Saturday was sunny and not too cold, the perfect weather for pruning our fruit trees. Does pruning also hold a bit of mystery for you? I have studied the topic, and while the basics were clear, it remained a mysterious art to me for years. Even though the authors offered guidelines, photos and some diagrams, because those images didn’t look like my trees, I was still left uncertain. By applying the guidelines and my limited sense of esthetics, I started experimenting. I’ve learned a lot over the years, but I still often wonder whether I’ve done it “right.” I am not yet an expert home orchardist, but I am learning. The trees are healthy and we get good amounts of fruit, so I know I’m doing some things well.
What have I learned?
- I prune the fruit trees during the late winter while the plants are dormant.
- Because I know that a blunt tool can lead to unintended damage to a tree, I sharpen my tools frequently. This step also makes the work easier.
- To prevent the spread of disease, I keep my tools clean and the cutting blades disinfected. I repeat this between trees. To make this easy, I use bleach-free disposable wipes.
- I know how to use four pruning cuts (pinching, heading, thinning, shearing) as appropriate and I understand each will result in corresponding change in the growth of the tree.
The dormant season is also an ideal time to plant trees.
- You can purchase trees sold as “bareroot” plants, growing in containers, or with their root ball wrapped in burlap.
- I prefer bareroot trees for two reasons: 1.) they are relatively lightweight which makes them easier to move and plant, and 2.) the roots are visible such that I can determine their condition.
- I have planted fruit trees from containers, and those trees have flourished for the most part, but I have also found trees for sale that had been in the container too long and had developed circling roots that could strangle the tree, and wouldn’t venture far into the surrounding soil leading to a less healthy and potentially unstable tree.
The Midnight Gardener