The Courage to Prune


Pelargonium ‘citrosum’

Week two has arrived for my high school class that is learning about pruning, and potentially training the Pelargonium ‘citrosum’ into a planned shape. This scented geranium, commonly called the mosquito plant smells like citronella, yet has been proven to be totally ineffective at actually repelling mosquitoes. While our original hopes of using this plant as a natural bug repellent were dashed, their  scented, deeply lobed leaves, fast growing habit and drought-tolerant characteristic make this plant a beautiful and easy-to-care-for starter plant.

I was pleasantly  surprised by the respectfully serious tone that the greenhouse took on as we embarked upon our pruning exercise. I have to note, this group of students have matured in the past year and a half that I have known them. And their demeanor during class this week attested to this fact. No one wanted to harm their plants, but for some kids just being gentle with a plant is a real challenge due to underdeveloped fine motor skills. I reassured everyone that even if mistakes were made, no mistake would be the end of the world. We quickly reviewed the terminology and points we had discussed the previous week regarding growth habit before students set to work examining their plants, envisioning the end result and gathering the courage to make the first cut.


Zach opts to start over with a new cutting.

Some plants were so leggy and oddly proportioned, that two students opted to  cut off a main stem, center the new cutting in the pot and basically start over. Others  staked the bases of their plants to try and reign in over-grown stems and create new, interesting shapes. The dexterity involved in manipulating the plant’s stems, putting the stake in just the right place, and tying the twine in a supportive, deliberate and firm manner without harming the plant is quite a task for anyone, let alone a novice who may potentially be lacking the ability to mediate their muscle force.


Kevin smiles for our classroom
photographer Summer.

One student, Kevin, removed most of his lower leaves, hoping to end up with a tree-like topiary form, but also clipped  most of the top leaves as well, to encourage branching. Ending up with a Dr. Seuss-type specimen, Kevin voiced concerns that he had killed his plant. I assured him (and others) that their plants may look odd now, but in time they would grow in quite nicely. Not unlike people, right?

We all go through that awkward phase, yet given the proper care, nurturing and time, we grow into ourselves and mature into just who we are supposed to be. Isn’t this what childhood is about? On top of the typical angst that young teenagers feel, my students are also dealing with social, emotional and behavioral challenges.


Example of a staked base


Looking good, Jimmy!

Through experiential learning, my students enhance feelings of self-worth as they find success training and caring for a plant, watching it grow and take shape into a thing of beauty. Just like them.  Let’s face it, one or more of the plants might not be a successful endeavor, however this is a learning experience as well. By making mistakes and realizing that we can still move forward is a valuable life lesson for anyone.

There was quite a bit of teamwork that occurred in class. Some of the more bold students helped the more timid ones get started, and those with stronger fine motor skills helped students that are working to develop their own. And one student, Summer, even took all of the pictures featured in today’s post. By the end of class, everyone seemed pleased with their initial results, and I look forward to sharing how this pruning project, and these students, grow.


About Green Chimneys Garden

Green Chimneys was founded on the belief that children will benefit from their interaction with nature and animals. Horticulture comes to life in our educational school gardens, allowing Green Chimneys students to heal, learn, and grow. Learn more about about our nature-based approach to special education by visiting
This entry was posted in Students Grow and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Courage to Prune

  1. Pingback: A plant to call one’s own | Sowing & Growing at Green Chimneys

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s