Following last week’s missive about pruning fruiting shrubs, I now move on to pruning my fruiting trees. Again, this is “dormant pruning.” Yes, even though the trees’ flower buds are about to burst or have already done so, their response will still, for a while longer, be that to dormant pruning.I mentioned flower buds, so these plants I’m pruning are mature, bearing plants. The objectives and, hence, pruning of a young tree are another ball game. As is renovative pruning, which is the pruning of long-neglected trees.
Most fruit trees need to be pruned (correctly) every year. Annual pruning keeps these trees healthy and keeps fruit within reach. This pruning also promotes year after year of good harvests (some fruit trees gravitate toward alternating years of feast and famine) and — most important — makes for the most luscious fruits.
Most of the pruning I do is “dormant pruning,” that is, pruning while plants are leafless. A few weeks ago, pruning was a relaxed affair with still-cold temperatures keeping the buds only slowly swelling in anticipation of upcoming growth. Then a few warm days kicked them into gear, making pruning more hectic.
Hecticness is little problem with those plants that are the easiest to prune because the work can be quick; other plants require my standing back with arms folded for some study before every few cuts.
Here on my farmden, easiest to prune plants include mature ornamental trees, shrubs, and vines, and even some fruits. Those fruits are American persimmon, pawpaw, and mulberry. They’re so easy because they can get by with little or no pruning.
Mostly what I do with the three fruit trees, every year or so, is to take a lopper or a …
In past years, now is when we would always hope to make enough maple syrup to last until the following year at about this time. Maple syrup consumption has dropped dramatically, leaving me with quite a backlog of the stuff. So trees haven’t been tapped for the past few years.
Not that we ever made that much maple syrup. Four tapped trees always produced sufficient sap for a year’s worth of syrup. It had to, because that’s how many spiles (taps) and buckets we own.
Our operation was nothing like what I came upon a couple of weeks ago cross-country skiing in the woods of northern Vermont. All of a sudden tubes had appeared in the pristine, white wilderness. Tubes everywhere! Baby blue plastic tubes, black plastic tubes, interlocking connectors, everything neatly wired into position at chest height and thoughtfully out of …
What gardener doesn’t need to prune some thing at some time? In many cases, a thumbnail suffices, as when pinching out the growing tip of a marigold or basil plant to make it grow more bushy. Or pinching off the soft green tip of a young apple shoot to temporarily stall its growth and let the leader, destined (by you) to be the future trunk and main limb, to remain top dog. Your thumbnail, though, isn’t always sufficiently long to use as a pruning tool, or else stems have toughened up beyond your thumbnail’s capabilities.
When more than your thumbnail is needed, there are many pruning tools from which to choose. If you’re going to own but one pruning tool, that tool should probably be a pair of hand shears, which are useful for cutting stems up to about 1/2” across.
So I visited my brother and his family for Thanksgiving. As usual, we walked around his yard to look at his plantings. As usual, he asked my advice, this time about pruning. (As usual, he didn’t want to consult a copy of my book, The Pruning Book, which I had given him a few years ago. “Why read it, when I can just ask you?!” he says.)
He was considering taking blades to a row of handsome, evergreen shrubs along the front of his house. Over the years, the lengthening branches had sprawled out to encroach upon the bordering lawn, in some places leaving exposed bare stems. He questioned whether new growth would sprout if he lopped all those sprawling stems back to near the roots.
But what was the plant? I had an excuse, admittedly rather lame, …
Gardening is so much about planning for the future. Dropping seemingly dead, brown specks into a seed flat in spring in anticipation of juicy, red tomatoes in summer is fun and exciting.
But now, in the glory of summer, I don’t particularly like planning, which means thinking forward to the crisp days of autumn that lie ahead. But I must. I know that when that time finally comes, I’ll have had my fill of hot weather. And the cooler weather coupled with shorter days and low-hanging sun will have tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and other summer vegetables on the wane. Planning and action now let me have a whole other garden come autumn, a garden notable for its shades of green (from leaves) rather than the reds and yellows (from fruits) of summer’s garden.
To begin, I gave the bush in front of me a once over, eyeing it from top to bottom and assuring it that the next few minutes would be all to its good. It was time for my blueberries’ annual pruning, the goals of which were to keep them youthful (the stems, at least), fecund, and healthy.
I peered in at the base of the plant, eyeing now the thickest stems. Blueberry bushes bear best on stems up to 6 years old, so the next move was to lop or saw any of these stems — usually only 3 or 4 of them, more on a neglected plant — as low as possible.
Sammy & me, pruning blueberries
To keep track of the ages of individual stems, I mark off the age of them each year with a Sharpie. Just kidding! The thickest ones are the oldest …
What an exciting time of year! After a spate of 50 plus degree temperatures, lawn grass — bare now although it could be buried a foot deep in snow by the time you read this — has turned a slightly more vibrant shade of green. Like a developing photographic film (remember film?), the balsam fir, arborvitae, and hemlock trees I’m looking at outside my window, have also greened up a bit more.
Going outside to peer more closely at trees and shrubs reveals the slightest swelling of their buds. Earlier in winter, no amount of warmth could have caused this. As a cold weather survival mechanism, hardy trees and shrubs are “smart” enough to know to stay dormant until warm weather signals that it’s safe for tender young sprouts and flowers to emerge.
These plants stay asleep until they’ve experienced a certain number of hours of cool temperatures, the amount varying …
Second best to fresh-picked vegetables in winter, which are not within most gardener’s grasp with temperatures in the single digits, are fresh-picked herbs. Fresh-picked herbs — indoors — in winter are within the grasp of most gardeners, even non-gardeners.
Flowering and fruiting demand lots of light energy, but it is the leaves of most herbs that provide us with flavoring, so most herbs do fine in any reasonably bright window. The same goes for normal household temperatures and humidity.
So make space near your windows for herb plants!
Let’s look below ground now. Any potting mix suitable for houseplants will also be to the liking of herb plants. The mix should hold some moisture between waterings while at the same time drain well so that roots, which need to breathe, don’t suffocate. My own mix, made from equal parts compost, perlite, peat moss, and soil, provides air and moisture as well …
I took a cue from Michael Jackson today when pruning my black raspberry (a.k.a. blackcap) plants. Not that I had to prune them today, or even this time of year. But I couldn’t stand looking at the tangled mass of thorny canes. And, more importantly, the tangled mass would make harvest, slated to begin in a couple of weeks or so, a bloody nightmare.
(Most blackcaps bear only once a year, in early summer, so tidiness would be the main reason to prune conventional blackcaps now. Pruning would also let remaining canes bathe in more light and air, reducing the threat of diseases. My blackcap plants, though, are the two varieties — Niwot and Ohio’s Treasure — that bear twice a year; hence, my pruning now to make picking the soon-to-ripen second crop less intimidating.)
All blackcaps have perennial roots and biennial canes. Typically, the canes just …