Late Winter Pruning
Posted 18 Aug 2014
Effective pruning is an art and a science mingled with a strong dose of timing and observation.
As the final leaves fall from my young apple trees now is the time to consider the act of pruning. Like all gardening tasks there are guidelines but it is up to you to interpret your environment and your plants and respond to what you see. Firstly it is important to remember that anything you remove from your plant is robbing it of photosynthetic potential and stored carbohydrates. That means that every cut you make should be considered carefully. Secondly each cut should be made cleanly with no tearing of bark thereby maximising the plant’s ability to heal. Thirdly know your plant, not only its species and life cycle but aspects that are specific to your plant; how old it is, whether it is carrying a disease and how it performed last season. And fourthly consider what you would like to encourage your plant to do, is it to flower, to fruit, to provide shade or shape (or a combination of all of these). I can’t pretend to give you a recipe for pruning in your garden but I can tell you about my pruning choices and techniques which may help to inform some of yours.
Raspberries – summer flowering raspberries fruit on second year old canes, autumn on first year. (I have chosen to grow only summer fruiting raspberries as our autumns are rarely hot enough to provide sweet fruit and holding out for those four weeks of mid-summer raspberries provides a taste bud treasure). Remove last years fruiting canes at ground level these will have died and are a different colour making them are easy to spot. I have three varieties of raspberries, Williamette, Skeena and Pat (an unlabelled variety from a friend). Williamette and Skeena grow tall canes which when tip pruned extend short little flowering spurs increasing their flowering potential.
Apple trees – apples repeat flower on second year old branches and are typically biennial flushers (which has little to do with toilets and more to do with prolific second year flowering). You can identify dormant bud types by their shape, flower buds are domed whereas leaf buds are pointy (see my photo). True to permaculture intentions, TPOW apple trees are multi-functional, that is I would like them provide a microclimate for other plants, to provide food for insects and fruit to share so my pruning reflects these intentions. There are numerous fruit tree shapes that you could adopt (vase, central leader, trellis etc.). I am keen to promote an umbrella shaped canopy as I think this will deliver the intentions that I am hoping for and cope with our southerlies. To begin remove broken or diseased branches, then one or two entire branches which aim toward your long intended branch structure and finally prune a few smaller branches to facilitate ventilation and sunlight exposure. To arrive at your intended shape will take a few years of training so patience is in order. Also consider the value of mid-summer pruning as it can thin heavy crops, expose fruit to assist ripening and make additional steps toward your long-term tree structure all in a season when your tree will thank you for lightening its fruit and leaf load. If you have a large tree that you are attempting to reclaim it is best done in stages as the removal of too many branches at once will result in a lack of fruit for several years.
Lavender hedges – Evergreens also have dormant periods prune in non-flowering periods away from flower set. I have several large Lavandula x allardi bushes which need taming. I dry their long flower stems for use as kebab sticks so I appreciate both their flowers and the microclimate they provide. Consider the variety that you have but generally prune only to where you have green growth. Some lavenders will recover if pruned beyond this but they will often suffer sporadic branch die back.
Eucalyptus avenue – Just entering their third year my Eucalyptus maculata avenue requires constant pruning attention. I am encouraging these trees to show off their beautiful tall spotted and dimpled trunks and so every two months remove one or two lower branches. The cuts must always be clean and sharp to prevent disease entry as the tree sap continues to flow. When pruning all trees examine the branch-trunk intersection closely, you will notice a ‘v’ shape and this represents a change in the cellular structure of the plant indicating a natural healing zone. You should endeavor never to cut into this zone as damage will make it difficult for the plant to heal. Given time the tree trunk will grow around the little branch stump and nature will take the lead.
For specific information on pruning contact me or visit the sustainable gardening web site but first things first, off to the shed to clean and sharpen those secateurs and loppers.