Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Today in the Garden of a Lifetime: The Hardy Orange after Hurricane Sandy

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Hardy orange has stiff and twiggy growth that is also supremely thorny.  Branches and thorns knit together into an impenetrable and also storm-proof mass.  The small foliage has three leaflets, hence the latin name, Poncirus trifoliata.  It can get blown away in strong wind, letting air pass through the interlocking woody growth—another way this species is unusually hurricane resistant.

 

Hurricane Sandy certainly walloped New Jersey but, in my garden, the only way its bluster affected the hardy orange was to speed the usual Fall drop of the leaves.  Fine!  This only helped enhance the display of the oranges.  They're only an inch across, but are a head-spinning thrill on any plant growing north of South Carolina, where more familiar forms of citrus aren't hardy.   

 

By late November, the fruit will have fallen, leaving the plant's fierce display of green thorns and twigs to carry the show through the Winter.  Then it's time to give the hardy orange its biennial pruning.

 

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Hardy orange is one of many woody species that flower in Spring, on growth formed the previous season.  The recommended time for pruning them is normally right after flowering, which gives the new twigs time before Winter to form flower buds for next Spring's display.  But that pruning would also remove the developing fruit, which doesn't become colorful until October.

 

The solution is to prune hardy orange every other year—biennially—right after the display of fruit has finished.  Then the plant has clean lines all through the first Winter.  True, it doesn't flower the next Spring and, yes, that season's new growth makes it shaggy by Fall.  But that new growth also forms flower buds, allowing a generous display of blossoms the following Spring, as well as fruit that Fall. 

 

With two seasons of free-range growth in place, you can see why the hardy orange has become the wild beast you see here.  When I prune, I'll be removing both years of growth: Not just the long whips that are so obvious at the edge, but the outer layer of older growth beneath.  Yes, it's an epic chore; in the two videos, I succumbed to temptation and pruned my Poncirus in Spring, not Fall as I'm now recommending.  And on account of hardy orange's thorns, major pruning is also an occasionally painful task.  No pain, no gain.  When I'm done, my Poncirus will once again show off its intended form of a topiary of two balls, a large one on a trunk about four feet high, and a smaller one atop it.

 

This November's pruning will be like only one other in the twenty-plus years my hardy orange and I have been in partnership.  At that pruning, the Poncirus had only the one ball, which had produced such a generous crop of lengthy whips from the top that, for the first time, I couldn't resist leaving the one that was most in line with the topiary's trunk.  Poncirus responds eagerly to pruning, and by pinching the tip of that whip, it began the branching out that, with my biennial guidance, became the second ball.

 

This November, I'll once again leave whichever is the most central whip that has arisen from the second ball, pinching the tip so it can begin to form the third ball.

 

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When mature, that third ball will be about two feet in diameter.  Its bottom will be about fifteen feet off the ground, and even though I'm over six feet, my eight-foot ladder will won't allow high enough altitude for me to comfortably handle its pruning.  So I'm going to buy a fourteen-foot "orchard" ladder.  They have the normal front ladder, but only a vertical pole at the back.  The back pole is much easier to place near dense growth of regular fruiting trees as well as this eccentric and dangerously-thorny citrus topiary, giving the Pruner close, stable, and safe access to very top of the Pruned.

 

As the five- and six-foot whips show, Poncirus grows quickly.  By the time the next hurricane arrives—not for a year or two, please!—my two-ball topiarywill have become three-ball.  My hunch is that it will be the largest topiary of hardy orange in North America.  And my expectation is that it will continue to be storm-proof. 

 

Here's how to grow hardy orange.  The pruning strategies I recommend in the link maximize the amount of time in each year that the bush has a tidy shape—but this is at the expense of the show of fruit each Fall.  

 
 
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