2013-02-25 A reminder to prune!

A reminder to prune!

Hello! My name is Gabriel Woytek and I’m joining you this year to continue this column and offer lighthearted commentary, helpful advice, and interesting facts pertaining to our local food system. Many of you already know me as part of the team out at Oregon Country Farm, just a few somersaults down the highway outside of town.

We’re in the midst of pruning season! This does not refer to the act of stuffing as many dried plums into your mouth as possible or a time for excessively long wrinkle-inducing baths, but rather to the act of winter maintenance for fruit trees, when undesirable limbs and branches are lopped off with many deep sighs of relief. Some may already have their apples and pears prim and proper, and others might have that 100 year old Gravenstein staring at them through their window, unkempt and angry, a seemingly insurmountable mess.

The merits of pruning a fruit tree are almost endless, but the basics of pruning boil down to some key factors – removal of dead or diseased branches, clean up of crowded areas that prevent airflow, reduce light penetration, and end up with competing branches, and to remove obstructions for human traffic (because no one likes a stick in the eye).

Observation is key. Study the tree and identify those swollen cankers that give away the location of fruiting spurs, where bunches of fruit will emerge following the showy spring blossom display. Strategically pruning above these areas can help your tree use its energy where it counts. Suckers, those aptly named rogues that grow straight up with an audible ping, should be snipped from the base of the trunk, and off the the top when further vertical growth is not desired.

Why exactly is it best to prune now? Late winter is generally ideal so that fresh wounds are exposed for only a short length of time before new growth begins the wound sealing process. Winter also brings fewer bugs, as well as less bacterial and fungal activity to reek havoc upon a tree. Without all the leaf clutter, it is also easier to view the overall tree structure and deviously plot how you might manipulate it.

For those lost causes, the impressively wild growing old trees with the shaggy top that nonetheless cannot be pulled out either for sentimentality or practicality, have patience, one round of winter pruning a fully rehabbed tree does not make. A tree is a living thing, and making any cuts on it inherently involves causing it damage. Again, use observation. Examine your overgrown neighbor, and take note of the growth patterns that these lovely beings take when just left to nature. Decide on a couple of strategic cuts in particularily messy areas and never plan on pruning out more than 25% of the tree in a single year.

A solid pair of loppers sharpened every time you go out really goes along way in saving extra stress on your own creaky winter joints and producing those truly satisfying snips of limbs and branches. Always be careful and follow proper safety measures when using ladders and pruning tools.

Still looking for more help? Don’t despair! Contact the Calapooia Food Alliance to get connected with a local farmer that eats prunes for breakfast, or…rather, can demonstrate the techniques. Not well acquainted with CFA? Come to the next Munch Movie event at 7pm on Friday, March 8th at the Bramble House, where for just a $10 donation you get a full course meal and a great movie. See you there!

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