“Thinking ahead” in gardening is like telling the waters of Niagara Falls to stop. Of course, we gardeners are always thinking ahead just like mighty Niagara’s waters plunge undauntedly forward over the edge and down into the gorge. So, thinking ahead, I am thinking of watering my potted conifer collection and actually planning when and how the trees will need to be extricated from their pots, root-pruned and then replanted into their pots come April.
For those who have tried and those contemplating potted conifers, after two years in the pot, it is necessary to refurbish the tree’s rootball and replace the medium. Lay the tree on its side. Cut along the edge of the pot to detach any roots which might be keeping the plant bound. Gently pull the tree from the pot. I will ask for assistance from my friend Rick. Once the rootball is exposed, cut away 1/3 of the tree’s rootball. Don’t forget to remove 1/3 of the bottom of the rootball too. Then pot up the tree in its pot or a new one with all new medium just as you would a houseplant or a bonsai.
Water the tree into its renewed environment and set it in the potted landscape. Also, remember to water your potted conifers if there is no rain. Every other day is a good regimen.
First of all, the word “witch’s broom” is the direct translation of the German Hexenbesen, which means a witch’s broom. The old Germanic tribes believed that the trees of the woodlands housed ancient spirits. Along with this tradition is the legend that witches tapped trees in the night, creating the next stock of witch’s brooms. Beyond the legend is the reality that mostly conifers develop witch’s brooms. Those brooms are clumps of aberrant growths in the trees. The witch’s broom looks very different from the parent tree. Propogators will take samples from the broom (called scions), graft them onto root stock and create a new tree. In my preliminary research into the topic I have learned that WB’s come from primarily three sources according to Kary Gee of Gee Farms, Stockbridge, Michigan: genetic, viral and from a wound sustained by the tree. There are other theories which point to elevation and sun exposure. Edwin Smits of The Netherlands tells of witch’s brooms appearing in clusters of trees or in close proximity to each other.
A to-remain-unnamed plant-friend said that I should help the horticulture industry and pitch my Christmas poinsettia, or, better still, compost it after the season. I guess that is the same as helping the hort industry. But, if we were to follow that reasoning, we would buy houseplants, never care for them, enjoy them for a while and then compost them after we have killed them with neglect. The same would be true for any plant. “Go ahead. Buy that $170 conifer, stick in the ground, don’t fertilize or water it and, then, when it croaks, yank it out of the ground and burn its remains.”
But, what if you decided to give it a go and keep that poinsettia or that Christmas cactus after Christmas? What if you wanted to see the cactus rebloom? The poinsettia re-color its bracts? It can be done. There are just some simple rules to follow for success. First understand that both plants are different. Christmas (and Thanksgiving) cactus is an epiphyte. It grows attached to host plants in a similar way to orchids. Nutrients are gained from the environment around it. The cactus will need to be repotted now that its blooms have fallen off. Keep it moist. Never let it dry out. Those leaf-branches have to remain firm, succulent and engorged. Place it in a non-direct sun spot outside for the summer or keep it indoors in a bright location. Come fall, place it in darkness until its buds form. Then bring it out into the light, feed it and watch the blossoms mature as they get ready to open.
Poinsettias are a different animal. They are euphorbias. The poinsettia is a tropical plant as is the cactus. However, its colored “flowers” are not flowers at all. They are the top whorls of leaves of the plant.. They change color when they too are kept in darkness. This process promotes the re-colorization of the top leaves. Over the winter keep the plant’s soil moist, but not wet. Keep it out of drafts and away from heating vents and furnish it with a well-lit space. Repot the plant after the holidays and treat it as a tropical houseplant. It will grow and will develop new, green leaves at the top. Then, when fall approaches, that is the time to move the plant into darkness and wait for the top bracts to change color.
For both Christmas cactus and poinsettia, patience, a little extra care, and nurturing will bring back the Christmas brilliance we so admire each year. It will be fun and rewarding.
Looking ahead to spring, this is a time to plan. Spring is the time of year when my container friends will need some TLC. April and early May will bring the task of repotting my potted trees; and, actually, potting up overwintered trees which spent the last several months in their original nursery pots because the ongoing drought prevented safe planting. Starting with the container conifers, those which have been in decorative containers for two years, now will need to be removed from their pots.
There is a debate about reusing old medium, but this is my rule of thumb. The tree has really exhausted the nutrients in its soil. One can add fertilizer for sure, which I did after the first year in pots, but in order to repot the tree, the tree’s roots must be cut back. The old medium has to be cleaned away, which necessitates repotting the tree in new medium in order for it to thrive further.
Therefore—remove the tree from its container and clean away soil from 1/3 of the rootball. Cut back the rootball sides and bottom in order to stimulate new root growth and nutrient absorption. Place the tree back into its pot, or even a new pot, with fresh potting mix. Water the tree thoroughly until water runs out the drainage hole(s).
As for the those trees which have been sleeping on my back (NE-facing) deck in their original nursery pots, it’s time for a fresh start. You need first to go shopping for containers for these conifers. After you have a container and potting mix, remove the plant from its nursery pot. It’s time to give the plant a fresh start. Score the rootball to stimulate new root growth and, to reiterate, jump start nutrient absorption. Plant it in its new home and water it until water weeps out the drainage hole(s).
Now comes the moment when you get to decorate your home and landscape with your new furniture.
This past summer many parts of the country suffered under the effects of a severe drought which matched and even surpassed that of 1988. What does that mean for us gardeners? The winter and spring may put a dent in the moisture deficit, but, short of that, trees not yet 2 years in the ground, will need watering as the ground thaws. During the winter and spring months, watch your local weather reports to see the moisture levels after snow and rain storms. If local meteorologists do not provide water deficit levels, consult your local extension office to get a fix on moisture levels. You can read how to water in my previous posts.