Wednesday, 4 November 2020

Ceanothus: how to start a new one.

 I recently received a question on an old post about a topiarised Ceanothus.

 This is what it used to look like, before I got my hands on it:

,,,covered in blossom, yes, but it was top-heavy, and it smothered everything underneath it.

So I started work on it, and over a year or so, turned it from a blob, into a thing of beauty.


Well, I think it's lovely, anyway!

The question related to the age and species of this one, and the obvious follow-on question is likely to be about how to create one for yourself, if you don't happen to have a gigantic one like this, slobbing around in your garden and in dire need of a big tidy-up.

The answer is, go out and buy a Ceanothus: pick one that flowers at the "right" time of year for you - some flower in May, like this one, some flower in autumn.

Choose a variety that says the eventual spread could be 3m/10' high, or more if you can: don't buy a dwarf one.

Look at all the ones they have for sale (never buy something like this from the internet, you really need to go to the garden centre and look at them for yourself),  and gently part the branches, to see which ones have the "best" main trunk.

If you look at the post I mentioned above, you can see that the above specimen turned out to have one single trunk in the middle, which then branched, at about 3-4' off the ground, into three/four upper branches.

This is just about as perfect as you are likely to find: bear this in mind when looking through your possible new plants at the garden centre, and find the one which matches it best.

If the ones for sale are only knee high, then pick the one with the best central trunk.

Take it home, sit it up on a bench, and take a good look at it. Decide which is going to be your main trunk, and carefully remove all the other branches, at ground level.

(Darn, I wish I had one to show you! Truly do they say, a picture is worth a thousand words...)

This will leave you with a strange-looking miniature tree, with one main trunk, a tuft of foliage up the top, and not much else. It suddenly won't look worth as much money as you paid for it, but don't panic. 

Plant it out in your garden, against a fence if you want to re-create one like mine, and put in a stout stake to support the single, lone, trunk.

This is necessary because you have removed all the bushy growth which used to support it, and you don't want that central trunk to be blown over and snapped.

Feed it, water it, nurture it: keep the single stem clear of all new growth.

Next year, look at the top,  and pick three or four of the best-looking branches. Trim back everything else, leaving just your chosen ones. This is the beginning of your topiary-trained tree.

Because you are removing all the competing branches, the plant will put all its energies into thickening and enlarging the few branches that you have allowed to remain, so in a couple of years' time, you will have something similar in form to "my" one, although it might take several years to get to a decent size.

You will need to keep "nipping out" any new growth along the lengths of your chosen main trunk and upper branches, otherwise it will revert to being a bush.

If I were to stop trimming the one which I did, in a year or two it would look just like it does in the picture above!

So, what are the key points?

1) Start with the best possible candidate - one with a discernible "main" trunk or stem.

2) Let it get to the height at which you want it to branch, then select a small number of upper branches, and trim off all the rest.

3) Support it while it's small.

4) Feed it and water it, to encourage growth.

5) Constant vigilance to remove unwanted growth.

And there you have it! I shall keep my eyes open for another project of this type, so that I can take photos of the very beginnings.

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