Pruning is spring work, a
seasonal task that engages us in a flurry of perennial hairdressing. For a few quick weeks each year we are the
barbers and tailors of our edible landscape.
Pruners in hand, with ladders, loppers, shears, and saws at the ready, we
methodically move through our orchards, hedgerows, and gardens. Spring has just begun, and we are busy
tending to the many cultivated fruits, nuts, vines, and berries that are the
focus of our food forest zones.
Granted, most years we are
perched atop crusty snow, working quickly in the cold of a morning to avoid the
post-holing challenges of pruning in the mushy slush of a late afternoon. This year, though, is certainly one of ease. With bare ground and mild temperatures,
there is no balancing of ladders atop ice, no waiting for the melt to see the
raspberries, no snow-covered limbs of low-bush blueberries.
Pruning is one of the first
outdoor tasks that we undertake as the gardening season begins each year. As such, it is accompanied by excitement at
attending to living plants once more and the fresh-faced glow of days spent
outside. After a winter of cold,
pruning on a sunny March or April morning can elicit a ready smile.
It is, in a sense, making order
out of chaos. The goals of pruning are
to encourage plant and tree health, and to maximize production. As such, we are striving to shape the tree
with the future in mind, directing the plant to grow into the template we have
imagined for it. While many fruit and
nut trees will have a central leader followed by aerial branches, smaller berry
bushes have a vase-like habit. An
effective pruner must be cognizant of the species with which they are working
and sculpt accordingly. “Extra”
branches and limbs are eliminated to maintain an open form and to foster the
arrival of sunlight and air to all aspects of the given plant. Dead branches are cut off, as are suckers
In all pruning work, clean cuts
are a must. Effective pruning comes
down to effective tools. Blades must be
sharp and function with precise alignment.
Cuts that are jagged or torn are slower to heal. To minimize impact on the given bush or
tree, cuts should always be made at a joint.
Trees, like humans, form scabs; to prevent disease and distress,
attention must be made to prune with foresight and care.
Think of yourself as a
co-conspirator with your particular plantings.
You are part of a partnership, maximizing the potential of your edible
landscape. Fruit trees, nut trees, vine
fruits, and berry bushes are your legacy to future generations. Steward them well; the work and the reward
offer much to enjoy.