Pruning Shrubs in Fall

The Curious Gardener Newsletter

We consulted with our friend the horticulturist Ruth Rogers Clausen about pruning shrubs in the fall.

There are primarily three reasons to prune a shrub:

  1. To get rid of any dead or diseased wood, or crossing branches
  2. To shape a shrub
  3. To encourage more flowering
Berberis_thunbergii Shaped

Berberis_thunbergii ‘Rosy Glow’ Shaped

Fall is a good time to prune away dead, damaged, diseased or dying branches. It can be done anytime of year but if you do it now you don’t have to worry about damaging new growth that may be emerging on healthy branches in the spring. And at this time of year it’s easier to pick out the dead branches. In the spring you might accidentally prune out a live one.

Shrubs such as boxwood or barberry can be trimmed lightly in the fall. I planted two Berberis thunbergii ‘Rosy Glow’ in my garden this summer. I let them get established through the summer but my plan is to shape them like the one at the NY Botanical Garden shown in the photo. So this weekend I pruned them to begin shaping them. Branches with new growth will have pink tips, and the overall effect is of a ‘rosy glow’ as the name suggests.

Many shrubs should not be pruned in the fall. Many spring flowering shrubs set their buds the previous year, like Viburnum carlesii, which I planted in my garden last spring because of its extraordinary fragrance. If buds are removed now the plant will not be harmed, but there will be no flowers next spring, which would be a big disappointment. Other shrubs that fall into this category are rhododendron and azalea, forsythia, weigela, lilac and other spring bloomers whose flowers grow on ‘old wood’ from the previous year.

Buds appear in summer and fall for the following spring

Buds that appear now on my Viburnum carlesii will bloom next spring

Shrubs that bloom on new shoots that grow in the spring should not be pruned in the fall for different reasons. If you prune now you might weaken or shock the plant, and any new growth that occurs between now and winter could be vulnerable to desiccation from cold winter temperatures and wind. Rose bushes are an example of this. Other shrubs that bloom on ‘new wood’ include Caryopoteris, Spirea, Callicarpa and Holly.

The popular genus of hydrangea has many species, and some bloom on old wood and some on new wood. Click here to read an article from Fine Gardening magazine that will help sort out the different types of hydrangeas and when to prune each. Last fall we had our house painted and we decided to prune back all the foundation plantings to make it easier for the painters to access the house. The result was that many of our hydrangeas had no blooms this year. Next year they’ll be back I’m sure.

When pruning, always remember to use a sharp set of pruning shears or scissors and wear a pair of your favorite Womanswork garden gloves!

5 Favorite Tall Woodland Plants

The Curious Gardener Newsletter


Goatsbeard (Genus: Aruncus)  Goatsbeard is a native perennial that resembles a giant astilbe. Grow it in partial or full shade in organically rich, moist conditions. Will grow 6’ tall and produces cream-colored plumes in summer (as shown). It grows in clumps and can be propagated through division. I found useful information on the Fine Gardening website.


Japanese Bugbane

Japanese Bugbane: (Genus: Cimicifuga or Actaea (both are accepted)) Common names include bugbane, bugwort, cohosh, or snakeroot. They are clump forming with serrated leaflets and may not bloom in the first year or two. They like partial or full shade but do not like dry shade. (I read that they want about an inch of water per week during the growing season, but do not like boggy conditions.) Long stems (up to 7’ long) have bottle shaped white blooms in late summer.  Hardy in Zones 3-7. I found more information on the website.



Rodgersia–(Genus: Rodgersia) Native to Southwestern China, this plant likes full sun or part shade, with organically rich moist soil. Thrives in zones 5 to 7. Large showy leaves resemble horse chestnut leaves from a distance, sending up astilbe-like panicles of creamy white to pink blossoms in late Spring or early Summer. The Missouri Botanical Garden website, a great source of plant information, can provide more details about this beautiful plant.


Meadow Rue

Meadow Rue (Genus: Thalictrum) Native to stream banks and moist meadows across the globe. Delicate flower spikes of creamy white, emerging in early summer, may flop over if not staked. Thrives in full sun or part shade in moist, organically rich soil. Lacy leaves resemble that of aquilegia (columbine). I found useful information on the Fine Gardening website.

Angelica gigas Stonecrop Garden

Angelica gigas

Angelica gigas: (Genus: Angelica) I have not grown this plant, but took this photo at the public garden, Stonecrop Gardens in Cold Spring, NY. Margaret Roach, in her blog A Way To Garden, calls it an ‘oddball’ plant. Here’s what she says, taken directly from her blog, and you can read more here.

“To succeed with Angelica gigas, you need to get it started in a spot that’s at least part shade, and where the soil isn’t too dry. And you need something more: You need two “generations” of genetic material, both a one-year seedling and also a batch of seed.

Since it’s biennial–meaning blooming in its second year, and simply producing foliage its first–you also need to keep a strict eye on the spot where you spread those seeds. They’ll be tiny sprouts at first, if all goes well, easy to overlook and inadvertently rake up during spring cleanup. Mark off the area where you sowed them the previous fall, and let them be.”

All photos taken by Dorian Winslow.

Growing Flowers For A Wedding

The Curious Gardener Newsletter

Growing Flowers For A Wedding–  Our daughter Eve is getting married in August and she asked me if I would bring flowers. She favors yellow and white flowers, so I went to work figuring out the best home grown flowers for an August wedding. First I looked at what Maria Iannotti had to say about her favorite flowers for cutting and generated a list by visiting her Gardening site.  I immediately zeroed in on annuals because they are reliable bloomers. The perennials blooming in my garden right now (Penstemon and Yellow loosestrife shown in the bouquet in this post) will definitely not be blooming in August. I may be able to scoop up some Shasta daisies, Phlox, Achillea at the last minute, but annuals are the only flowers that bloom all season long without fail.


A practise bouquet in Womanswork’s Instant Vase

I selected white Cleome, Lisianthus (Maria calls it rose-like), Gerber daisies — and Zinnias for a colorful accent. I can pull in white-bordered hosta leaves and ferns at the last minute for texture and background. For an informal outdoor wedding it might be fun to use a vase that takes its shape when filled with water. Check out our Instant Vase with a “Crystal” design that is very pretty in sunlight. (shown holding the bouquet in this post).



Designing Eve’s bouquet will require closer consultation with Eve and some advice from floral arrangers on how to keep flowers looking fresh. Conditioning is important and selecting the right flowers is also important. I am finding Lisianthus to be a wonder flower because it stays fresh for so long. And it does possess the delicacy of a rose!

Educating Girls in Afghanistan

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Educating Girls in Afghanistan– We met Wendy Summer last year at a sale of handcrafted and one of a kind items. She introduced me to her company Zaanha and immediately I was taken in by her exuberance. I pledged Womanswork to participate in her newly formed Zaanha Fund to sponsor the education of a girl in Kabul, Afghanistan named Nilab.

Nilab, Kabul

Nilab in Kabul

Through The Zaanha Fund Nilab went to public school this year instead of spending her days on the streets of Kabul. Wendy is so impressed with Nilab, and her mother, who has four daughters and wants to see them educated (not a widely held attitude there), that she hopes to eventually send Nilab to private school.

Wendy recounts how her business came about:“ In 2003, through the Business Council for Peace, I met and have been mentoring Afghan women entrepreneurs, teaching them to run and grow their businesses. I’ve made multiple visits to Afghanistan and have been privileged to meet the families of these women and learn first hand the fervent desire the parents have to see their children educated.”

Wendy’s work with Afghan artisans led her to offer many beautiful handcrafted items on her website at  A portion of all sales goes to her Zaanha Fund to educate young Afghan girls.

Wendy and girls at a mall in Kabul after purchasing sunglasses.

On her most recent trip to Kabul Wendy took a group of students she sponsors to a mall. They had been admiring her sunglasses so she bought a pair for each of them. Says Wendy,”It was a nice way to reward them for working hard in school.”  Zaanha welcomes all who wish to become involved in its efforts to send Afghan children to school. You can contact Wendy Summer through her website




Sharing What I Know About Vitamin D

The Curious Gardener Newsletter

Preventing Bone Density Loss From Lack of Vitamin D– 

The sun used to play a bigger role in delivering vitamin D to our bones. But concerns about the damaging rays of the sun have caused most people to cover up or wear sunscreen whenever they go outside. My dermatologist insists I use a facial moisturizer with sunscreen to protect my face, and I do. But if you cover up, the vitamin D is not absorbed– it’s as simple as that.  All of this has been good for curtailing skin cancer and bad for the health of our bones. The result is that many women, myself included, have a vitamin D deficiency which can weaken our bones. But we can do something about it. My doctor told me to go outside for 20 minutes a day, with my arms and face uncovered (no sunscreen) and I will get my daily minimum requirement of vitamin D. (Your dermatologist might not agree with this advice). Also, I live in a colder climate where it’s impossible to sit outside everyday year round, sunscreen or no, so I asked what else I can do and this is the regimen I am now following.

VitaminDMilk is one of the primary foods that delivers vitamin D because it’s been fortified.  One 8 oz. glass contains about 25-30% of your daily requirement, so I drink 3-4 glasses of skim milk a day. I like milk so it’s not hard for me to do this.  If you don’t like milk follow this lesson in packaging I learned many years ago. When I started my career in advertising I was asked if wine tasted differently poured in a wine glass or a paper cup.  I had to agree that it does taste better in a wine glass, that packaging can actually trump taste perception. So my advice is to pour your milk in the prettiest crystal glass you have and it will indeed taste better.

Supplements include a vitamin D tablet of 400 mg that I take each day and a calcium pill. These supplements are unnecessary if I’m drinking the milk, but it makes me feel better that I’m covering my bases.  

Finally, weight bearing exercise is one of the most important things for bone health.  When I push my wheelbarrow around filled with top soil, mulch and wood chips I know I’m getting great exercise! But my other two favorite exercises, bicycling and swimming, do not really contribute to bone strength, so I’ve started to walk on a treadmill and lift small weights every other day. I’ll try to work up to an every day routine, but it’s a good start. And as long as it’s gardening season, I know I’m getting some good weight bearing exercises in.

My doctor prescribed medication as well, but hopefully you can avoid this by following these preventive measures above.  For more information check out this website:

The Color of Roses–  

Rose_Gdn_David_AustinI am replacing an old rosebush that grows along a fence in my yard and am considering my color choices for the new rosebush. Color is not the only consideration but it is one of them. And usually color is a design decision rather than a decision based on symbolism. But I know roses are full of symbolism so I looked for deeper meaning in my rose choice and found this website. Yes, rose colors send different messages, even if the person receiving the rose or observing the rose doesn’t know it.  Here’s what the colors mean according to Jack Goody whose book “The Culture of Flowers” is cited. When handling roses remember to wear a good pair of rose gloves from Womanswork!

Red: Love, Beauty, Courage, Respect

White: Purity, Innocence, Silence, Secrecy, Reverence, Humility

Pink: Appreciation, Thank you, Grace, Perfect Happiness, Admiration

Dark Pink: Gratitude

Light Pink: Admiration, Sympathy

Yellow: Joy, Gladness, Friendship, Delight, Promise of a new beginning

Orange: Desire, Enthusiasm

Red Rosebud: Purity, Loveliness

White Rosebud: Girlhood

Thornless Rose: Love at first Sight

Womanswork Leather and Canvas Rose Gauntlet Glove

Womanswork Leather and Canvas Rose Gauntlet Glove

Reduce the Risk of Lyme Disease // Our Favorite Fragrant Shrub is Viburnum Carlesii

The Curious Gardener Newsletter

Reduce the Risk of Lyme Disease for you And your Pets– Recently I met someone at a gardening symposium who is an advocate for reducing the incidence of Lyme Disease through education and planning. She outlines several areas to consider including Mouse and Deer Bait Boxes, Landscaping, Lawn Sprays and Protective clothing. Bug Baffler for Pets Mouse Bait Boxes: Did you know that mice (not deer) are the primary carriers of the bacteria that causes Lyme Disease? The CDC invented and developed a tick control system in a mouse bait box that lures mice in with food, and then swipes them with Fipronil (the same product that is in Frontline for your pets). It doesn’t hurt the mice or the ecosystem, but helps prevent ticks on your property from attaching to mice and getting infected.  Check the website to find out about having these boxes installed on your property. (One study, done in NJ, showed that the populations of larvae and adult ticks declined 90.6% and 87.3% respectively after two years of deploying mouse and deer bait stations twice a year each.) Deer Bait Stations: These are not approved in some states because deer are swiped with a chemical, Permethrin, that kills ticks that attempt to catch a ride but is toxic to some animals including cats. Landscaping:  Avoid plants that deer love to browse on, such as hosta.  Avoid placing your childrens’ playground next to a wooded area.  Lawn Sprays: Organic sprays are available, but not well studied for effectiveness. Nonorganic sprays are proven effective in reducing ticks, but are controversial because they can be detrimental to bees and creatures of the water. Protective Clothing: For starters, wear garden gloves and tuck your pant legs into socks when gardening.  The Bug Baffler company in NH makes protective clothing for people and pets using a patented mesh that ticks, no see-ums and knats cannot penetrate.  For dogs they have designed a jacket that dogs can step into, with stretchy cuffs that protect ticks from crawling up their legs. But unlike the bug baffler for people, which includes a protective piece that goes over your head, the whole dog cannot be protected, so the company advises checking your pet for ticks after a walk outdoors. For more ways the individual property owner can manage tick populations click here.

Fragrant Viburnum Carlesii– 


Blossom on Dorian’s new Viburnum carlesii

This popular cultivar, hardy to zone 5, is considered one of the most pleasingly fragrant spring-flowering shrubs. I planted a 4-foot tall shrub in a location close to the house so we can enjoy the fragrance every time we open the back door, walk onto the deck or go onto the screened porch. When deciding where to plant a fragrant plant such as this consider where you spend time in the Spring, and try to take advantage of the prevailing winds on your property. Viburnum carlesii likes sun and protection from winds. Ours gets southern exposure though the house will block the sun very late in the day. For more information follow this link to the Fine Gardening website.vibernum_carlesii

Best Exercises for Gardeners // Lesser Celandine: A Nasty Spreading Weed

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Pull one knee in to chest until a comfortable stretch is felt in the lower back and buttocks. Repeat with opposite knee. Hold 10 seconds. Repeat 10 times on each side.

Stretch #1

Best Exercises for Gardeners– I asked my favorite physical therapist, Mallory Aquilino, of Brewster Physical Therapy, what exercises she would recommend to prepare for gardening season. She recommended some stretches from VH1 and these are my favorite three. I try to do the stretches in the morning and evening everyday. The first two are especially good for the back. In Stretch #1, pull one knee in to your chest until a comfortable stretch is felt in the lower back and buttocks. Repeat with opposite knee. Hold 10 seconds. Repeat 10 times on each side. In Stretch #2, support back of thigh behind knee. Starting with knee bent, attempt to straighten knee until a comfortable stretch is felt in back of thigh. Hold 10 seconds. Repeat 5 times on each side.

Support back of thigh behind knee.Starting with knee bent, attempt to straighten knee until a comfortable stretch is felt in back of thigh. Hold 10 seconds. Repeat 5 times on each side.

Stretch #2

Good for stretching hip and knee. Keep back leg straight, with heel on floor and turned slightly outward, lean into wall until a stretch is felt in calf. Hold 10 seconds. Repeat 5 times.

Stretch #3

In Stretch #3, Keeping your back leg straight, with heel on floor and turned slightly outward, lean into wall until a stretch is felt in your calf. Hold 10 seconds. Repeat 5 times.

Beware of the Charms of Lesser Celandine– Aka Ranunculus ficaria, lesser celandine is one of the nastiest Spring blooming weeds. It’s deceiving because it has pretty yellow flowers with glossy petals and fleshy leaves. It spreads through tubers and to stop it from spreading you need to dig it out completely. Last year I donned my garden gloves and cleaned out an area in our yard that was being threatened for take over by this charming invasive. I dropped the plants in a garbage bag and took it to the dump. I found some great background on where this plant typically grows and the havoc it causes. Lesser-celandine-3-490x367


Make Your Own Rooting Hormone // Kabocha Squash Soup Recipe

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Make Your Own Rooting Hormone– I have store bought rooting hormone that comes in a little jar. It’s a powder that you dip cuttings into to hasten the development of roots. My teacher at The NY Botanical Garden taught us how to make our own rooting hormone at home. The recipe is simple. Cut willow wood shoots and place in warm water for 24 hours, then put your cuttings in the same water for 24 hours before planting them in a growing medium. ‘Mr. Brown Thumb’ also wrote on this topic and you can read more about this on his blog by Clicking here. I have a willow hedge made of Salix integra shrubs. Every spring I cut them way back because the new growth produces beautiful white shoots tinged with salmon-pink. I am using those for my willow water (see photo). 







Making Kabocha Squash Soup– A dusting of snow last night in our Zone 5 neck of the woods provided the perfect backdrop for a late winter soup with Kabocha squash. I found a recipe in an old issue of BonAppetit for Butternut Squash and Apple Bisque Soup, but I substituted Kabocha for Butternut Squash.

KobachaSoup2 Cutting Kabocha for soupKabochaSoup3   KabochaSoup4 KabochaSoup5


3 tblsp butter

5 cups 1/2-inch cubes peeled squash

1 1/4 cups chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped carrot

1/2 cup chopped celery

1 small Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, chopped

1/2 tsp ground allspice

3 1/2 cups chicken broth

1 cup apple cider

1 cup whipping cream

chopped fresh parsley

Melt butter in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add all vegetables. Saute until vegetables soften, about 10 minutes. Mix in apple and allspice. Add 3 1/2 cups broth and cider; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, Cover; simmer until vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes. Puree soup in batches in blender; return to pot. Can be made a day ahead.

Add 1/2 cup cream; bring soup to simmer. Thin with broth if too thick. Season with salt and pepper. Ladle soup into bowls. Drizzle with 1/2 cup cream; sprinkle with parsley.  Makes 6 servings.

After I finished making my soup, I threw the vegetable scraps in the compost bin. I’m not sure whether I got more pleasure from the soup or from putting all those nice scraps in my compost for the garden later.KabochaSoupCompost


Book Give Away // Growing Kalanchoe tomentosa

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Book Give Away: May the Best Garden Geek Win–In the Comments field below tell us why you are a garden geek, and the geekiest among you will win a copy of Christy Wilhelmi’s book. What does it mean to be a garden geek?  Christy-WilhelmiIn her intro Christy says “When garden geeks get excited about a subject they want to know everything. Gardening is an exciting topic– a vast world of soil biology, botany, and horticulture. It cross-pollinates with the insect world, meteorology and nutrition. The more we learn about gardening, the more we realize there is to learn. It’s a wonderfully addictive passion to have.”  Visit Christy’s blog  Her book is full of information, and is a great read.

Kalanchoe-FlowerGrowing Kalanchoe tomentosa– I picked up a small kalanchoe tomentosa at a trade show about a year ago. I transplanted it to a 6″ clay pot and it was outside all summer. I moved it indoors to a sunny, south facing windowsill for the winter because it’s only hardy to about zone 9b.  It remains small, though it has grown into its larger container nicely.  Suddenly about 6 weeks ago a shoot formed and shot up about 18″, with buds at the top. Then about a week ago these little buds opened and the flowers are quite exquisite. Fuzzy Floret of Kalanchoe Tomantosa

After doing a little research I discovered that I’m lucky to have had a bloom, since many don’t bloom at all or rarely bloom. I learned this by reading the comments about this plant on the Dave’s Garden site, and also the Wave Hill blog, where they celebrated a bloom on theirs. (Wave Hill is a beautiful public garden along the Hudson River, not too far from where I live.)  According to their blog, “This is the first time in years that the Kalanchoe tomentosa ‘Golden Girl’ has bloomed here at Wave Hill, and I think it’s been worth the wait.”  Propagating the plant through cuttings, by simply removing a leaf and putting it in perlite or sandy potting soil, seems to work well. I’m going to give it a try. Meanwhile this plant likes dry soil and sunshine. It’s a cactus. Common names are Panda Plant and Pussy Ears (because the whole plant is velvety and soft to the touch). I love it!

Blooming Kalanchoe tomentosa at Wave Hill

Blooming Kalanchoe tomentosa at Wave Hill

Growing Clivia Miniata

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  • Growing Beautiful Clivia Miniata Indoors
  • How To Give The Perfect Back Rub

Growing Clivia Miniata Indoors–

Clivia Miniata in Bloom

Clivia Miniata in Bloom

Clivia Miniata is one of my favorite houseplants and it’s supposed to be easy to grow.  I bought a recently divided and repotted plant last Spring at a garden club sale. It had one large majestic bloom at the time. After the blooms faded I cut them back to the base as instructed, keeping the leathery leaves in place.  I watered when the plant was dry and added a bit of fertilizer, but tried not to over fertilize or over water. (Clivias prefer to be a little dry).  Fertilizing and regular watering stopped in mid-September as I prepared to let my Clivia rest for the winter. Here’s what my Clivia looks like right now experiencing “Winter Rest”. It sits in a west facing window in a cool room of our house.

Winter Rest for Dorian's Clivia

Winter Rest for Dorian’s Clivia

“Winter Rest” includes withholding fertilizer and watering sparingly. Keep an eye on your plant and only water when it looks like it’s beginning to wilt.  Try to keep the environment cool, ideally 50-65 degrees F.  Your plant should be in a north, east or west facing window (not direct sun).  Winter rest extends for about 12-14 weeks from fall to late winter.  Bring your Clivia out of winter rest by beginning to water and fertilize regularly. You can move your plant to a warmer location but avoid direct sun even during the growing season.  It should bloom in 6-12 weeks from that time.

Like so many houseplants, Clivia prefers to be potbound so don’t worry about repotting every year. White Flower Farm has done a nice job of explaining how to grow Clivia Miniata in a video: Click here.

How To Give the Perfect Back Rub– With Valentine’s Day in the air our thoughts turn to romance. We asked our friend Susan Blankensop, who is a licensed massage and physical therapist practicing in New York City, if she has a favorite technique for giving back rubs.  This is what she said


First, start with a nice massage lotion or oil (available through Womanswork Spa) and make sure the room is comfortably warm.  Next, stroke down either side of the spine with big, long strokes, keeping your hands open and firm, but soft enough to feel the muscles you are working on. Never put direct downward pressure on the spine itself! Work those tight ropey muscles all the way down to and over the pelvis. Next, go to the big tight muscles around the shoulders and upper back. Lift and knead them like you would knead dough for a loaf of bread. Work around the shoulder blades.  Make sure you ask if the pressure is OK. Some people like more pressure than others. End your massage with some gentle long strokes. “A good back rub can be fun, invigorating and sensual all rolled in one”, says Susan.