The keys to pruning are patience and timing. Good pruning can be the difference between a healthy, happy tree that produces abundant fruit and a tree that struggles to survive. I’ve read lots of articles and books on the subject in an effort to coax fruit from our little orchard of 13 trees. Alas, because I am more of a lackadaisical orchardist, than a rule-following orchardist, we have yet to have any significant yield from our little grove. Each year, about this time, I prune all of our now-not-so-little-anymore trees with the greatest of hopes. It takes me longer every year. I’m not sure if it’s because the trees have grown so much, or because I debate longer with myself about each cut.
This past Sunday as I tromped through the snow to take care of the annual pruning, I once again resolved to be better at caring for these trees. That pretty much involves fertilizing them and nagging my husband to spray them. And pruning them well.
I set to work pruning the dead and unnecessary branches. It’s not always easy to tell which ones should go. You want to train your trees to grow in a way that they can optimize the sunlight. So you remove branches that crowd or cover others. When a branch begins to grow upward instead of outward, you study the branch and seek out a “notch” (where a new branch will most likely grow) that is headed in the direction you would like to see the tree grow. You cut the branch just above the notch so that the tree will send the branch out in the right direction. Then you clear out all the “suckers” which are branches that grow strait up the center of the tree. They are useless freeloaders that only sap the trees resources. It can take hours to make so many important decisions. Some years I’m cautious and others I think just cut where it feels right and hope for the best.
As I worked, I began to think about how parenting is very much like pruning. When the trees are little you have to work hard to start them out right so that they will grow straight and strong. Sunlight, water, and fertilizer are a much bigger deal than pruning, but the little pruning you do is critical.