Sunday, January 11, 2009

Winter Garden Chores: Tree Pruning

Let me apologize, in advance, to any East Coasters who may have stumbled onto this post! I know you guys are freezing your nuts off right now - and *I* got to play in the yard wearing Shorts and a Tank Top! "Nah-nee-nah-nee-NAH-NAHHHH!!!"

(Sorry - couldn't resist!)

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Okay, this is the time of year when I'm not necessarily "happy" about the number of fruit trees we've amassed in our "Backyard Orchard!"

Yep - It's PRUNING SEASON! Which means I get to play with one of my Christmas Presents: Santa-Rog brought me a pair of Felco-21 loppers (Santa-Rog is Cool!).

Actually, I may be a little late tackling that chore (I know we're *way* late on the spraying schedule - we were supposed to have hit 'em with Dormant Oil at EO November, December *and* January! (okay - not too late for the January spraying at least!).

So yeah, we've got 2 peach trees, 2 plums, an espaliered apple (with 6 different varieties of apple grafted onto it), and a cherry tree (2 different varieties there).

When I moved in, Rog had one peach tree and one dead pear tree.

Rog - who is *not* a gardener and does not have "Farming Genes" (My mom grew up on a sugar-beet farm. And my Dad was *big* into growing veggies - especially tomatoes - when I was growing up). I definitely inherited the Gardening Gene and I'm pleased to say that I *do* have a bit of a green thumb!

But I digress...

So when Rog moved into the house, he thought it would be nice to have fruit trees so he paid someone to dig holes and plant the 2 trees. Evidently, he figured that nature would take over from there...

By the time I came on the scene, the pear tree was stone-dead (it just gets too cold here). And the peach tree had NEVER seen a pair of pruning shears! It was completely out-of-control! It was probably about 12' wide and - at the time - probably at least as tall. It was also a very prolific producer of super-delicious, super-sloppy-juicy [but small-ish] fruit! I did attempt to tackle the pruning and get the tree back under control. Bummer-part was: I didn't think it'd produce fruit on brand-new growth - so to hack it back too far would've meant no fruit for the season. So I pruned it as aggressively as I dared - while still leaving enough prior-year's-growth to ensure fruit for the season...

Well, it continued to produce TONS of fruit. And, in fact, in the early-spring, I'd gotten into the habit of culling some of the baby fruit so we'd have fewer, but larger peaches. Rog came out and saw me doing that (I think this was a couple-three years ago) and told me to stop it! So I did.

Well, later that season, the quantity and weight of the fruit became more than the tree could support. The main trunk broke - about 1/3-1/2 of the way down - and we lost almost half of the tree! I did saw off the trunk, above the break - but I couldn't cut too much off or it surely would have died. Consequently, we were left with a vertical crack in the main trunk. I thought, for sure, that "his" tree was a Goner. There was *lots* of remedial pruning that winter! But still, I couldn't cut back *below* the crack b/c that would have taken away too much of the tree and it likely would have perished (Generally speaking, I think you don't want to take off more than 1/3 of the top-growth when you prune).

So, the following spring, I bought a second peach tree (white peach, early-bearer - which worked out well, actually!). I figured it'd be best to have another peach-tree on standby - in case Roger's tree gave up the ghost. In the meantime, it's been very nice because we now have TWO peach harvests! One in early-to mid-July and one in mid- to late-August! Mmmmmmm!

Anyway, the original peach tree is still hangin' in there, but I can see that's it's pretty sick. I had to remove lots of dead (and dying) branches this year. I'm also trying to cut back the "width" somewhat (it's still about 12-13' wide!) because the branches really can't support the weight of the fruit and I have to keep propping 'em up with chunks of wood/old pitchforks/tie the branches to upper limbs, etc... I'm doing some really serious pruning this year and *hoping* we can save the tree - even if we have to sacrifice a season's worth of fruit. But I'm not overly optimistic (there really were lots of dead MAJOR branches).

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Ahhhhhh... The Joys of "Advancing Maturity!" There was a time - not that long ago - when I could've tackled pruning ALL of the trees, AND started hacking back some of the other winter-dead plants in ONE DAY. That's no longer the case, unfortunately.

I did manage to prune the ONE tree today - and I'm telling myself "That's Okay!" Hopefully I'll find some free-time in the afternoons this week and I'll tackle the rest of 'em One-At-A-Time. White-Peach is next. Then the Plums (Santa Rosa and Satsuma - The Satsuma is orgasmically deeee-lish! And they both make AWESOME jam!). Cherry and Apple oughtta be pretty quick since they're both relatively small trees.

I gotta say - the weather was absolutely PERFECT for yard-work today. Mid- to upper-60's and sunny! Perfect "shorts and tank-top weather!" And I'm "Self-heating" so even it if was a little cool - my own @#$% metabolism would take care of any chill (provided I wasn't already coated in sweat, of course - Grrrr!!!).

Actually, it was fine. And it really felt good to get outside for a couple of hours today!

Unnnnfortunately - much as I'd like to get "Spring Fever" - I know we need TONS more rain, so let's hope we get some!

Just let me finish the Winter Garden Chores first!!! =-D

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