Homegrown: Schefflera plants, mugo pines

I have a schefflera houseplant that has been growing in low light and has only a few branches that are stretched out. I would prefer to have a fuller-looking plant.

I have read that you can prune the plant back to encourage new growth at the bottom, but how far down can the plant be pruned?

— Scott

The thinness of your schefflera is probably because of the low light conditions it’s living in. Though scheffleras can tolerate lower light levels, they do have limits and they can get thin and leggy if there’s not enough light. As long as the plant is growing in an area like this, you will have this problem.

Having said that, you can help thicken up the plant by tip pruning. Cut back the stems of the plant to bring it into better proportion and to encourage new shoot growth below where you cut it off.

One common mistake people make when pruning schefflera is that they mistake leaf stems, called petioles, for the plant’s true stems. The true stems are much thicker than the petioles, the diameter of a pencil or bigger. Cutting the petioles won’t help you with the plant, so make sure you cut the true stems back.

My mugo pines are 8 years old, and there a lot of needles at each tree’s base. These I’m going to clean out. Some of the needles on the bushes are tipped with a brown/orange color. Could this be from not enough water in the winter? How do I prune a mugo pine? They are getting big enough to go out over the lawn, making it hard to mow.

— Kara

When the tips of the needles of a pine turn orangey-brown over the winter, it’s usually a result of winter burn. This is where the needles lose water faster than it can be replenished through the roots.

Our bright, clear and dry winter days are ideal for this problem to occur. You can help mitigate the problem by watering occasionally over the winter, but even then, sometimes the problem will show up. Either way, it’s really not a serious problem. The plant will eventually push out new growth and cover up that unsightly orangey-brown.

Pruning a mugo pine is difficult. I assume you want to limit the size of the plant.

Many people buy mugos thinking that they’re getting a dwarf, rounded mound. The problem is that many mugos are seed grown. That means that there will be some inherent variability. Some will stay small and compact but others will get much larger than people expected.

For this reason, we now only carry named varieties of mugo pine that are propagated by cuttings. This way we know exactly how big the plant will grow.

If you want to prune so that it doesn’t get so tall or wide, I’m afraid I don’t have a good answer for you. You could trim them back and they’ll be fine for a couple of years, but eventually those stubs you’ve cut back will die and the plant will develop bare areas.

You can remove shoots back to a side branch and the plant will look better for a little longer, but ultimately you’ll end up with a bare side.

You can completely remove branches from the main stems, in effect “limbing up” the plant, making it possible to get your lawn mower under the plant.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, http://www.bookcliffgardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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