A Pruning Story of Encouragement

Apple in June prepruningPruning can be scary.

Today, I will tell you a story that I hope will allay your fears.

Once upon a time I was a newbie pruner, and one of my first paid jobs was to prune back a huge old nectarine for a customer – a most special family fruit none the less.

This was a chainsaw job, and it was going to take a couple of years to get this out of reach tree back to a manageable height. After choosing the first branch to remove I did a shocking thing (especially as I knew better) and sent my saw to the base of a very big, very long series of branches. (I hear you gasp – you did what?!) And yes, as the branch came down, the bark ripped all the way to the bottom creating a handsome gouge in the side of the trunk. This was a big hole – about 40cm by 20cm and as deep as a third the width of the whole trunk. (You do of course take the weight off before removing big branches by cutting down in stages.) I repaired it best I could by trimming it up so there were no rough edges, then covering it with pruning paste and tying it altogether; confidently reassuring the customers that it would be fine (my heart hammering and fingers crossed).

I went back and checked the wound and retied it a few more times. The following spring it started shooting away, the following year the wound was beautifully calloused over and the new shoots flowered and bore a couple of fruits – it never looked back. Trees being (on the whole) wonderfully forgiving and resilient. (A bit like these lovely customers)

old and new woodSo relax!

If the thought of pruning makes you nervous, there are two things you need to do.

The first is to find some knowledgable pruner in your neighbourhood and pick their brains. Read. Workshop. Learn. Don’t waste your time feeling confused because everyone has a different style (they all work by the way); learn from all of them and make your own way.

The second is to take the time and learn to read your trees. Notice how the tree has responded to all the cuts you made the year before. Find the fruitful wood. Find the wood with lots of vegetation and little fruit. Notice what weak wood is and what strong wood looks like. Notice what old wood looks like and what new is (the photo shows old (left) and new plum wood).

The first cuts are the hardest, just go ahead and make them and you’ll get on a roll. Before you know it you’ll be studying your trees and imagining next years pruning. And when you’ve really got it bad you’ll find yourself gazing adoringly at wonderful pruning jobs.

Most of all don’t not do it through fear of making mistakes. The worst you’ll do is remove all the fruiting wood – this is not a biggie as fruit spurs can be encouraged back easily. It’s more common you’ll under prune than over do it (unless you are a chainsaw toting male in which case beware.)

The mistakes are gold. Especially for those of you, who like me, are experiential learners. Who, it’s not until you do the very thing you are told not to do, finally get it.