On Sunday I attended a fruit tree pruning workshop at Frey Vineyards in Redwood Valley, Ca. This was following a quarterly meeting of the Biodynamic association. Frey vineyards is an organic and biodynamic vineyard. Biodynamic farming is one of the philosophies of Rudolf Steiner an amazingly aware visionary. He was able to see energy and biodynamic gardening is all about respecting the “live-ness” of the soil and the growing environment. So much of our current gardening efforts are in dead soil. Even organic gardening might not be replenishing the natural organisms in the soil. This is why it’s so very important to compost your soil. Also to use animals with your farming efforts for their manures and other benefits.They also believe in innoculating your growing areas and compost with live culture.
Anyway this wonderful establishment hosted Hugh William from New York State an accomplished apple farmer. I read about this and the next two workshops on the Greenhorn Blog . This was really helpful since the South Coast of Mendocino seems to be somewhat removed from these farming happenings. Everyone should attend the next one Saturday January 15 2011 starting at The Apple Farm, Then Filigree Farms, 9:30am-4:30, lunch is optional and an extra, reasonable fee.
Hugh calls his method of pruning ” modified central leader pruning with renewal “. I’ve always been curious about how to central leader prune , being a open center pruner for 25 years. Hugh had a way to prune so fast and effectively, working with the natural growing habit of the trees. Once you see it, it seems so obviously a more intelligent way. Basically it leaves the central leader and initially three other structural branches filling the four quadrants around the tree. These do not get “headed back” but instead only a few oversized and very vertical shoots are “thinned”. The weight of fruit brings those branches, the structural branches and the thin fruiting branches down into a beautiful arched shape.Then in the ” renewal” part you have to see that the small branches coming off the central trunk, will eventually take over the other structural branches as they age. Hugh recommends replacing old fruiting spurs. That spurs produce well for about three years then a newer healthy branch will take over production and the older branch removed. This is the renewal concept. There are no higher ” tiers” in his system if a branch is shading a branch below it, it needs to be considered for removal.Maybe not this year, trying to only cut the essentials out not opening the tree up too quickly to light. Instead always keeping in mind light shade on all branches.
Thinning the fruit is very , very important. Twenty days after full bloom to thirty days is the optimum time period for this thinning. Thin down to ONE !!! Reducing the amount of potential fruit about 80-90%. This makes healthy large fruit and the tree is not working as hard to support a huge family of baby apples. The tree is then more likely to produce fruit yearly not every other year.
In our part of rural California , gardening can be quite a recent endeavor .Many people here are living out their dreams and have built their own house and planted a few fruit trees. Then they might get more passionate about the garden and start buying random plants at many nurseries. Or maybe they’ve hired a landscape architect or designer and installed their garden using professionals. As the garden develops these plants really look good the first few years, but then ? Even the architects routinely over plant to make the garden look good the first 2-7 years. It’s quite easy to move these plants that no longer fit when they are young. In California November,December is the time for doing this.
I was thinking as I weeded , pruned , tore out, moved plants yesterday, that the garden is like a person. Developing into different stages of growth. Baby, toddler, adolescent , young adult , grown up, and old age. It seems to me in each of these developmental stages there is a key point of distinct change. These points in the gardens growth are very significant times they are times to reassess what is happening in the garden.
I find in the many gardens I’ve built that initially , to make it look good you over plant. Plus you probably plant many perennials to fill in spaces until the shrubs grow to the young adult size.In about seven to ten years you’ll see the shrubs and trees becoming grown ups. The perennials become a superfluous plant that no longer quite works in some situations they also might have lived out their life span. Or maybe it’s grown in and established itself to be pleasing to the eye. The other thing that becomes issue now is what I’ve decided to call shrub protocol. What shape are you going to try to keep that shrub ? What shape does it want to be? Is it the right plant for the location you’ve chosen? Do you know how to prune it ? If you’re not happy with it make sure you’ve answered the question about pruning it. Most shrubs and trees need some care and shaping each year especially as they get older . Taking out dead wood is important and cutting it in a way you get the results you desire ,so it will stay a size you’ll be happy with.Once you establish the protocol it will be easier to keep the shrub or tree to that first cut in the future. Not every plant needs to grow into it’s full size. Lot’s of plants can be shaped to fit where and how you desire.
You might decide it’s too much work to keep pruning something , especially trees .Trying to keep them smaller and creating a difficult situation to get up and prune them later. But most shrubs can be easily restrained with knowledge of how to cut and shape them.
It’s very nice to see each plant distinctly and not have it merge into the other plants around it. Especially if it’s nearer to a house or building. As you get further away in the landscape shrubs can blend into natural settings . These outskirt areas can be good places to move shrubs that have overgrown their spaces.
I really like this next phase of the garden when it becomes a young adult and you start to see the gardens potential. Have fun playing and moving plants when it’s cooler and wet.I don’t recommend moving them over and over . But don’t be intimidated about moving plants in this age range either. Keep as much soil around the roots as you can. Move it quickly. Water it in. Care about it and give it good attention through the next year to make sure it establishes itself well.
In this photo we’ve moved five large shrubs out of this bed. Plants and trees here still need pruning but the balance is better without the extra shrubs.
Today, hoeing and pruning in the garden. Cutting back roses, fuschias, wisteria and I started in on the apples although they are still leafed out.I prune now so I can dormant spray a few times and also because the spring growth starts so early here. In all gardens there is a time to cut plants back clean them up for future growth . Everything you do in the garden now will be what you see in early spring. Planting bulbs is still possible as well as garlic and onions( sets or seedlings).But for me mostly it’s about clean up, weeding and pruning. When you prune roses and other shrubs really think about the height you want to see the plant grow to next season . Look at it’s typical length of growth from the last year then cut accordingly. Do know, about what your pruning. If you don’t know it’s name(in Latin ) and it’s growth habit and what kind of wood , old or new it blooms on, don’t prune it ! Shrub roses do get pruned differently than regular hybrid tea roses.My shrub roses, here Sally Holmes a well loved hybrid musk I grew from a cutting, wants to be 5’x5′.So do I let it or not? My choice.
Fertilizing is important now before the temperature really drops and the micro organisms move slower making it difficult for nutrients to be made available to the plants. I know if I don’t get lawn fertilizer on right now the lawns will yellow up this winter and be difficult to re-green come spring. I like to use cottonseed meal or green sand. Keeping plants healthy and happy is always easier than dealing with problems later. Just like in people, prevention is always the best. Load a healthy dose of aged manure or compost on plants , shrubs and planting beds. Fertilize shrubs with a all purpose organic fertilizer. I use Calif. Organics 7-5-7.
While gardening is very therapeutic and gives you time to process thoughts and to watch your mind. Like cooking you should never garden with anger or impatience. The energy you give the plants will either help or hinder them. Most plants need lot’s of care and nourishing and will later show their appreciation.
When I used to work in the greenhouse at the monastery the head lama used to tell me to “Nurse” the plants. You know like in a nursery or like a mother.
Is this not the best wheelbarrow ever?