Tom Karwin, On Gardening | Pruning before painting – Santa Cruz Sentinel

Happy Holidays!

I just discovered that this column was going to be published on Christmas Day even though I didn’t use a garden-related Christmas theme.

Due to the sad stories of the health and economic impact of the COVID-19 virus and the need for social distancing, this holiday season did not inspire my traditional feelings.

However, I remain optimistic that we will survive the surge in positive tests and subsequent illnesses in winter, carefully follow guidelines to minimize the spread of this disease, and benefit from vaccinations. Say no to unfounded rumors about problems with wearing masks or vaccination risks.

My seasonal gardening experience was the addition of a Candle Cranberry (Astroloma foliosum) purchased from the UCSC Arboretum & Botanical Garden. This member of the Heath family, an Australian, is a pine-like shrub that grows 4 to 5 feet tall and produces tubular red flowers with green and black tips. When ripe, it doubles as a lazy decorator’s little Christmas tree. It is difficult to multiply and the arboretum is now sold out. We are sorry! The arboretum’s volunteer photographer, Bill Bishoff, provided the accompanying photo.

The Australian cranberry is a strikingly attractive shrub and could serve as a Christmas ornament. (Tom Karwin – contribution)

Care for your garden

My most recent garden project was to prepare for house painting. For any active gardener, these preps include moving trees and shrubs far enough from the building for the painting team to do their best job.

In my garden this job consisted of tying back or pruning several bushes. This work should have included trimming a large American sycamore maple, but local tree maintenance work is planned for many weeks in the future so the painters will have to edit some branches.

The shrub population is a different matter. Fortunately, I was able to schedule a skilled gardener who knows my landscape and could add my project to their busy schedule.

When we examined the many plants near the house, we found that each requires a different approach. Here are the assignments that we encountered and that you may face in your garden in the future.

Evergreen clematis (C. armandii). This plant had grown vigorously for a number of years and needed inspection before we even planned the house painting project. It has reliably flowered every year and was a good commodity, but if you cut it away from the house and the trellis, only bare stems remain. The decision: remove it completely and plan to install a new vine after the paint dries.

Sometimes gardening goes well beyond puttering. (Tom Karwin – contribution)

Tree aloe (A. arborescens). This plant grew behind my garage with no landscaping, and grew delightfully huge with the help of one end of a large compost bin. It’s about to bloom now, but we’ll have to remove it from the garage wall for a routine painting. We sawed off several stems with 3 to 4 foot wide rosettes and cut off the rest to create an attractive appearance for this huge plant. It came out well and will resume its vigorous growth.

Orange cotoneaster (C. franchettii). This large one is in another corner of the back of the garage. To remove it from the garage for painting, we cut several long, arched branches into their bases. New branches are generated.

Red grape berries (Cotoneaster lacteus). We pruned branches of this 10 foot by 10 foot plant that were brushing against the house. This affected the back of the shrub’s natural shape, but not badly.

Chilean jasmine (Mandevilla laxa). This twisting vine grew on a 6 inch wide copper trellis to a height of well over 20 feet. The solution in this case was to take the grille off to lean a few feet away from the house and tie it at the top so it wouldn’t fall. Not a pretty sight, but we can reconnect the plant to the house after painting.

Rosa ‘Graham Thomas’. We did this ten foot climber the same way we did the Chilean jasmine: we cut several older branches, left the more flexible green branches attached to the copper trellis, and propped the trellis away from the house. A high stake prevents it from falling.

Purple vine lilac (Hardenbergia violacea / Happy Wanderer ‘). We’ve given this shrub a seasonal cut to improve its overall shape and, as with the previous two plants, detached the trellis from the wall and leaned it away from the structure to allow painting.

Camellia japonica. This eight foot tall plant didn’t need to be pruned. We tied a rope from its trunk to a post in the ground about ten feet away. The camellia is not very flexible, so we could only pull it a little bit away from the house. The house painters should use a fall cloth to keep it from being painted.

Bolivian fuchsia (F. boliviana). A group of three large shrubs responded wonderfully to last year’s tough pruning which greatly reduced their strong growth pattern. A single rope tied to stakes at each end of the group pulls them away from the house.

Wild Mock Orange (Philadelphus lewisii). This 10 foot tall shrub had to be thinned out at this time of year to stimulate new growth from the base. We cut off about half of the well-shaped branches, bundled the remaining branches with a rope, and tied the bundle to a nearby tree to be pulled away from the house. It will generate new growth in the spring.

We simply removed two Winter Daphne (D. odora) that were showing their age and an old fashioned Weigela (W. florida) that shows up well for a short season and then looks lost for much of the year. Plenty of space to paint and the opportunity to find new bushes that prefer shade. I often wanted a good place for Sweetbox (Sarcococca ruscifolia). Hmmm.

The house is now well prepared for electricity washing and repainting, and we are determined to install future plants a reasonable distance from the house. This is recommended to keep your residence safe, even if the wheezing isn’t in the future of your home anytime soon.

Expand your gardening knowledge

Gardening webinar hosts take a break during the holidays. In this column you will find webinar announcements for 2021.

In the meantime, search and the broad Internet for garden-themed videos that interest you. There are great resources available to expand your gardening knowledge.

Enrich your garden days

Keep your emotions positive and your viruses negative and enjoy your garden.

Tom Karwin is a past president of the Friends of UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, the Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society, and the Monterey Bay Iris Society, and a lifelong UC Master Gardener (Certified 1999–2009). Today he is a board member and garden trainer of the Santa Cruz Hostel Society. At you can view daily photos from his garden. Visit to search an archive of previous On Gardening columns.

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