Wednesday, April 20, 2016

April Showers Bring May Flowers....and the bring wind and wind damageT

Time to get prepped up for surgery
 We're back from a long winter of debilitating shoulder pain stemming from a past car accident. After trying everything else, I finally relented and agreed to let the specialists I've been seeing for physical therapy and pain management for two years do electroscopic surgery on my shoulder.

After the surgery, she said that the rotatory cuff tendons had finally healed, but there was a great deal of debris and concretions (looked like stalagmites in the pictures) that had been rubbing on the tendons and keeping them inflamed. I was in an immobilizer for two weeks and boy did I get stiff and sore. 

Now, after weeks of painful post-surgery physical therapy, I'm cleared for light-duty work.  I've been gradually getting my range of motion back and a little of my strength.  I've been doing more and more of housework, watering plants and such, each day a little easier and a little less painful than the past. I feel it's time to take care of some slightly more strenuous issues in our landscape. 

We've had a lot of rain - for Las Vegas anyway: 1.03 inches so far this April and a great deal of wind along with it.  The oleanders along our North fence provided some wind protection for the house, but took a little bit of a beating themselves.  Branches that had once reached for the sky were now bowing to the mulch below.  Some were either broken or cracked and near to breaking. 

Time for us to conduct a little surgery of our own.  
Our instruments of choice for this surgery, recently sharpened too.
 We wore hard hats (never know when a branch will somehow conk you on the head while you are pruning, especially such chaotically branched plants as oleanders); eye protection (always a good idea when pruning large branches); gloves and I wore a leather weight belt (for back support as my lower back hasn't been feeling well either, possibly due to sleeping on a wedge for many nights to avoid putting too much pressure on my shoulder. 
Many of these branches touching the ground are bowed down from quite a ways up the trunks.
 Before the strong winds started coming, these oleander bushs' lowest branches were not touching the ground, but now they are dragging on it and putting too much pressure on each other. We're concerned that even more of them will eventually break under the stress. With our hot, dry summer coming soon, even tough oleanders can't afford to have that added stress. 
This is a nice floral display from the street, but it's hiding big problems.
 The bowed over branches are also putting too much pressure on the chain-link fence and cinder-block wall as well as on each other. Plus, they are starting to rub the bark off each other more than they normally would. The cinder-blocks are also rubbing the bark off, with all this added pressure from above branches, than the plant can keep up with by laying down more scar tissue on the bottom of the branches touching the blocks. 

This bark damage could let insects get into the plant and do more damage than it can handle, so many of those branches rubbing on the wall are going to have to be shortened back past the damaged parts.
View from the neighbor's side of our North wall of the branches laying over and rubbing on it.
Pressing branches threatening to damage porch supports
 Here's an example of how we selectively pruned to lighten the pressure of the bowing branches in hopes of getting them to spring back upwards without having to cut them clear off. We do this because we value both the utility of the shrubs in providing wind protection, shade and privacy screening as well as valuing the health of the plants themselves. Excessive pruning, especially in a hostile climate like the Mojave Desert, is very bad for any plant's health. 

In this example, the branches are pressing against the back of this porch roof support, threatening to bend it eventually. We don't want to wait for that to happen to take action.  So we'll selectively head the branches back without losing too much of them, thus reducing the pressure.
Examine, decide, check then cut as little as possible, properly placing the pruner each time - that's selective pruning.
 It's not easy to show the step by step process in pictures, but basically the idea is to make branches that are too damaged and/or too heavy to stay upright, just short enough that they can once again support themselves without laying on anything.

In the above picture, we're cutting a branch off at the first crotch (where a 'daughter' branch is growing out from the 'mother' branch) back from the tip of the branch. We're cutting just in front of the crotch at an angle and putting the anvil of the pruner towards the 'daughter' branch so that the sharp pruning blade doesn't accidentally slice into it. We're getting as close to the crotch as we can to hide the cut to reduce the amount of dead material that will have to be scabbed over as the branch heals.
A properly pruned branch.
 Now that the weight of the daughter branch is off, the mother branch (pictured) is able to spring back up a little and away from the porch support. It will recover quickly from that small wound and most of it is still there to carry out its many purposes for both us and the shrub.

Another example of a good prune cut.
Now, the porch support is unencumbered by branches, yet the porch is still nicely shaded.

This wall now has less pressure on it and the meter is readable again.

Pruning has taken the bending out of this fence. The fence would have broken long ago without us heading back the branches when needed.

Time for clean-up

Once we were done pruning, it was time for cleaning up. Tidying up anything always seems to make a bigger mess until it's properly dealt with.  We started with the tools.  Oleander sap is sticky and not very pleasant to smell either. It'll gum up your pruners if you let it dry on, so we wipe it off with alcohol moistened wipes, taking care to avoid cutting our own 'branches' on the sharp blades by keeping a glove on and wiping the blade from the dull spine side and wiping towards the sharp side. 

We also decided that the branches we'd cut off weren't infected with anything yet upon examination, so we used them for mulch under the shrubs.  They'll keep the crushed rock covered soil cooler this summer.  Since we didn't get carried away with our lumber-jacking and cut off as little as possible, we were able to neatly tuck all of the branches under the drip-line of the shrubs and out of the way. 

Why throw small branches away when they can be free mulch?

 Now, that we're all done, it's time to take a shower, stretch my shoulder and back and apply some nice, cold ice.

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