I Need Some Gardening Tips

First, a bit of background. My landlady gives a discount on rent to someone willing to do maintainance around the property. This is mostly things like mowing the grass, watering the other plants, trimming as needed, and so on, with a bit of other seasonal work thrown in–rake the leaves, startup/shutdown the coolers, and so on. Well, the guy living behind me (he was here first and thus got the discount) really wasn’t doing anything. He angered my landlady for the last time so she took the job and the discount from him and gave it to me. I don’t mind, because I could use the discount and a bit of physical work outside is good for me. Plus, she knows I can do good work from previous history.

So, I’m looking at about 2 years of neglect. The property has a shed full of tools so it’s not like I have to provide anything other than a pair of gloves and some sweat. Trimming the bushes and the like isn’t too bad–I may not be a topiary artist but I can at least use the hedge trimmer to get boxes. Mom told me how to take care of a rose bush. I know how to mow the lawn and use a weed-eater and edger. However, there are two areas that need work and would probably impress my landlady next time she comes down from Albuquerque, besides if I could get the front lawn to fill out and go green.

The first is the blackberry bush. It, like the front yard and the other plants, wasn’t getting watered. There’s a lot of deadwood present. I think there’s some living blackberry bush mixed in as well, but I’m not sure. The flowers are a mixture of pink and white–small pink flowers on the outside and below and then small white flowers higher up and on the inside, so you get a two-color effect. So I have no idea what that is and what I should do with all the dead stuff. I mean, the living stuff looks pretty, but I don’t know if it’s supposed to be there or if it’s a weed and the blackberry bush is a total loss.

The second are the trees in the front. They appear to be the only things that have done well with so much neglect, which makes me worry about what their root system must look like. Well, I can’t do anything about that, but I can trim the trees, and trust me, they need it. Problem is, I don’t know much about that. I think I should take out any branches that are running under higher branches and any branches that are running at funny angles to the rest of the tree. But I’m afraid I’m going to wind up with trees that look like a toddler who gave himself a haircut or otherwise take off too much. So are there any good guidelines? Also, with the branches I keep, how much of the little offshots do I take off that are running up and down the larger branches? I have no idea what kind of trees these are but I can’t imagine that it’d matter for this. I borrowed my family’s old pole trimmer and figure if I can’t get the branch off with the lopper side that I probably don’t want to switch to the saw and take the branch off.

Dead stuff is dead stuff – take it all out.

Seriously, doesn’t matter what kind of plant it is (berry, rose, evergreen, whatever) – once that branch is dead, it ain’t never coming back. Trim it all out and see what you’re left with.

Trees are actually more a job for a trained professional. Do not take the advice of random message board experts. Or, if you must, then first a) [bare minimum] tell us what kind of trees they are, or b) [preferable] post pix.

I agree with twickster in that tree trimming is for professionals. But the only thing I do know about it for sure is that when you cut a branch off, make sure that you cut it far enough from the base so that the cut looks round,
NOT oval. The tree will heal much faster that way. You will also reduce the chance of disease and/or bug problems. But again call a proffesional, or (if you must) go to a nursary in your area, they may be very helpful with tips for you. Good luck. :slight_smile:

Thirded that trimming trees is not something amateurs do well. You probably will get the toddler effect, and you can seriously damage the tree in the process. I don’t know anything about blackberry bushes, but I trimmed all my lilacs and roses these last couple of years, and neglected bushes love a good trim ("Can I get “Things that sound vaguely dirty for $1000, Alex?”). Start slowly, taking out the dead wood first, then step back and take a look at the overall shape, then trim a little at a time until you get a shape that looks okay.

When trimming hedges, the proper shape is not a box but a wedge, with the narrowest point at the top. This opens the plants up and allows air and light to reach all the branches better.

As for making the lawn green and lush, go to your local greenhouse and find out about the hardiest grass seed you can get for your area and re-seed with that, and keep on doing it until the hardier grass has taken over. I personally am morally opposed to lawns anywhere that can’t support them naturally, but you probably can’t just rip out your landlady’s lawn and put some proper plants in. :smiley:

Oh, yeah, water everything in the evenings or early mornings to maximize the effect of the water and not sunburn the grass and plants. Grass needs a good, long soak, not a bunch of short waterings.

All plants do better with a long soak. You’re better off running the sprinkler once a week for an hour than doing it every day for 10 minutes.

I think I’d get the landlady’s approval, preferably in writing, before you prune the trees. You should point out to her that you have no experience. If the pruning is unacceptable or causes severe damage, she could hold you responsible if you don’t have a clear understanding between you. You could determine what kind of trees they are and do some research online for tips on pruning that particular type tree.
I have wild himalayan blackberries on my property, they grow very, very rapidly. You can cut them to the ground and in a couple of years they will be back where you started. They are difficult to thin because of the thick growth and heavy thorns.
I agree that once a week deep watering is the proper way. The idea is to encourage deep root growth. Roots seek watter and shallow watering results in poor root growth. It’s best to water early in the morning for at least an hour, two or three would probably be better. You can use several small tuna cans, at different locations, to measure the amount, about one half to one inch per week is probably about right. Night watering can encourage fungal growth in some areas.

I bought a house last year that’s been a rental for over 25 years. That meant about 25 years of neglected apple and pear trees, grape vines, berry bushes and lawn.

Lucky for me, my uncle is a gardening and tree enthusiast (not a professional) so he was able to do most of the tree trimming for me. My advice regarding tree trimming is to at least cut off the dead stuff - you can tell what’s dead right now, in the midwest at least, if it doesn’t have leaves or flowers and if small branches snap when you bend them. All of my healthy branches are bendy and do not snap. For heavier pruning, go with a pro.

As for the berry bushes…they seem to be hard to kill. Really hard. My “patch” of bushes was about 5’x3’ when I moved in. My uncle cut out a 3’x5’x5’ pile of crap from there (I rented a chipper and ran the brush through, along with all of the other prunings) 6 months ago and the damn thing is already overgrown again.

You can mow the bushes down but they’ll keep springing up. I’ve got some errant bushes encroaching on my grapes, and my uncle said we’ll have to either dig them out (“it’ll be hard” he says…?) or can try using Round Up to kill them.

Getting a yard back into shape is exhausting. I’ve been going non stop 3-4 days a week since April and I still don’t see the light :frowning:

I’ll second all the advice given so far. If your landlady doesn’t want to pay for professional tree trimming and asks you to go ahead, there are some pretty good “how to” books at your local garden centers or hardware store (Lowes, Home Depot). They’ll provide some basics, like the proper way to make a cut, which branches to cut, desired effect, tree identification, particulars for each tree type, etc. Most will even go into that for shrubs, vines, etc.

If you do all that and still have some questions, can you post some pics? I’d not be surprised if, given the replies we’ve see so far, we couldn’t reach a consensus for a particular tree(s).

The thing with the lawns is this is a desert and rationing rules are in effect. If I had it my way they would’ve been planted with buffalo grass. Instead, I’ve got Bermuda to deal with. The back yard is on a set of timers and I’m not going to mess with her settings. The front yard I start myself. Generally, I’ve been doing it a couple times a week for 30 minutes or so starting at about 8, when the sun is low and it’s dropped 20 degrees or so outside.

I don’t really know what kind of trees they are. I learned how to chop down a tree in Boy Scouts, not how to identify them. Whatever they are, I’m willing to bet they’re not native. I can get a picture sometime if I can just borrow a digital camera.

Pruning requirements can vary greatly. Some need to develop a central leader, others do best as multi-trunked. Do you prefer shade or is heavy thinning required? Timing too can encourage growth or cause severe stunting. I prune my live oaks differently than the water oaks, which differ again from the burr oak, red oak, etc. Lord strike me if I treated any the same as the maples, pines, cypress, and so forth.

A pic of the tree and a close-up of the bark and leaf should do it.

In the spring three growths of berry canes are present.

  1. New shoots will come out of the ground and be the one year canes with no berries.
  2. The live canes will be the two year canes that all the berries wil form on this year.
  3. The dead canes are last years berry producing canes.

Remove the dead canes. The patch can be thinned further, if an excessive amount of canes are still there. Assuming equal growth each year a third of the canes will be in each stage. Rotted manure is great for berries.

I don’t have pictures of everything yet as the light was going bad and the flash didn’t do the job, but I did at least get a picture of the leaves of the trees. I don’t know if the scale is too distorted, I hoped that my arm would give some idea of the scale.


I would suggest changing that to one inch of water, once a week. Calgary is a very arid area as well, and that is what is recommended for our lawns. From what I just read, Bermuda grass is quite drought-tolerant (and invasive!).

For the black berry bush, I suggest giving it a good trimming and get a bag of compost from the local gardening store ( or a couple yards delivered, usually about $45 or so plus delivery charge.) to put around the base of all the flowering plants and fruits. ( Even trees and bushes.) This will help revitalize the soil with much needed nutrients.

Avoid Round Up and other commericial grade weed killers. They are just so noxious for humans ( ever read the WARNINGS part on the back? Scary, scary stuff, I cannot imagine eating a fruit or veggie that has been exposed to that stuff. Ick.)
Google Organic Weed Killer and look for a vineagar based recipe for prevention.

To keep ants away, there is a simple mix of: half water/ vineager into a mister bottle with a jet stream and just go to town with air raids on the ants. It’s fun and the fumes won’t restructure your DNA.
Also, avoid the tree. Unless your Landlady is willing to come up with the cash herself should you ruin your back, cut yourself or have a tree land on you or someone’s car, or get attacked by some deranged squirrel: leave it to the professionals.
[HiJack with a moral.]

( My inlaws used my husband for two huge tree trimming jobs at their house. Let’s put it this way, when the tree he was cutting down shifted and the couple of lines he used to ensure it wouldn’t fall towards the house didn’t hold, he jumped in there to try to move the slowly falling tree himself before realizing that gravity was stronger than he and he let it go. He was lucky twice that day: one was that the tree fell exactly between the house and the air conditioning unit ( a space of about 5 feet wide.) and he didn’t ruin his back for life.

Leave it to the pro’s.

You really need to take a picture of the tree for it’s general growth habit is aparent. A piture of the bark will help, and a picture of seeds or flowers can help. The leaves are shaped like a few trees I can think of, but I’m not a expert at identafing trees by leaves only.

I’m pretty sure they’re male trees, so no seeds or flowers.

I got some more shots this morning. As I said, it’s not a great camera but I hope this gets the idea across.

Picture 1
Picture 2
Picture 3
Picture 4
Picture 5
Picture 6

I’m not positive, but I think it is a basswood tree or otherwise known as linden.

A less likely tree being a cottonwood and the ones sold comercialy are cottonless cottenwood, so they don’t shed fluffy white seeds all over.

The shape of the tree eliminates the other species I can think of with similar leaves.

I know nothing about IDing trees, but cottonwood is not at all unlikely in NM. They’re everywhere, both wild and cultivated.

I think Harmonious may have nailed it, as the leaf has an unusual upward angling habit that originates from the first stem arm, almost like “shoulder pads” if you will. Plus Linden/Basswood bark is described as “…later turning gray-brown and becoming ridged with long, shallow furrows and flat topped ridges. The bark is very fibrous.” That would appear to concur with one of the more striking features in a couple of your pics.

I’m really not finding much of anything that suggests Lindens require any pruning at all. Care should be taken if you do need to prune Linden trees to insure too much canopy is not removed because it may allow sunburn of the thin bark.

Plus, as a general rule deciduous trees should be pruned when dormant, probably some time back in late winter or early spring. You could probably get away with just some very minor small limb removal if you’re trying to limit crossing or repetitive branches or those obstructing pedestrian walkways but anything more significant might best be reconsidered or postponed until dormancy.

You’re in a pretty interesting environment though. I’m jealous as it would appear to have some very challenging yet rewarding opportunities for a gardener/ landscape entheusiast.

I’m not seeing why you think you need to prune them.