Newspaper article The Chronicle (Toowoomba, Australia)

Pruning Mystifies Gardeners

Newspaper article The Chronicle (Toowoomba, Australia)

Pruning Mystifies Gardeners

Article excerpt

PRUNING is one of those gardening tasks that mystifies a lot of people.

I'm commonly asked when and how it should be done, and have found that some female gardeners are reluctant to get stuck in and have a go.

Blokes though, seem to show little hesitancy, or restraint.

I have very clear memories from childhood watching my Dad, who wasn't really the gardener in the family but a demon with the hedging shears, hack in to all manner of plants with reckless abandon, only to have Mum, the head gardener, chastise him for being overly enthusiastic.

Conifers in particular seemed to get singled out for special attention, and within the space of an hour, I witnessed a couple of healthy plants reduced to a neat but bleak structure of old dead wood.

Rule number one of pruning conifers: don't prune into old dead wood.

Why do we prune? The most basic answer is that we prune to shape a plant. Of course this suggests a secondary question: why do we shape plants.

Now we're getting into the real nuts and bolts of the issue, and there are multiple reasons for why a gardener might want to take up a pair of secateurs and start hacking away at what would otherwise be perfectly healthy vegetation.

Plants are shaped to keep excessive growth in check, to control pests and disease, and to train to a certain form. Sometimes plants are shaped to become living sculptures.

In the case of fruit trees however, the primary reason we prune is to produce bumper crops. This seems counterintuitive, since almost all productive trees will bear fruit regardless of whether they are pruned or not, as long as their pollination needs are met.

But my garden, for example, is designed to feed my family. I want the highest yields possible from a couple of acres, and to achieve this, I need to grow trees that are trained to produce fruiting buds rather than excessive vegetative growth. So let's cut to the case.

Summer pruning of deciduous fruit trees is largely about controlling a tree's vigour, but winter pruning is formative - it's all about creating a productive, long term framework of branches. …

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