Posted January 26, 2012
Wendy Johnson, our wonderfully insightful gardening mentor, describes in her book, Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate, January as her favorite month in the garden. Although Wendy did not exactly have the Edible Schoolyard in mind, in this cold weather her description serendipitously fits our little garden here on the King campus perfectly! Walking through the garden one would observe that “while our prissiest and most demanding annual vegetables and flowers have all blessedly frozen to death in the field, only the hardiest of plants remain: Siberian iris, cabbages, windswept rows of bare limbed apple trees, and hunch-shouldered winter beets shivering in the icy wind.” As Wendy would surely tell you, despite the seemingly sparse appearance that the winter garden portrays, the winter gardener surely has their work cut out.
Winter is the time to embrace the dormancy of the garden. Says Wendy, “imagine the unfurling of the spring garden that sleeps inside the naked skeleton of the trees and shrubs.” While the trees are dormant, their structure and outline becomes apparent, which lends itself to pruning. In the winter, we prune trees for organization and stimulation, while summer pruning is for height control. Pruning in the winter pumps trees with vigor-generating responses, whereas in the summer, pruning can slow down growth.
This week we called on an expert in pruning highly recommended by Wendy, Leslie Buck, to run our garden staff through a pruning workshop. Leslie is an aesthetic tree pruning specialist who received her training at Merritt College’s horticultural department and in Japan. Her insight into the practice of pruning as both an art form and science was incredibly valuable and instilled a desire to further share what we learned.
The essential question before pruning trees is: what does this tree look like in nature and/or in it’s mature state? Every tree has a certain structure or habit of growth and will therefore have a different response to any cut. For example, our beloved oak trees have rounded tops, while pear trees shoot branches up vertically, and olive trees grow thin, spindly branches that curve as they grow. Understanding the nature of the tree before you begin pruning is imperative. Pruning is an art form that brings the natural beauty of the tree to light, maintaining the balance of the tree. It also requires great patience.
1. Remove the 3D’s: damaged, diseased, and dead wood. This will automatically restore some of the health of the tree
2. Always start with the largest cuts (using a saw). Then, move to smaller cuts, using clippers
3. Never remove more than 30% of a tree at one time
4. Have a multiple-year plan for the tree
5. Find balance as a pruner between being aggressive or timid
The greatest compliment to a pruner is when a pruned tree is admired, yet unnoticeably pruned.
By Elena Garcia
Pruning at the point of origin for organization
All the essentials: clippers, a hand saw, and pole pruners
A pruning technique called tipping