Friday, January 7, 2011

The pleasures of pruning

'Tis a soft day - thank God.  You don't get to say that often here in sunny California, where the sun splits the trees most days - aye, splits them but doesn't prune them!
This morning the hills were gone, wrapped in a blanket of white mist.  It reminded me of walking to primary school with my Daddy.  Saint Catherine's Primary School  was (and to my knowledge still is) an imposing red brick building set atop a hill and surrounded by high walls.  It could have been a fortress, dominating the town below as it did.  
Dad taught in the high school across the road from it and he walked us to school each morning, his big hands wrapped around our wee cold fingers, striding with his longs legs so we'd practically have to run to keep up.  On winter mornings we'd tell him "Look, we're smoking!" We'd pull our fingers from our mouths and exhale, our breath materializing as white puffs of vapor in the frosty air. We'd giggle at that, mimicking the grown ups in their filthy habit.  

As we'd come out of Castle Street and crest the top of our hill, we'd look across at the schools' hill.  If it were foggy we'd see nothing. And sure as the nose on your face, every time with out fail, Daddy would stop in his tracks and say, "Oh my God the schools gone!  We can't go."  Though we'd heard it a gazillion times we'd still laugh, hoping against all hope that maybe just one day he'd actually turn back and we could all go home to play.  As we grew up he'd continue to pull that line out of the bag and amend it as necessary (the church, the shops, or horror of horrors, the disco hall!)

So, it's the time of year for grey days in the northern hemisphere.  It's also the time of year for pruning fruit trees here.  My wonderful neighbor Al and his wonderful wife Karla (who, incidentally, is my wonderful neighbor too - Just making it clear to those of you who have already inquired - yes - Al is married!) came over to help me prune my fruit trees.  "Help" exaggerates my participation in the activity!  But I did look and learn.  Al had a huge job prunning the old fruit trees I discovered in the garden when I cleared out the privets, oleander and ivy. In the photo you can see where he has done the left hand side and is about to do the rest.  Here he is in action.
Karla in the meantime, not wanting to be idle, began to weed the patch of weeds that I'd been blogging about recently but had not made a huge deal of headway with, due to heavy rain and Christmas festivities!  Too shy  let me take her photo for the blog, here are some of the weeds Karla had pulled.
Shamed in to helping her, (weed my own garden) I joined in and by the time Al had finished pruning the big tree we had ALL the weeds cleared - Ta-da!
On both sides of the path!  Happiness is having a neighbor who loves to weed - Thanks guys.
Now all I need for a perfect world is to find someone who loves to clean my house!

Here are the grafts that took from last year (As Meatloaf says - Two outta three ain't bad!).  This is the cherry tree that Al grafted, to show me how.   
Here is the one graft that I did which took - it's an apricot onto a nectarine - I think!  I didn't write it down believing that I would remember it as we only did three...ho hum - lesson learned.
They both now have two branches and lots of little buds. Al was disappointed at the amount of new growth though, and advised me to fertilize it. Yesterday, at my first Master Gardeners class, (Woohoo!) I asked about that.  I have been using Dr Earth organic fertilizer, which Al was worried wasn't strong enough (he's a miracle gro guy- well, no-ones perfect!) But my mentor at Master Gardeners reckons that there may be a problem with the roots. That makes sense because I may not have dug a big enough hole when I planted them.  The ground was really hard.  If it felt hard to my spade then how much harder would it seem to wee baby roots?  I'm hoping all the rain this winter will help soften the ground She also recommended mulching with compost to encourage worms to help aerate the soil. And contine with the fertilizing regime I'm on...Dr Earth fruit tree fertilizer.

So what did I learn about pruning:

  • Pruning cuts should be about a quarter of an inch above a bud and (though not done in the picture above) slightly angled away.
  • Remove all dead, weak diseased and insect infested limbs.
  • Take out all low and broken branches.
  • Branches that cross other branches or grow downwards or  grow through the middle of the tree should come out.
I pruned my Crepe Myrtle bush into more of a tree shape as it was bushing out into the path too much.  I removed all branches below about three feet high, to show off the beautiful gnarly trunks of this tree.  All branches that grew out over the path were also taken off.  The blossom is beautiful but not when its poking your eye out!
For more details on pruning I recommend looking at this presentation "The Backyard Orchard - Prunning", by Allen Buchinski, Santa Clara County Master Gardener. It takes a minute or so  to download, but be patient - it is well worth the wait.  There are other links for pruning roses, and an general overview on winter pruning.

Between the huge text books that Master Gardeners gave me for the course, and all their online resources I wonder will I ever open my Sunset Western Gardener again?