with questions at – c.condello@hotmail.com – Although it isn’t a requirement… It helps…

Remember to tip… My Bitcoin digital wallet address is – 1JsKwa3vYgy4LZjNk4YmPEHFJNjPt2wDJj

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Practical Permaculture – Caring for Herbaceous Perennials


“My Walkway” – © chriscondello 2013 – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – Heliopsis literally means sun “helios” appearance “opsis” in Greek…

July is the time of the year I switch out of planting mode… Although I will still do some planting as the summer progresses to fall… My main priority is now focusing on maintenance…

As with any plant… Perennials have their likes and dislikes… Some are more adaptive than others… However… For the best results… Provide a perennial with its preferred growing conditions, paying particular attention to the soil type and sun exposure. Water your perennial beds if rainfall is scarce… Mulch the soil well to retain moisture, slow down weeds, and keep the flowers and foliage free of dirt. Fertilization should also be considered, it should be done once or twice a year for best results.

Once you have provided the ideal growing conditions for your perennial plants, and annuals for that matter, there is little else you can do for your plants. Perennials are not difficult to grow, but they will be extremely rewarding for years to come if you just take a few simple steps to ensure that they look and perform their best.


“Brightening Blight” – © chriscondello 2013 – The Garden Table Urban Garden – Rebecca Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – Daylily are not the fastest selling plant a nursery typically stocks… It is not uncommon to purchase a potted plants that is so root bound it appears as if the soil is gone… The secret to dividing this plant is to put the root ball on the ground… And with some pressure roll it back and forth… This will typically untangle the root mass in just a few moments…


Some perennials need to be staked so they grow straight and tall instead of flopping over on their neighbors. Staking also prevents plants from being broken by the wind and rain or weighted to the ground with heavy blossoms. The staking method should depend on the form of the plant. The best stakes are inconspicuous and easy to install… Green or brown material look best. Position the stakes early, before the plant needs them, so the foliage grows up and around the stake, making it inconspicuous.

Tall plants with slender, unbranched flower stalks, like foxglove and Delphinium, call for individual stakes to support each stem. Drive a bamboo or wooden stake into the ground besides the stem and loosely fasten the stem to the stake with a loop of twine. As the plant grows, add more ties at one foot intervals. The length of the stake should be three-quarters of the plants final height.

Clump-forming plants with many bushy, branched stems, such as aster, Shasta daisy, and chrysanthemum, can be supported with a ring of twine that’s attached to three to five steaks positioned around the clump. As the plant grows, add higher rings of twine in one foot intervals. The stems and flowers will bend outward and rest on the twine, covering it naturally. As another alternative, support the plants with small, twiggy branches cut from small trees or shrubs, a strategy called pea staking, or brush staking.

Staking your plants really isn’t an exact science, tons of products are available on the market including many “tomato-cage” style products. In all honesty, the tomato cages bought at the store are great for staking herbaceous perennials and annual flowers… But not tomatoes… My favorite tomato cage product is heavy-duty rebar mesh available at any construction supply store. This stuff is heavy-duty, will last five to ten years, and is tall enough to actually support a tomato plant throughout the entire year.


“Tomato Soup” – © chriscondello 2013 – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – Once established… These plants are extremely drought-resistant thanks to the fact that this plant can send a rather beefy taproot deep into the soil… I have seen Echinacea grow upwards of four-feet tall when grown in more shade than sun…

Cutting Back and Pruning

You can help tall, lanky plants grow more compactly and possibly avoid the need for staking by pinching them back. In spring, when summer bloomers such as balloonflowers or milky bellflowers are about eight inches tall, break off the growing tip of each stem by snapping it between your fingers or cutting it with handheld shears.

Late-summer and fall-blooming plants, such as asters, can be cut back twice. To make them bushier and lower, cut them back by half… First when they are four inches tall and again at sixteen inches tall. Chrysanthemums need to be pinched at two-week intervals until midsummer for prolific blooming and to keep them compact… Simply use your fingers to break off the tips of the stems above the first or second set of leaves.

You may also want to prune back some perennials after they bloom to tidy up or simply reduce their height. If a plants foliage looks shabby from mildew or exhausted after blooming. Cut it back to the base as long as you see new growth. The new stems will produce healthy, fresh foliage. Use hedge shears to cut back masses of stems and foliage.

Pinch or rub off side flower buds or branches of perennials such as peony, chrysanthemum, and hibiscus to channel the plants energy into a few large blossoms rather than numerous small ones. Remove the extras while they are mere suggestions of buds. This debudding practice creates larger, showier blossoms.


“Anne Arett” – © chriscondello 2013 – Micro Hosta – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – So my girlfriend and I collect Hosta… But we especially love the mini and micro varieties… This particular flower is from the “Anne Arett” Variety… It is lime green… And the leaves are thin and frazzled like the famous “Electrocution” variety… Which we also grow…


After perennials bloom, cut off faded flowers or flower stalks unless they will produce decorative seed heads. Deadheading keeps the garden tidy and directs the plants energy into its roots and leaves than into seed formation. If you are trying to propagate your plants, let them go to seed and do nothing… Nature will take over… Cut leafy flower stems right above the foliage for a neat appearance… Cut off leafless stems at ground level.

Removing spent flowers encourages more flowers… For example, pinching off the blossoms of balloonflower and coreopsis as they fade encourages more flowers to appear on the same stems, lengthening the blooming period. Cutting off the entire spent flower head on garden phlox or delphinium encourages side branches with a flush of new flowers a month after the first. If you don’t know if a plant will rebloom after deadheading, try it for crying out loud… That’s how I’m learning… Oh yeah… Then send me an email…


“Green Jewel” – © chriscondello 2013 – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – An all green variety of Echinacea… Just one of the many colors of Echinacea that are being released every year…

Dividing Perennials

Most perennials, with a few exceptions, slowly decline in vigor unless they are divided every few years. Plant division rejuvenates the plant, and it provides more plants. Replant the divisions near one another so they make a dramatic drift. Or, plant them in a different location and establish a new bed.

As a general rule of thumb, divide spring-blooming plants immediately after they flower. Divide summer and fall bloomer in early spring when they have around three inches of fresh top growth. However, in the south, southwest, and Midwest, it’s advantageous to divide spring and summer bloomers in the fall so they can readjust in the cooler weather as opposed to the blistering heat associated with summer in these particular localities. Wherever you live, divide plants at least four weeks before stressful weather arrives, so their roots can have a chance to resume normal growth.

Some plants, such as Shasta daisy and chrysanthemum, have shallow, fibrous root systems. Once the clump is dug up, you can pull it apart into many sections with your hands. Other plants, such as astilbe, have tough, woody roots that grow in a tangled mass. Study the top growth to locate the individual crowns, then drive the tip of a spade between the crowns, cutting the clump into sections.

To minimize the damage to the root systems of fleshy-rooted plants such as daylily and hosta, use garden forks to divide them. Insert the forks back-to-back in the middle of the clump, then pull the forks outward, prying the clump into two pieces.

Fast growing plants will need to be divided more frequently than slow growers. A plant’s appearance tells you when it needs dividing. A clump resembling a doughnut, with active growth on the outer edges, but a dead center… Needs to be divided.

Before replanting the divisions, replenish the nutrients in the soil. Fork over the soil and add organic material if available… Basically, just don’t put the plant back in the same soil that caused the problem. Plant divisions as soon as possible to protect them from drying air and sun. If you can replant immediately, “heel in” the division in a temporary site or a pot… Covering the roots lightly with moist soil… Until you can plant… Water newly planted divisions and mulch the soil around them…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

I now have prints available to purchase online… You can find them here – www.society6.com/chriscondello – This site… And all the photographs and information presented within… Are provided free by the author… Me… At one time I had considered asking for donations… But that’s not me… So I have decided to sell prints of some of my photography… It is by no means a requirement… But it helps… If you have a few minutes to check them out… Then by all means… Please do…

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Practical Permaculture – Rehabilitation of Fruit Trees

I promise I'll take more photos of apples this year... I have been saving this for photos, but now is the time to prune so I'm posting it... Enjoy!..

I promise I’ll take more photos of apples this year… I have been saving this for photos, but now is the time to prune so I’m posting it… Enjoy!..

Older fruit trees that have been neglected are usually huge and impossible to maintain. In many cases, these old trees can be brought back to a more manageable state. The typical method of rehabilitating older trees is through carefully selected pruning cuts. Apple and pear trees are the most easy to rehabilitate. Cherries can also be rehabilitated, but to a lesser degree and with less success. Peaches are not recommended for rehabilitation, and are not normally considered. Once a peach tree has grown out, they are never the same… .

You should ask yourself a couple of questions before you begin the daunting task of rehabilitating an old fruit tree. The first and most important question you should ask yourself before starting is whether or not your tree is even worth saving…

Does the fruit taste good? Most of the large and overgrown trees I come in contact with are seed grown trees, rarely does one have even relatively good apples that I would consider worth the time and effort that is often required to bring the tree into a manageable size. To give you an idea of how rare it is to get a good tasting apple from seed… The odds are in the ballpark of 1 in 100,000… That’s why we graft…

Is the tree healthy and structurally sound? Do the trunk and main branches appear capable of supporting a massive load of fruit? Look for signs of insects and fungus.

Is the tree in a suitable location? All to often I encounter massive apple trees situated in small, urban yards. These trees are often so massive that grass doesn’t even survive underneath them… In my eyes, regardless of quality, the tree should come down…

The first step is to check out the trunk and trunk ends of the major branches. They should be reasonably strong and free from dead or rotting wood. Although much of the trunk and parts of the major limbs are nonfunctioning, they do provide structural strength to the entire tree. If the trunk and parts of the major limbs are hollow, it is not likely attempts to save the tree will be successful. A thin green line, visible when the bark is peeled back gently with a knife, indicates a healthy branch and tissue.

If you end up finding serious problems you can always take scion wood for grafting, then cut the tree down. Remember that you can fit 4 dwarf fruit trees in the same area that a mature own-root fruit tree will fit, weigh your options. Keep in mind that what you are about to do is very stressful for the tree, if it is already stressed out, you will most likely kill it… Save yourself some time…

If you decide to rejuvenate the tree, prune out all dead and broken branches right away, this should be done without a second thought. Cut away the sucker growth around the bottom of the trunk. Once the dead and broken material has been removed, the general form of the tree can be seen.

The second step is to decide how big you want the tree to be. Remember that you can never make a seedling tree into a dwarf tree no matter how much you prune. A dwarf tree can be maintained at about 6 to 10 feet tall, a semi-dwarf at about 10 to 16 feet and a standard at about 16 to 20 feet tall. Trees that have not been pruned in many years should not be reduced to the desired height in a single cut. To prevent excessive growth and excessive sunburn on previously shaded portions of the tree, you should plan on reducing tree height over a period of three years by removing no more than one-third of the tree in one season.

To reduce tree height, selectively cut to branches growing more horizontal to the ground. Thin out excessive branches as well. Do not indiscriminately cut all the shoots in half. After the desired height and limb spread have been decided, look closely at the major branches to determine where they could be cut to bring the tree into conformity.

It is very important that no nitrogen be applied immediately after the initial heavy cutting. Nitrogen should not be applied because the root system under the tree is large enough to provide water, oxygen, and stored food reserves to all of the above ground portions of the tree before any cutting was done. In effect, the first years pruning means that the same amount of root system is supplying fewer growing points. Adding more nitrogen fertilizer would stimulate excessive vegetative growth that would further complicate next year’s pruning.

During the summer after the first winter pruning, remove the numerous water sprouts that will grow on the heavily pruned tree. Water sprouts are rapidly growing vegetative shoots that develop around the pruning cuts.

Also during this time, or from late May to early June, thin the fruit down to one fruit per cluster and space the clusters about 5 or 6 inches apart. This practice will ensure that the remaining fruit will attain the largest possible size.

In the late winter or early spring of the following year, before growth begins, prune the tree again. This time, however, limit the pruning to thinning out the bearing wood. Take time to look carefully at the tree. Notice where the 1, 2, 3, and 4-year old wood pieces are located. This is important because the best fruit grows only on spurs that are 2 to 3 years old. To promote better flower formation and good light penetration into the tree, separate these bearing surfaces by about 18 to 24 vertical inches from any other layer.

Another way to visualize this type of pruning is to imagine the removal of 65 to 70 percent of the bearing surface. This is accomplished primarily through thinning out cuts; that is, removing branches back to their point of origin.

Following the last year of rejuvenation pruning, apply a light application of fertilizer. A good rule of thumb is to apply one half pound of 5-10-10 for each inch of trunk diameter, measured 18 to 24 inches above the soil line. Apply fertilizer at any time from December until April. Scatter it under the limb spread of the entire tree, but keep it at least 6 inches away from the trunk.

peace – chriscondello

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Trees And Their Interactions With Other Trees

You could know the common and proper name of every tree in the world, and still not know a damn thing about trees. I personally believe that trees have a meta-physical method of communication that goes beyond anything we could ever comprehend, this post is about the physical methods trees use to communicate with each other.

I hope to do a series of posts about trees in the coming weeks, topics like the theory, propagation, planting, pruning, general maintenance and hopefully end it with the proper way to cut down a tree. I want to cover every aspect of proper tree management, especially the stuff that you would not normally find in a book. This is not meant in any way to be a “how to” article, but a general guide to the spiritual ways of planting and maintaining trees—Though I will include “physical” theory as it relates to the topic being discussed…

With all of the attention that is currently being paid to urban trees, I am finding it increasingly important to educate people on this kind of stuff. Recently a non-profit in my area has started planting trees all over Wilkinsburg, I believe 500 of them to be exact. The immediate benefits of this biologically diverse urban forest have been immense, I have done several double-takes lately in awe of some of the great trees they have planted… Now all I need them to do is start inspecting these trees for “issues” before they plant more…

The following points are just a small sampling of the methods trees use to communicate with each other, there are many more than this… This is just intended to be a starting point… Research is always required before planting a tree, don’t skip the basics.

The simplest and most common interaction is the transfer of pollen, pollen is a necessary requirement for sexual reproduction. Sexual evolution is a necessary part of our ecosystem, genes are mixed, and depending on the traits that remain dominant, the tree will adapt and prosper, or dwindle and die. When the gene mix results in an inferior tree, the tree will almost always die. Sometimes the gene mix will be superior to the original, and we now have a new cultivar.

In breeding programs these superior plants are often singled out and bread for the sole purpose of enhancing those traits, that is how we get our new cultivars… In a forest when a superior trait evolves in a seedling, that seedling can dominate and destroy the seedlings that lack the new trait. This is one of the ways plants eventually develop resistance to certain pests and diseases, just the natural selection of nature at work.

Trees mine minerals from deep in the Earth, in exchange they return starches and sugars in the form of leaf fall. People rarely realize this but a large part of a tree is actually located underground in the form of the root system, 40% to be specific. These roots can reach deep in the ground to access water and nutrients that never would have been biologically available if not for the roots, the tree is not only feeding itself, but feeding every tree and plant around it. Many trees absolutely require the readily available sugars to be present in the spring, maple trees are a perfect example—what do you think makes maple syrup so sweet and delicious?

Trees that have experienced any kind of trauma including insect and bacterial attack, will release a warning by exuding something that has a smell in order to warn other trees. Depending on the species of tree the scent can serve a number of purposes, from chemical warnings meant to warn the other trees in the immediate vicinity that something is wrong, to chemical calls to attract beneficial insects to help fight off an insect attack.

An injured pine tree will begin sending signals and can often show the first signs of infestation within 24 hours after the initial trauma is experienced, this is due to the extremely strong scent of pine sap… An evolution that is advancing as I type this… Boring insects commonly enters the tree through a fresh wound, those insects have evolved to be hyper-sensitive to the smell of the sap seeping from a fresh wound in whatever the target tree of that insect happens to be. Pruning a tree during the wrong life cycle of an insect can prove to be fatal, great care must be taken when determining the time of year you can prune a particular tree.

Trees respond to the sun, observe any houseplants ability to stretch towards the sun is evidence of that. Trees reflect light, this reflected light is called “albido”. All trees have an albido though it is different in every tree. Some trees like conifers absorb the warmth from the sun, overnight that heat is slowly released. Conifers can give off so much thermal energy during the night that they have the ability to melt snow, a characteristic that can benefit less cold hardy trees planted in close quarters with the pine tree. Trees with lighter leaves or bark tend to reflect energy from the sun, dark leaves and bark will absorb that energy. Trees with red or purple leaves absorb the highest amount of energy, this is because of the high levels of copper they contain, copper is an incredible thermal conductor.

Physically the simple act of pollen transfer is more than enough to convince most people that trees communicate with each other, I hope now you will realize that it is so much more than that. The idea that when a pine tree is attacked by a boring insect it has the ability to release sap… Sap that has a smell strong enough to warn the other trees to prepare for an imminent attack—How freaking cool is that…

Next time I will take this a step further — Trees and their interactions with people perhaps…

to hug a tree is to hug god – chriscondello

Originally posted November 25, 2012

All of the information in this blog is provided completely free by the author. I sell prints of my photography to supplement my guerrilla gardens. You can check them out here – www.society6.com/chriscondello

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