Sunday, December 13, 2015

Japanese Maple and Bush Detour

 March of 2009 was the very first time we saw..."it"...a stick strangely poking from the garden as we walked up the sidewalk to the front door to view yet another possible house to buy. We asked our real estate agent what "it" was but she didn't know. Clearly the homeowner wasn't a gardener. The tree/bush/something?/ "it" had been whacked off at the top. Never prune any plant by whacking off the top.

We bought the house, by the way at an excellent price by Northern Virginia standards, because the indoor decor was sort of whacked up as well. Such houses do not bring top dollar in the real estate market which is a bad thing for the seller but good thing for the buyer. With a little elbow grease we could spiff things up. We bought the house and moved in in April 2009.

By May, "it" branched out enormously, leafing out in great volume. That gave me enough clues for my research. "It" was acer palmatum var. dissectum (or something like that). "It" quickly overtook the little bushes that had been planted underneath.



"It" didn't look so bad from the street, however this garden we inherited wasn't everything I imagined it to be.  As I walked around the neighborhood I noticed most of the other houses also had these trees. Oddly, there were many that were tiny and scraggly, planted in the wrong place, right next to the house or  next to the sidewalk/front door. I began to fear that this would grow as tall as the lovelier ones I saw, that were planted in the middle of the edge of the yard, offsetting the house with its grand sweep of weeping branches. One homeowner dramatically underlit the gorgeous branchwork to be enjoyed at night.

These lovely specimens have the potential to grow 6-8 feet high and 6-8 feet wide. Hmmmm, the builder contracted gardener (who obviously planted all of these trees in our neighborhood) never took that bit of information into account when he planted ours one foot from the sidewalk and front porch. In time those branches would overtake the sidewalk/entry. Worse yet were some of the neighbors' trees which were planted right next to the house. With this growing potential the tree was doomed to grow into the siding, which is horrible for the house. I needed to keep an eye on this.


Unlike the previous homeowner, I didn't prune this by whacking it off at the top. The next spring it was already larger than before. It was still well contained, only starting to reach its fingertips over the sidewalk. See that  big circle in the ground to the right of the house? That is where we had just planted a new crepe myrtle. If I knew then what I know now, that is where I would have either replanted this Japanese Maple, or bought a new one to plant there and dig up the original. The little circle in the foreground was for our baby redbud tree. The lavender flowers under the Japanese Maple are spring blooming phlox that I bought at Mount Vernon. Sadly they were not the creeping variety. This was the only spring we were to ever see the phlox because this Japanese Maple grew and  grew. The next year I dug up the phlox and moved them to the far right side of the garden so we could see them in the spring.


Ah, now 2 years later...right after I seriously pruned this aggressive tree. I wish I had taken a "before" shot but that is always discouraging to do "in the moment." Instead of whacking off the top, I pruned under layers so we could see those bushes. We liked the light and airy look better anyway. However the branches had by now grown so far out above the sidewalk and entry porch, that it was impossible to walk on the sidewalk without getting whacked by the branches. Doing so made one feel as if they were getting attacked by a tree. To compound the problem, this is tick territory in NoVA. Therefore it is serious business to keep plants pruned. However pruning is also a pain because it's impossible to reach all the branches to prune without getting branches in our face and hair and back and arms and, well, everywhere! Were any ticks getting on me in the process? Well, the weekend after I pruned this tree this past May, yes, I found 3 ticks on me!!!


I couldn't find a  single photo from 2012. I think that's because I was so irritated by the scraggliness of this tree. The branches reached even further onto the sidewalk that summer so I had to spend a hot sultry day trying to tame it down. Here it is in 2013. Notice the angle of the photo. I did not want to show how far the branches reached out onto the sidewalk because it was absolutely ridiculous. Also note how much our crepe myrtle has grown in 2 years (on the far right).  


Another spring. It looks light and airy now...because that is how I've been pruning it in the summers the last few years.   However by July it's going to be insanely bushy and scraggly, requiring massive pruning so we can go into the front door. Already you can see the branches growing over the sidewalk. They can grow as fast as a day it seems. Note the red bud in the foreground that we had planted as a baby a few years ago! 



I finally took a deep breath and bravely posted a pruning post which probably banned me from membership from any garden club ever. I felt so guilty every time I pruned this tree. It could have all been prevented if the original planter had planted it out in the yard where it had space to grow.

With all that said, when one plants acer palmatum var. dissectum, he must consider growing potential. A great aesthetic helps too, such as placing it as close to its natural setting as possible, as the Hillwood Estates and Garden did. We greatly admired this Japanese Maple at the foot of the bridge when we visited last August. Isn't that stunning? That is how "it" should grow! With plenty of space to be the star. Bushes and other plants should not be planted underneath. A water feature would be incredible! Even in its paler green state of late summer, this is a beauty! 


Hillwood Estates and Garden

Alas, such is not the case at our house. It was time to rip it out!

Ta da! Oh how much neater everything looks!



By the next weekend, he volunteered to move the bushes and mums, which he did. (Again, no process photos. I was indoors finishing my 1950's Christmas party dress. Stay tuned for that!) Ta da! Now the garden is looking much better! I should also mention that the garden, itself, was enlarged a few summers ago. Between that and rerouting the the tree and bushes, we have doubled the space for happier gardening and less tick issues.


If we ever do a water feature in the backyard, I highly recommend  acer palmatum var. dissectum.

Thus closes our front yard gardening for 2015. Stay tuned for 2016!

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