Problem or opportunity?

As my story began last time, I mentioned what a magnificently lovely morning I had awoken to. I prepared myself to spend a good couple of hours out in the garden and I went for a stroll in the early morning sunshine. I was surprised by how active the birds were with their morning songs. It had been months since I had heard that kind of singing in the morning and it contributed to brightening my heart and soul as I wandered my garden paths. As you may recall, there was something about my Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Reis Dwarf’ that had caught my attention, and I left the story there to tell you a little about that cultivar.

So, there I was, looking closely at the dried and brown clumps of foliage in what appeared to be a somewhat random arrangement throughout the small tree. Now, this is a fairly common occurrence among some of the dwarf types of Chamaecyparis obtusa. Sometimes areas of the tightly congested foliage will die back. This does not appear to be caused by any type of disease or insect, but more likely a natural result due to environmental conditions – which may include human or animal interaction, brushing up against a more delicate branch causing a break, or simply the older foliage being shed as the plant ages. Of course anytime you have suspicious behavior among your conifers, it is a good idea to give a close inspection to see if you might have a more serious situation to contend with.

Older foliage often will naturally die back, especially with some of the more dwarf and miniature types of conifers. Taking time to occasionally remove the dead foliage will open airways which is healthy for plants.

I want to remind you, all plants shed older foliage. While deciduous trees to it annually, and they often put on a big production in the process, most conifers tend to be subtle – they like to shed their foliage less frequently, only dropping their older, inner foliage once every few years, while they still have plenty of younger foliage to keep themselves covered up. Of course, there are deciduous conifers that do shed all their foliage every autumn, but I have discussed the exhibitionist habit of those plants in previous posts.

After simply removing the dried, older, dead foliage with my hands, the plant will benefit from increased airflow and light penetration. Further pruning could be performed if one were feeling creative (see last weeks post).

So, I’m looking over my ‘Reis Dwarf’ thinking that it was the perfect day to clean out the brown foliage and begin to expose some of the branches, very much like the specimen I featured last time, from the gardens at Iseli. I reach in with my gloved hands and begin to carefully crumble the old, dried patches of foliage and lightly shake and brush the brown stuff off of the plant. Doing this simple cleaning exercise begins to expose some of the older branches and I imagine how I might use my small pruners to trim away small dead branches from the interior of the specimen. As I work the tree, I clean an area, step back and look over the whole tree, and clean out another area, always keeping in mind that goal is to slightly open the tree up, exposing more of the older branch details while keeping an aesthetic balance of healthy, rich green foliage.

It will be quite some time before my little tree looks anything like the one pictured in my previous post, but that beautiful specimen was first pruned by my friends at Iseli in 1989 when it was approximately 10 years old. By cleaning out the older, dried and brown foliage,  I actually encourage good health by allowing a freer flow of air and light through the plant. I also gain the pleasure of creating a truly unique, living garden sculpture, that I will enjoy for many years as it continues to grow with its unique habit, and I encourage it to develop an aesthetic form.

Conifer Lover

2 thoughts on “Problem or opportunity?

  1. Thank you so much for writing about this….just 2 days ago i brought out my mini’s and my fig tree from the garage….we have abnormally warm weather here in ohio….and i noticed there was the dead internal foliage in my champy(?)…i did a cleaning not sure if i should but now, i will check them all and get rid of the dead foliage. etc…..a few of the minis are very “tight”…..this posting really helped me !


  2. I have learned through my education in the art of Bonsai that the foiage die back is a result of the inner foiage being shaded so the plant sheds it. All that is necessary to preserve it ( as in a Bonsai ) is to trim the outer foliage to allow sun and air to reach it, and it too will grow and put on new growth. Of course I agree with you on the beauty of the sculptural look that is acheived with exposing the “bones” of the bush in the landscape being both beautiful and highly desirable. And Yes what a specimen Iseli has to show in there display gardens!


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