59 February 16, 2008
I think it is time to have that talk. I know that it is a subject that many people are afraid to talk about. Over the years, people learn a little bit about it, but most don’t know enough about it to comfortably talk to anyone else who might ask them about it. Pruning. There, I said it. Let’s talk about pruning.
Winter is a good time to prune many plants. As in all things gardening, there can be a right time to prune in the winter and a wrong time to prune in the winter. As an example, fruit trees can be pruned this time of the year. They are still dormant and the bark is thick enough so that pruning won’t allow winter winds to dry out the plant. Rose bushes, on the other hand, should not be pruned until very late winter or early spring. The thin bark and the inability of the rose bush to seal off any cuts will allow the winter wind to pull moisture out of the canes. Dry canes equals dead canes.
Let’s start with fruit trees. In the broadest sense, fruit tree would also include the flowering trees that you have growing in your yard. Pruning these trees at this time of the year is done because it is easier to see the framework of the branches. It is also easier to prune when you don’t have the weight of the leaves on the branches. You need to look at the framework of the tree before you start to prune. If you look closely at the branches, you will notice that there are branches that come off the trunk of the tree. There are branches that come off these branches. These branches are the ones that help to make up the overall shape of the tree. You should look at these branches to see how they are growing. Generally speaking, you will have smaller branches growing off these main branches. If you look closely, you will notice that one branch will grow off the left side and the next branch will grow off the right side. In other words, the branches alternate from one side to the other. Any of your flowering trees or fruit trees need to have sun reach all of the branches if they are to produce flowers. The problem is that many branches grow off the main trunk. These branches form additional branches. These branches grow in all directions. Without pruning, you eventually have branches growing on top of branches. When the leaves are out, the leaves shade some of the other branches. This cuts down on the amount of flowers. Whether it is a fruit tree or a flowering crabapple tree, flowers are what you want to have on the tree. So, it is up to you to do the pruning to let the most amount of sun onto the most number of branches.
Let’s start off with some pruning basics. First of all, even if you prune something wrong, it isn’t really wrong. The tree will continue to grow and repair anything you may have done “wrong”. When you look at the tree, the first thing you want to look for is any damaged branches. Cut off those branches. When you prune, it is best to take off any branch in sections. If you cut off say 1 foot of a 3-foot branch, then cut off the second foot and finally the last foot, you are less likely to have a branch rip off the tree and damage bark beyond the cut. Once you have any damaged branches removed, look for any branches that cross over each other. One of those branches should be removed. If you have a branch that grows toward the outside of the tree, you should remove the other branch. If you are pruning to shape the tree, always cut just above a branch or bud that is on the side facing the outside of the tree. This type of pruning makes for a more open tree that allows more sunshine to reach the center of the tree. If this is the first time that you have pruned the tree, it is time to stop and let the tree grow for another year. Next winter you can do some more pruning to make the tree shorter. Pruning should take place soon. This way you are not cutting the tree as the sap starts flowing up into the tree. Flowing sap makes it harder for the cuts to seal off.
This is some of the elementary steps in pruning. As always, there is more to tell you but it will have to wait until next week. Go out this weekend and try your hand at pruning the fruit trees and flowering trees. Next week, I’ll tell you about pruning the shrubs in your yard. Don’t be afraid to try some pruning. Even if you do just a little bit, it will boast your confidence enough to try doing some more. Oh, make sure the pruners are sharp before you begin.
Well, that’s all for this week. I’ll talk to you again next week.