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Pruning problems can present peril to gardeners

Shelton-Mason County Journal of Shelton, Washington

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As we transition into February, many gardeners' thoughts turn to pruning their home orchards.

At the season extending garden workshop last Saturday, I had many people ask me about pruning fruit trees, especially plum trees. There are just about as many opinions on how and when to prune fruit trees as there are fruit tree varieties. There are some very good general pruning guidelines that a gardener can rely upon when pruning their trees.

Why do we prune?

We prune to open light channels.

Good light channels throughout the tree will enhance tree health and improve fruit quality.

We prune to keep the tree in balance.

What are the types of pruning cuts?

Thinning - cutting out a whole branch or shoot back to its origin.

Heading - cutting off part of a branch or shoot.

Pruning during the winter dormant season allows the pruner to see the entire scaffold of the tree. A good rule of thumb is to remove no more than one third of the tree per year. If you are renovating an old, neglected fruit tree, it will take about three years to get it back into good form. Ask yourself, do I use the fruit from this tree — or does it act more like an ornament in your yard.

When using a heading cut, be mindful that this type of cut will stimulate branching at the point of the cut. I, personally, use very few heading cuts, preferring to cut the branch back to its point of origin. Be sure to not leave a "stub," but take the cut all the way to the branch collar, which is the raised area where the branch attaches to the limb or trunk.

It's best to have two people when pnining, one to climb the ladder and cut and one to spot from the ground and help identify which limbs should be cut to open up the tree and provide good balance.

I have seen many examples of poor pruning techniques around Shelton and Mason County.

Ornamental trees and fruit trees can be weakened to the point where they need a "terminal cut" at the ground level because they will never thrive after being butchered by improper pruning techniques.

Many of you may recall seeing "umbrella" trees, where the tree shape looks like an umbrella and the crowns are laden with ugly water sprouts.

Many people use pruning in an attempt to keep a tree smaller than its natural growth habit.

My mom lives in development that had several ornamental trees planted about 10 years ago.

These trees grew well with no trouble until the property managers brought in a relative to prune the trees.

The "pruner" cut all the limbs back to the main trunk. In the spring new growth came on with the tree desperately trying to develop leaves for photosynthesis.

When a wind storm came through a few years later, most of those trees blew over (one hitting my mom's garage and fence) because their root systems had been severely compromised from improper pruning.

Please be careful when choosing a new tree for your yard and be mindful of the size the tree will reach at maturity. A little forethought will alleviate problems in the future.

If you are confused, it is understandable. There is no way I can write a short article and give you all the specifics about pruning trees.

I'd like to invite you to attend a workshop about growing, pruning and caring for fruit trees.

Andrew Kinney and Mary Di Matteo will share creative ways to provide your trees with the proper care they need for health and production.

These speakers have many years of experience and knowledge, guaranteeing that you will not go away without learning a few new tricks.

It's exciting to have them both together for the first time.

If you grow fruit trees or want to plant some, you must mark your calendars for 9 a.m. to noon on Feb. 20.

These workshops are always interactive, with many questions and suggestions from the audience, eager to share their gardening experiences to better understand the subject.

Join us to hear the speakers discuss their methods, why they choose them, and ask your questions to help you gain renovate that old tree you inherited or plant some new varieties for the future.

Cost is $5 per person, payable at the door. Register by calling 427-9670, ext. 680.

Copyright 2016 Shelton-Mason County Journal, Shelton, Washington. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: January 28, 2016

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