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A View From The Woods


By Loni Kemp

Mon, Mar 18th, 2013
Posted in All Arts & Culture

Back to Gardening: Pruning in the Snow

Winter has a hard hold on Fillmore County in mid-March. Astounding snowfalls were followed by blue crystalline skies with forests bearing mounds of white fluff. The quality of light with daylight savings time and full-on winter is remarkable.

Last year at this time, the spring pruning of fruit trees and ornamental shrubs was already a month past. But ready or not, March is the time to get outside and prune, while trees are still dormant but temperatures are above freezing. Try it on snowshoes, if you must, which gives a bonus of reaching a foot higher. I look forward to many pleasant hours pruning our eight fruit trees, most now some thirty years old. I’m praying the dogwood and viburnum bushes will be standing back upright as their loads of heavy snow melt away.

Friends often beg for advice on pruning. On the one hand, there are so many rules and they never seem to apply to the tree one is looking at. Yet on the other hand, it is your own tree and whatever you do will probably help, as long as you don’t go too far.

When to stop? That is the greatest mystery of all.

Nature tends to let a tree grow too many branches with too many flowers, and result in small, inferior fruit. Our job is to be just a little bit cruel, so the tree or grapevine puts its maximum effort into ripening just the right amount of excellent fruit. Here are some approaches I use.

1. Envision the perfect fruit-bearing tree.

An open, well-formed tree will collect an abundance of sunshine and support bushels of heavy fruit at harvest time on horizontal branches, bearing them within reach for picking. Hold that thought as you begin to critique the tree.

2. Eliminate crossing or inward-growing branches, as well as downward- and vertical growing branches.

A branch growing the wrong direction will never change direction, so the sooner it is pruned, the better. A big limb lying broken or hanging after a storm, still laden with fruit, helps one accept that, indeed, horizontal branches are strongest.

3. Snip the watersprouts.

Those vigorous vertical branches which grew several feet tall last year turn out to be weak and unproductive on an apple tree, so snip them all off.

4. Sever broken and diseased branches with a clean cut at the base.

A tree will heal a clean wound, but broken wood introduces rot. Leave the “growth collar,” that bit of bark which will quickly grow over the cut. No need to treat the wound.

5. Thin parallel limbs or those growing too close together.

Competing branches will shade each other out and result in puny apples, so pick the best branch and prune out the other.

6. Let the sun in.

When a tree has exceeded your picking reach in the fall, then you know that come spring you should trim upper branches back to a horizontal limb. It is not advisable to stand on top of a ladder on tiptoes, trying to reach for the highest apples, so help your tree grow outward instead of upward.

7. Use good tools.

A good hand pruner, a lopper which adds another two feet your reach, and a pruning saw for limbs over an inch thick are needed. An extension pruner with a moveable head makes even old ladies adept at heavy pruning. An orchard ladder—a three-legged ladder that can nestle into the center of a tree—helps with pruning as well as picking.

8. Waste not.

Picking up the prunings is a chore, but think of it as the first harvest of the year. Bring armfuls inside to force into bloom. Clip branches to dry for future grilling and campfires. Scatter small twigs among raspberries or other perennials to build up the soil.





Apple Pancakes

Turn oven on to 400 degrees and heat an 8 inch cast iron fry pan with 1 T butter. When butter is melted, remove pan and stir in 2 T brown sugar and 1 tsp. cinnamon.



Slice 4 apples (no need to peel) and arrange in pan. Bake for 8-10 minutes.



Beat 4 eggs well, then mix in 1/3 cup sugar, 1/3 cup flour, 1/3 cup milk, and 1/2 tsp. baking powder. Pour over the fruit and bake again for 20 minutes. When browned, loosen edges and invert onto serving plate. Serves 2-4.

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