Mundane as she may be, I love yew (not mispelled, but the common name for Taxus species, incidentally vocalized just like “you”). Hardy, green year ‘round, long-lived, and available in many shapes and sizes, what’s not to love? Perhaps that it’s so commonly planted, pruned in dot-dash designs to grace the foundations in front of so many homes.
Still, I love her. For one thing, Robin Hood’s bow was fashioned from a yew branch (English yew, T. baccata, in this case). Two other species — Pacific yew (T. brevifolia) and Canadian yew (T. canadensis) — are sources of taxol, and anti-cancer drug.
At a very young age, I became intimate with yew bushes surrounding our home’s front stoop, on which my brother and I would often play. Yew’s red berries, with an exposed dark seed in each of their centers, would give the effect of being stared at by so many …
Today I put the finishing touches on pruning my grapevines. Yes, it’s late: The buds have already swollen and expanded into clusters of small leaves. But there’s “method in my madness,” or, at least, my tardiness.
My vines often experience some winter damage, some varieties — New York Muscat, Reliance, and Vanessa, for instance — more than others. Waiting to prune until I see some green saves me from cutting off too many living canes and saving too many dead canes. In winter it’s not so easy to tell them apart.
So I do mostly rough pruning in winter, lopping back canes that have to go whether they’re living or dead. Canes also need to be shortened, even those that are to be eventually saved.
Which brings me to another reason I left the final pruning until today. Plants generally make their earliest growth in …
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 …
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, …
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 …
It’s a bumper year for blackcaps (also know as black raspberries or, botanically, Rubus occidentalis), at least here on the farmden. Up to last year, we harvested wild blackcaps from plants that pop up at the edges of woods. The current bountiful harvest is from blackcaps that I planted a couple of years ago. Last year’s harvest was unimpressive because the plants were still settling into their new home.
Most blackcaps, like many other bramble fruits, have biennial canes that grow stems and leaves their first year, fruit in early summer of their second year, then die back to the ground. (Annual harvests are possible because while those second year canes are fruiting and then dying, the perennial roots are pushing up new canes, which will bear the following year.)
Niwot and Ohio’s Treasure, the two varieties I planted, stand out from the crowd in bearing on new, growing …
I’m no devotee of the perfect lawn, but I did recently suggest, for the bare palette of ground on which W wanted to plan for a variety of fruits, a patch of lawn. W protested that she hated mowing and wanted a “permaculture planting” that would take little care.
Visitors to my garden have occasionally complimented me on my lawn. The only care I give it is mowing with a mulching mower that lets clippings rain back down. By not cutting the lawn I avoid “mining” the soil for nutrients by repeated harvest of clippings. The clippings also enrich the ground with humus.
Pawpaw tree in my cousin’s lawn
Still, I’d rather grow trees, shrubs, vines, especially fruiting ones, and vegetables and flowers, than lawngrass. But I have plenty of ground devoted to these plants. And the easiest way to care for a plot of ground, short of sealing it …
Nothing like winter to force me to take a closer look at my trees and shrubs. “To see what, you may ask?” To look at their buds, within which lie the makings of this season’s flowers and shoots. Not only are the buds quite distinctive, but they also offer a crystal ball into the future, which is very important to me as a fruit grower.
Trees’ and shrubs’ fruit and shoot buds look different from each other. It’s the fatter ones that open to become flowers and then, barring damage from late frosts, insects, diseases, or hail, fruits.
Last year, perhaps because of dry weather or a late spring freeze, my pawpaw crop was a failure. This explains why I now see so many distinctive plush, velvety, fat, brown buds — flower buds — lining the stems. For any fruiting plant, a light crop of fruit one year generally makes …