About Plant Some Joy

Spread joy with fun and easy ways to add plants to your life.

Winter pruning

On a sunny mild day early in the year, I bundle up and tromp outside to begin winter pruning of my shrubs and small trees. Despite the cold, this is a garden chore I relish. I love being out in the brisk fresh air. I revel in the lengthening daylight and spending time felcosin my garden after December’s hectic, short days.

Pruning is part science, part art. It is done primarily to improve the health of shrubs and trees. If you find yourself repeatedly pruning or shearing (or wanting to prune or shear) trees or shrubs to reduce their size or keep them from encroaching on your house, walkway, or driveway, consider removing the plant and replacing it with something more suitable since repeated whacking isn’t good for the plant and, certainly, you have better things to do with your time!

My pruning tools include sharp hand pruners, sharp loppers, leather gloves to protect my hands, and a tarp for gathering trimmings and dragging them to the brush pile.


When pruning trees and branching shrubs, cut all the way back to where the branch joins another branch.


If you want to do some winter pruning, keep the following points in mind:

  • Spring-blooming shrubs like forsythia, lilacs, quince, viburnum, azalea, crabapples, and rhododendron have already formed their spring flower buds (they formed them after blooming last spring). Those buds are just waiting for longer days and warmer temperatures to pop open. Prune those spring bloomers now and you’ll be cutting off those flower buds, reducing the spring show. If you don’t want to reduce the spring flowers, wait to prune these plants until just after they are done blooming and before they have formed next year’s flower buds.
  • Some plants “bleed” sap heavily when they are cut. Maples are notorious for this. After all, maple sap is what is tapped in winter to make maple syrup. These trees are better off being cut in the fall, right after they go dormant.
  • Don’t attempt to prune large trees yourself or any tree or shrub that requires you to climb a ladder. Hire a certified arborist. To find one, visit the International Society of Arboriculture website.
  • It’s ok to remove up to about a quarter to a third of the plant’s living branches. If your plant has not been pruned in a long time, you may need to spread the pruning out over 2-3 years.
  • Aside from the tools listed above, the best tools you can use for pruning are your eyes. Put down your pruners periodically to look at what you are doing. This helps keep you from cutting too much or ruining the plant’s shape.

Ready to tackle your pruning project? Here are the basic steps:

  1. Begin by walking all the way around the plant at least once. Note how it grows and its natural form. Does it have an upright, horizontal, or weeping habit? Does it grow with a lot of branches at the base (called a suckering habit) or does it branch from one or two main trunks (like a tree)? Overall does it look balanced, or is it lopsided with more or less growth on one side?
  2. Trim out dead, broken branches first. Cut back to where the branch intersects with another live branch, or all the way to the ground in the case of suckering shrubs. If the plant has not been pruned in some time, it can take quite some time to remove all the dead branches. In fact, cutting dead wood should make up 80% of any pruning job.
  3. Once all the dead wood is out of the way, you can start to see the natural form of the healthy plant. The next step is to clear out its interior to improve light and air circulation. Trim branches that are crossing back and growing inward, toward the center of the plant. If the plant’s habit is suckering growth from the base, thin a few of the biggest interior branches at ground level.
  4. Step back and observe the plant’s natural overall shape. The last little bit of pruning involves a few snips to enhance that natural form: thinning any overly dense areas or trimming the odd wayward stem or two.

Congratulations on a good pruning job!

Below are photos showing renovation of overgrown spireas I helped a friend with. Left–the old beautiful spirea were engulfing the garden before pruning. Center–after pruning, the shrubs are a much more manageable size while retaining their graceful natural shape. Right–spirea grow from the base, so here you can see the cuts we made and remaining branches.

Cool succulents

Fun and funky, strange and weird… succulents are all that, plus easy to grow. They are everywhere these days too, just hit your local garden center, nursery, or big box store. Succulents are offered in a whole range of shapes and sizes and in plain nursery pots or decorative containers to fit any décor.

Here are some I love growing:

  • I bought a Trail of Tears (top left) as an itty bitty thing. I transplanted it from a plastic nursery pot to a terra cotta pot. I mixed some sand into the potting mix (about 2/3rds potting soil and 1/3 sand) and hung it in a western-facing window. Once in a while I tuck the longest strands into the soil, where they root, because my cat plays with them when they get too long.
  • My jade plant (bottom image) is a clone of one my mother acquired in the 1950s, ro-oted from a leaf. It spends summers outdoors on the porch, where it is shaded yet gets bright light, and overwinters indoors in a sunny south-facing window.
  • The charming aloe (top right) is from a cutting I received many years ago from my Aunt Eliza. It blooms almost nonstop with small yellow nodding flowers on a long stalk. I have divided it many, many times and love sharing it with friends.
  • I love paddle kalanchoes. The one pictured at the top of this page has red edges on the leaves and was a gift from one of my garden design clients. The great thing about gifts of plants is that they remind you of the person who gave it to you!

Succulents are so easy to grow. Just plant yours in sandy soil if it didn’t come that way (see rough proportions above) and put it in a bright window—south- or west-facing is best. Go easy on watering—once a week at most but probably more like once or twice a month.

Feel free to ask a question if you have a succulent or want to grow one. I’ll cover how to re-pot and divide succulents in a future blog post. Have fun with your succulent!

Use your rosemary!

Got a pot of rosemary growing? Sure, it’s beautiful. It’s really useful too! One of my favorite ways to use it is with roasted vegetables. Choose whatever root vegetables you like. Potatoes are wonderful of course, as are carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes, yams, turnips, and rutabagas. Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, and squash also roast well.

Chop up whatever you like and place it on a rimmed baking sheet. Above, I’ve used carrots, red potatoes, and butternut squash. Add 2 or 3 sprigs of rosemary and drizzle the whole thing with a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and toss everything with your (washed) hands to distribute the oil. Roast in a 400-degree oven. Give the vegetables a stir after 15 minutes or so. Continue roasting until the vegetables are just soft on the inside and nicely browned on the outside, as pictured on the right, above. Generally this takes about 45 minutes. Discard the rosemary before serving.

Feeling festive? The following rosemary-infused cocktail is simple yet delicious. Perfect for winter!

  • 1 oz. cranberry juice
  • 2 tablespoons rosemary simple syrup
  • 4 oz. prosecco

Chill all ingredients then pour in the order listed into a champagne flute or white wine glass. Give it a quick stir to combine and enjoy!

Rosemary simple syrup:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 sprigs fresh rosemary

Combine sugar, water, and rosemary in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat and stir to dissolve sugar. Turn heat off and let syrup cool in the pot. Strain the syrup to remove rosemary sprigs and any leaves that might have fallen off. Keeps for months covered and refrigerated.

How to freeze garlic

Having a stash of peeled garlic in the freezer is a terrific time-saver. You can freeze it in various forms, as described below for about a year. Pick whatever form you find most convenient.

Whole raw cloves–Scatter whole peeled cloves of garlic on a rimmed baking sheet and place in the freezer overnight. The next day, use a flat spatula to loosen the cloves. Place them in freezer bags or airtight containers and store in the freezer.

Chopped or minced raw cloves–Chop or mince peeled garlic, make tablespoon-sized mounds on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet, then place in the freezer. The next day, loosen the garlic mounds and freeze as described above. You can also suspend the garlic in olive o

garlic paste with olive oil in food processor and small trays ready to freeze (3).JPG

Mincing garlic is fast and easy in a small food processor. Loosen it with a little olive oil. These cool little trays are from my niece’s Pampered Chef party.

il by adding a little to the minced garlic before freezing. Old ice cube trays work great for freezing a garlic/oil mixture. Once it is frozen, pop the “cubes” from the tray and store them in the freezer in freezer bags or airtight containers. Frozen chopped or minced garlic is super convenient for making garlic bread, sauces, and dressings.

Roasted garlic–Roasted garlic is a vastly different creature than raw garlic—mellow, nutty, and slightly smokey. It’s delicious spread on bread or crackers and in dressings. Garlic can be roasted by placing whole peeled cloves on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing them with a little olive oil, and roasting at 350 degrees til soft. Alternatively, slice the heads longitudinally, place them in a small baking dish or piece of foil, and brush with olive oil. Either cover the baking dish with foil, or wrap the heads in foil and roast at 400 degrees until the garlic is soft. Let cool slightly then squeeze each half to release the cloves. Freeze roasted garlic in airtight containers or freezer bags.

Consider the winter garden

Most people don’t think about their gardens in winter. Who wants to be out in the cold more than they have to? But if you’re looking to changesnow-on-rudbeckia-black-eyed-susan-spent-flowers your landscape next summer, winter is a great time to consider your options without the distraction of foliage or flowers. Grab some paper and a pencil and come with me on a little landscape soul-searching.

First, look out your windows from indoors. What do you see? Does it please you? Now go outside and tromp around. With fresh eyes, envision what people see when they walk or drive past your house, when they walk to your front door, and drive up your driveway. What do you see when you collect the mail, take out the trash, take your kids to the bus, or walk the dog? Really look. Do you like what you see, or is it lacking? Why? Jot down all your thoughts.

Next, assess how you use or want to use your outdoor spaces. Do you have children who need play space? How about a dog? Do you want to entertain outdoors? Do you enjoy grilling outdoors? Do you want to grow edibles? Do you intend to play lawn games like badminton, bocce, or croquet? Or is having a relaxing oasis more your speed? Add these thoughts to your other notes.

It’s critical to note the physical attributes of the property too. How much sun do various parts of the property receive? Are there areas where water ponds after a rain? Are there other drainage problems? Where are all the structures on the property—house, garage, shed, children’s play house or tree house, pool, driveway, vegetable beds, septic system, gas and water lines, overhead wires, etc.? Making simple sketches helps record these important points, or you can use a copy of the survey you received when you bought your home and draw on that.

Now take your survey copy and lay tracing paper over it. Using different colored pens or markers, draw lines that represent where you drive and park your car on the property, the pattern of where your pets move around, the path you take to pick up your mail, place your trash for pickup, where your kids play, how they walk to the bus stop, how visitors travel to your front door, and other pathways that might occur on your property. This exercise can reveal faults, eyesores, and difficult access paths in a landscape.

Note the style of your house and think about garden styles you like (cottage, formal, modern, etc.). This is the time to dream and have fun. Websites like Pinterest are great for helping you find the garden styles, colors, and detail you like. Magazines and books are great resources too, as well as real gardens you may have visited. Keep track of things you like to help guide a style for your new garden space, either scrapbook style or electronically.

Taken together, your notes and sketches synthesize the facts about your landscape as well as your thoughts, desires, and needshalesia-carolina-silverbell-buds-in-snow-closeup-winter-10 for it. You can use these materials to come up with a list of changes to make: pathways to remove or change; eyesores to screen; spaces for play or lounging to create; or more pleasing views to establish.

With all your thoughts and ideas recorded, come next spring, you’ll have a starting point for creating a landscape that pleases you and suits your needs.