No, this isn’t about editing the work in progress (although I am doing that). It’s about surgery, specifically plant surgery. It’s pruning time.
I have admitted that I hate pruning, because of its terrible finality. Once amputated, that branch can’t be reattached. For weeks now I’ve been planning what cuts to make on certain shrubs, notably the magnolia in the front garden. It grows sideways more than upward. In full summer leaf it becomes a hulking monster, so every year I remove two or three branches to restrain this tendency.
Other plants present different challenges, like the holly I try to keep from exceeding 20 feet. Its prickly leaves don’t help the operation. Then there’s the “dwarf” apple tree that isn’t dwarf. Fruit trees should be pruned to maximize productivity. That’s not important to me, because my tree is a “Yellow Transparent,” which fruits extremely early. I’m not interested in apples when there are peaches and cherries available, and these apples don’t keep well, so I’d rather the tree didn’t produce many. Still, I’d rather prune it correctly, rather than by guess and gut-feel.
Then there’s the timing issue. Several years ago, I clipped back an old plant of the climbing rose “New Dawn” early in March. A week later we had a few days when the temperature fell below freezing. Not much below freezing, but I wonder if that’s why 90% of the rose died shortly afterward. In only a few days it went from leafing out to wilting. While not totally dead, it has never recovered. I don’t know if being pruned just before a freeze caused this, but it has certainly made me nervous about rose pruning.
The worst pruning job, though, is the Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium). It’s a plant native to this region with all sorts of virtues (drought tolerance, deer resistance, attractive foliage, bee-attracting flowers), but mine is tree-size (15 feet tall). And it suckers. Its huge old trunks are surrounded by a thicket of young, vigorous shoots that will no doubt become huge in turn. If I had known its growth habits, I would never have planted it, but all the books I consulted said it was a wonderful choice. And so it is, for large gardens, but not for the small suburban lot.
Pruning the Oregon grape, therefore, isn’t done only with clippers, loppers, and saw. An axe and spade are needed to remove the larger suckers. I had better get this done while the weather remains cool and cloudy; it’s not a job for a warm, sunny day. And, like the holly and most roses, the plant is prickly.
At least I now have a good, indeed an excellent ladder. It’s designed for pruning, with only three legs, one of which can be shortened to ensure stability on uneven ground. Wrestling it from its spot in the garage isn’t fun, so once out it stays out until all jobs for which it’s needed are complete.
Otherwise my pruning tools are simple: clippers, loppers, saw. You can see them in the image at the top of the post. Gloves, of course. And for the giant holly, the pole pruner. It’s not my favourite tool, but with it fully extended, and by standing on the ladder’s top step, I can just about reach the top of the holly.
The tools are assembled. The
victims plants in need of pruning have been identified. Let the cutting begin!