Last week’s free lecture sponsored by the Clallam County Master Gardeners was presented by a local horticulturalist, arborist, and landscaper, Gordon Clark. He spoke for an hour about pruning practices to an attentive, packed crowd. My fellow Olympic Peninsulans comprise quite a green-thumbed group. I attempted to take notes, and what I gather from my notes is that I have so much more to learn! Thankfully, Gordon brought along some sample branches which he pruned in front of us, so it was truly a show and tell.
Gordon proclaimed NOW is the time to consider our fruit orchard, gather the right tools (about which he offered great advice), and plan our pruning. The actual pruning can take place any time between now and flowering.
As I examine the structure of our fruit trees — four apple, two pear, one cherry, and one plum — I appreciate the way some have been previously pruned into large, open vase shapes. Others grow in a central leader shape, especially the tallest tree, our sour cherry. Last year during our first spring at Coppertop we did not prune these trees. We were hesitant to touch them, actually. However, if we hope to continue to harvest generous amounts of fruit and to help the trees mature gracefully, we’ll need to prune. Apple trees can live well over 100 years if taken care of properly! The fruit spurs on our apple trees have me excited already for our 2015 harvest.
Gordon’s “Five Ds” of pruning encourage removal of dead, diseased, damaged, duplicate, and directionally challenged limbs. All of these are simple enough to make sense to me. The watersprouts on all trees and bushes are the straight, vertical branches, and they should be cut out by ⅓, with the remaining cut back by ⅓. A tree shouldn’t be pruned more than 20% in one year, although there are exceptions when a hard pruning is required.
Before I got a bit lost in the talk of alternate and opposite branch and node patterns, I gleaned some gems:
- Take care when cutting off a branch at the trunk to not damage the branch collar, the bulge in the trunk wood that forms at the base of a branch. More info on branch collars here: http://treecarepruningandplanting.com/branch-collar.htm .
- My grapevine should be cut back hard NOW, two bud sets from the origin of each branch.
- Wait on pruning hydrangeas until the leaf nodes are obvious – this discourages deer and other pests who don’t like to eat the leftover flowers! Then prune the 5 Ds plus the oldest, weakest and another 30% off at ground level.
Although pruning can be daunting, I feel more encouraged to become a star pruner! To help achieve this goal, in the next few weeks we’ll invest in a Silky Zubat saw and a 3-legged orchard ladder.