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Rescue my garden

Rescue my garden: How to bring a plant back to life Add to ...

First, gardening pro and Globe Style columnist Marjorie Harris helped Globe Life editor Kevin Siu with watering his garden, then she took on his weeds. Here, she helps him diagnose whether he can revive some plants that are on life support.

How can I tell whether or not a plant can be saved?

Every plant wants to survive and if there's some life in it, you'll see it at the base of the plant or, if it's a shrub or tree, close to the stem or trunk. If there's something going on there, I'd give it a chance to live another year.

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Assuming it can be saved, how aggressively should I prune, and how often?

Prune off all the dead wood, which is easy to see. It was very obvious with your Japanese maple. Then give it some proper shape.

When during the season should I ideally prune?

With flowering plants, prune after they've finished flowering. With plants that bloom later in the year, prune in early spring. With plants that have massive amounts of sap flow in spring - maples, birch - wait until autumn.

School me on great pruning technique.

Cut just behind what's dead, and cut close to the stem or trunk on a slight angle. Don't make it dead flat, because that doesn't allow for a collar to form and makes it harder for the plant to heal itself. Don't leave stubs for disease to get into.

What's the difference between maintenance pruning and pruning to revive a plant?

With a plant, you can deadhead throughout the season to keep it looking tidy. Cut back to the notch in the nearest crotch. To revive a plant, cut out all dead material, and anything broken or misshapen.

How about tools: Are secateurs enough for small to medium sized plants?

Yes, then you can graduate to lopers, which will take off larger branches. But most secateurs will handle anything up to about a half-inch in thickness.

For giant bushy shrubs, do you have any secrets for trimming them back elegantly - or at least avoiding the bad haircut look?

With any shrubs, never remove more than one-third of the stems. You should take out one third of the volume - not one-third of the entire shrub. This is where people usually make a terrible mistake. They shave the whole of the outside by a third, which will ruin the plant. Work from the inside: Take out anything dead, crossing or ugly. Lie down on the ground, if you can, to look at the shape. It takes time, but you'll get it eventually.

Gardening expert Marjorie Harris writes for Globe Style. Her website is www.marjorieharris.com.

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