Thursday, June 30, 2022

Thank You

Several years ago I made it a practice to send a "Thank You" out to all my customers, half-way through the year.

Over the last two years I failed to do so. I was crazily busy - now I am comfortably busy.

The end of June is when I critique myself, reflect upon accomplishments and project the remainder of the year.

They (whoever "They" are) say it takes about seven years before a business becomes worthwhile - I'm seven-years in. 

Well, Back40 was worthwhile from day-one, yet now, more aspects of it are more enjoyable.

This is due to much effort on my behalf, but more so, due to the wonderful customers I have and their understanding of plants - health-wise, aesthetically and otherwise.

I will still undertake the jobs I performed years ago regarding clearing areas and ridding those of the detrimental mess (unwanted growth and weeds) that hampers preferred plant life and their beauty and health, for a customer who needs such. Yet, this has progressed (a goal I set several years ago) to plant care, overall, for those plants my customers cherish.

Lord given, I can probably prune and care for plants for another ten years, unless my patent gets granted. Then, you are all on your own. Ha!

Beyond projects, such as plant bed planning, design and installation, which require a formal detailed proposal, the Pruning and Plant Care Program has provided me much peace of mind, and my customers, some time and budget flexibility. I get the chance to focus on each concern, each plant, each vignette, each situation, with a plan not swayed by time concerns. Yet, time and goals are well managed.

Arriving here has been an arduous, exciting and educational process. This would not have been possible without the understanding, communications and encouragement of existing and prior customers. I wish I could preemptively thank my future customers. Oh well, they'll simply have to wait.

Sincerely, y'all are the best customers. I've turned down some opportunities from a few prospects, but I can't remember a customer I have abandoned for any reason, except that beyond my control.

Friends and acquaintances look at me like I am a unicorn when I say, "I have the best customers in the world."

I do.

Thank you!

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Ploetry: Native Dogwood - Unconditional Love


The following is from a recollection of experiences with many customers. Although, I have helped rehab several plants, never have I done so, nor attempted to restore a native dogwood. This is beyond me.

Rightfully so, there is much love and loyalty given by owners of these wonderfully attractive and interesting trees.

Among other maladies, way too many dogwoods in this and other areas have been and are suffering from dogwood anthracnose, a rarely repairable/reversible disease. Most of the possible solutions are chemical and involved - rarely successful, at least, not economically.

Valued and cherished for their bark, their branch structure and definitely the foliage and blossoms, it is rare an owner of a dogwood will easily part with these gorgeous trees.

It didn't take long for me to succumb to native dogwoods' fate and more so, my customers' desires.

The mourning would be delayed and I was to keep this wonderful plant alive as long as acceptable by its loved one.


Native Dogwood - Unconditional Love

Gifted, gorgeous, many say

Chosen, planted, admired

Awe for many a child

Flattery from many a neighbor

Branches of character

Bark to intrigue

Blessed with leaves not much less than 

Blooms a camellia may envy

A life of glory for my host

An heirloom, generations served

Unconditional love

Now, in decline, retreat

Branches dead, others near death,

Producing petioles short-lived

Leaves which cannot wait 'til fall, to fall

It's all, all I can muster

As I have lost my luster

Diseased, my wounds pruned away 

The host wants me to stay,

Stay forever, as I slowly waste away

Now in hospice,

Yet, life has been grand

All we have shared

They deny my demise and will keep me until

Only my trunk is the memory of what I once was

Unconditional love 

Knowing I may be replaced by a relative, 

Such as a kousa dogwood, not native to this soil

Or, perhaps a distant cousin,

A crepe myrtle or a japanese maple

They will serve well

Years of enjoyment to come

More than I was able

Yes, I was gifted, and gorgeous

And, very well loved

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Two Welcoming and Rare Loropetalum Trees

The Left after Pruning and the Right, Before
I have worked on many a Loropetalum - the beautiful shrubs with green to purplish foliage, or a mix thereof, and gorgeous small pink (a newer species - red) and white fringe flowers. Even if you weren't aware of their name, you've probably seen plenty.

Most all the Loropetalums I have pruned and planted have been shrubs or tree-like shrubs, but not technically, trees. 

These two girls are trees. And, they are interesting, gorgeous. 

Being a member of the church, Bethel United Methodist, for which they adorn, I knew they were there, and I adored them. But, I finally offered to do some gratis work on them with the chair of our trustee committee (also a customer and friend) at my side. 

Left Loropetalum - After Pruning
Being given oversight of the grounds as a trustee not long ago, I thought this a wonderful place to start. There is plenty more to do which will be a mix of oversight and some hands-on. I'm hoping, more so, for oversight.

Both trees had a substantial amount of dead branches within their interior and an abundance of crossing and diverted branches. Many branches weren't an immediate health issue, but many didn't bode well for the future of the tree.

After some research, I found these two Loropetalums were planted in the late 80's and from what I know from working on them, they are probably within a few feet of their mature or ultimate size, 20 X 20 - a wonderful size for the space they occupy. 

Right Lorpetalum - Branch Structure, After Pruning

As with all lorpetalums, there were interior areas of congestion, which needed thinning. Also, there were previously-made improper cuts made which produced less natural production of branches and foliage. Someone decided to cut branches to raise the height of the canopy or to reduce the size of the crown...all performed with little thought or technique.

Although I spend a lot of time inside of shrubs and trees, it is rare that I am able to climb inside one while pruning it. If you recognize the form of both of these trees, it was wonderful to climb inside them and work from the inside, out. Doing so is more efficient, productive and provides an aspect of the plant which is so beneficial.

Both Loropetalums - After Pruning

Both of these trees are wonderful specimens, fairly well balanced in regard to space and the path of the sun.There will always be need for some attention, yet, now, you can find the sunlight coming through the foliage and branches of each. They are healthier, happier.

Each tree took well over two hours to prune, with an assistant. I am certain I could personally spend another hour on each, but here they are, in all their glory and happiness. 

If you care to view these two amazing Lorpetalums, they flank the sanctuary entrance of Bethel United Methodist Church on Daniel Drive, roughly at the intersection of Bethel Church Road and Willingham Drive.

Left Loropetalum - Branch Structure, After Pruning

Feel free to come worship with us, at any time.                                     

Friday, May 13, 2022

The Power of Proper Pruning

I received this photo via text from a customer in regard to a plant on her daughter's property.

She asked, "What is this plant? I love it!" 

Viewing the photo, it took me awhile to wrap my head around this one. I had been on the property four or five times and I was still somewhat lost until I had some reference, but, I still didn't know what particular plant it was/is.

I knew where it was, based on its location. I had asked to prune this plant about nine months prior to this photo. And, I did. The owner said she had never seen a single bloom on it. Nor, had I. 

I was not concerned with what type, genus or species it was. I would have loved to have known, but this is not a necessity when you understand plants and what they are trying to do or what they need. It is a gorgeous Snowball Viburnum.

It had been hacked by their lawn service...indiscriminately trimmed back to a certain height with no regard for its condition or future growth.

Pruning can be artistic, but only based on science...plant physiology. This plant was doomed; not to die, but to be something way short, way short of its design...its DNA.

It's only near term future after being hacked down was to produce an exorbitant amount of new growth, very tender, in the form of weak branches and foliage. This effort, energy and resources stole away from producing bloom, which it needed to flourish. It produced no blooms over the last year.

I pruned to reduce all the bad cuts and removed the resulting dead and cross branches. I also pruned for future growth, which is difficult to's simply plant physiology. I pruned slightly for aesthetics, but mainly for health reasons. Obviously, its future looked better with some well-thought attention.

In other words, taking an aggressive power trimmer or a chain saw to keep a shrub or tree indiscriminately at bay in regard to height, is futile, purposeless.

She is now this wonderful display of these gorgeous bundles of clustered white flowers, similar to those of a mop-head hydrangea.

She will do well and be the gorgeous plant she was meant to be. At least, she will be able to flower, which most plants strive reproduce. I've rehabbed many a plant. And, I will spend time with this one once again to work with her branch structure, to become a more balanced plant with even greater blooms more evenly distributed along her crown...more attractive.

These plants aren't meant to be trimmed or hacked. They need to be properly pruned with a plan, some thought and proper technique.

For many plants, those we choose to have on our properties - they become a part of us. They add grace, some beautiful distraction or intent to our everyday lives, something playful, interesting or perhaps something spatially and spiritually rewarding.

Feel free to read some of my articles regarding pruning and its advantages. Please go to

Plants mostly favor our existence (so, they've told me, on occasion) as we do, theirs.

Friday, March 11, 2022

Let's Raise Those Youngins Right

Through much study and a lot of experience I have learned to prune, as best as possible, many tree-like shrubs and younger trees for future growth, or to train them.

This training may be to accommodate their natural surroundings, man-made obstructions for which they were planted too close or simply their response to the path of the sun.

Or, it may be to take advantage of a specimen plant with ample environs in the most advantageous location on one's property - a place for that plant to truly stand-out and be noticed, and be healthy. 

The opportunity to do so depends on so much - the relative age of the plant and its placement, and more so, what care, lack of attention or abuse it has received.

I cut my teeth in this biz pruning japanese maples (like the one above); receiving much praise from the owner. Well before studying plant physiology, something in my eye and brain told me never to take a trimmer to or to shear these or many other plants I later encountered.

Later I began studying arboriculture, which led to studying horticulture. And, I have a feeling I always will be. I will need to. This is not a tiny field of study - a wonderful thing. I will die well before I have a grasp of all the world's plants (as if that's possible) and even so if I had begun this when I was six years old. Fortunately, understanding plant physiology is the key to pruning and most plant care.

I have rehabbed or restored many senior trees and shrubs, but the rewards are even greater when they are youngsters. This is when you get to coddle and influence them into later producing a more attractive look and a healthier condition. These rewards often come a few years later for the youngsters; yet, the results are awesome and very pleasing.

I have begun to do more of this as I have designed and installed plants and plant beds over the last few years, able to return, monitor and provide some additional pruning - training for the youngins.

There are ways to restore and beautify many other mature shrubs and trees like camellias, sasanquas, dogwoods, crepe myrtles and many, many, many others. This requires some thoughtful evaluation and I probably find more reward in these as the changes are more pronounced.

Many plants live, thrive and die an early death in a forest, a plain or a jungle, but that is their role in those environments. We choose a property with plants or introduce them to our properties hoping they will only live or thrive in the manner we envision.

Well, some may need some assistance for that vision to be realized.

Don't expect a plant to be what it is it be what it can be.

Please go to for more articles about my pruning and other stories as well.

Sunday, March 6, 2022

To Bag Lawn Clippings or Not

Every homeowner wants a beautiful lawn...certainly.

I haven't provided basic lawn care in quite a while, but when I did I studied lawns, soils and turf grasses just as I continue to study shrub and tree care.

There shouldn't be much debate about not collecting (bagging) lawn clippings as they provide some of the quickest decomposing material to aid in the soil nutrients. Unless one allows their grass to grow too tall to the point of the clippings providing a blanket to block the sun, the resulting parts of plant life of the exact same ilk return their nutrients back to the soil, quite quickly. 

Here is the difference and I am only going to cite one of many instances which may occur throughout the year or the growing season. Bear with me.

I have had many customers over the years call me or show concern about the weeds which occur late winter and early spring. I have been on their properties for years and realize many of these weeds lose out to healthy lawns or have a very short life - a few to several weeks. And, later they are gone. Their lawns are again gorgeous throughout most of the year.

I am not going to get into all the genus and species of weeds, but many of these lawn weeds this time of year are short-lived annuals. Yet, an annual weed is not necessarily innocuous simply because one may believe its life has ended after dying, never to return.

Many of these weeds produce flowers or seed heads which when scattered by the wind, transferred by pollinators or left to fall to the ground, only wish to reproduce. And, they do so only waiting for next year and the opportunity to ugly your lawn again.

So, here are a few ways to reduce their impact on your lawn when you recognize these abhorrent little creatures:

Note 1: I say reduce as you are not going to eliminate the potential for weeds in your lawn and the decision to bag clippings or not will depend on your lawn's situation and your desire to make slight changes throughout the year unless you have an overwhelming weed problem.

Note 2: If you mow your lawn or have it mowed frequently (not too frequently and not too short) during the growing season you are probably preventing many seed heads from developing and should take advantage of mulching and returning the clippings back to earth.

Note 3: Mulching mowers work best, but they are only as good as the condition of the blade(s).

  • Catch the weeds early by mowing the areas of your lawn which are affected by using a mower with a bag attachment.
  • If your lawn service doesn't normally bag your lawns clippings ask them to bag the clippings and return to bag-less mowing when the flowering weeds are not so prevalent. Of course, depending on the size of your lawn, they may charge a little more for the time to empty the bags/containers.
  • Or (many lawn services have a push mower), if you don't have large affected areas, ask your lawn service to use a push mower, with bag attached, to cover these areas while the faster riding mower (without bag attached) with larger blade swath takes care of the rest. They will want to ensure the height for both mower decks/blades are as similar as possible to not show variations in your lawn height. 

Note: You may want to bag weed clippings or cover them with other debris if you place them roadside so that the seeds are not carried by the wind.

Personally (I have a small lawn and many plant beds.), I dig up the larger broadleaf weeds with a small three-tine heavy metal rake (more of an extraction tool than a rake) snapping the tines below the surface of the weed and removing as much of the root as possible.

And, I mow using the bag attachment in late winter until later in early spring until I notice very little or no weeds with flowers or seed heads.

Then as we move into the turf grass growing season I mulch only and use no bag.

That's it: Just a little attention, some thought and adjustment and you'll probably see a reduction in weeds.


Monday, February 14, 2022

Plant Care Myths - Hydrangeas

I truly love writing about things I care about regarding plants and I usually do so based on knowledge, research and experience.

Yet, I am somewhat going to shoot from the hip regarding Hydrangeas (mop heads) macrophylla and perhaps a few other species.

Understanding hydrangeas physiologically, I have worked with many with great success.

The one you see in the photo is a Nikko Blue mop-head hydrangea and they are gorgeous. Mop head hydrangeas are the most common in this area, along with some wonderful oakleaf hydrangeas.

There are a few other species of hydrangeas, yet they are not common in the Midlands. I can help you with this as almost any variety will do well here.

Pound-for-pound, based on stem structure, Mop Head Hydrangeas probably produce more blooms than most any other plant. They can be properly pruned and managed for years for most any part of a property's landscape.

Myth #1 They require a lot of water - it's in their name

I have heard this so many times that it has become silly, asinine. The botanical Latin name of the hydrangea is derived from word meaning "water vessel" said to refer to the "cup-like form of the seed-capsule". This has nothing to do with their need for water.

Hydrangeas, like many other plants, in similar environments, have no other special water requirements.

Myth #2 Hydrangeas are difficult to grow

I once thought so, but after planting so many with a highly successful rate-of-return, I must differ. When placed properly on a property, most hydrangeas will survive and flourish. Have I relocated a few? Yes, but not many. The first two years of most hydrangeas are key, but once they are established, they are indestructibly beautiful.

Myth #3 - When Hydrangeas Wilt they are Dying

Typically, no, they are not. This doesn't occur with all hydrangeas, but the big leaf hydrangeas have a deficiency with the underside of their leaves. There is a functional part (the stomata) which controls the exchange of gases, which holds true for most every plants yet, certain Hydrangeas fail to do so and they don't control the loss of water vapor and their leaves may begin to wilt in extreme temperatures or direct afternoon sun; yet, come evening, they will recover and be gorgeous again. 

If your hydrangea's leaves become yellow or brown during their growing season, then there may be cause for more care. Perhaps.

Please remember, diagnosing plants for nutrient deficiencies is much more difficult than recognizing fungal or pest problems.

Yellowing or browning of leaves is no more a sign of a lack of water than it is a sign of too much water or a lack of one or more soil nutrients - make no assumptions.

You will probably be able to forego all the fertilizers which are advertised to make your plants lives better if you only provide a properly mulched environment with the occasional addition of quality composted material.


Plants are wonderful. As much as we expect of them, rarely do they fail us. They enhance our surroundings, our lives.

Designed and well-placed, and with the proper maintenance, they serve us well on any given piece of land...perhaps, for a lifetime.