Posts Tagged ‘pruning’

Today’s post can be heard on the public radio show Crop to Cuisine, hosted by Dov Hirsch.

There’s a thug lurking in your neighborhood, taking every opportunity to attack your precious tree fruit.  With oozing droplets and a hoard of unwitting helpers, it moves from tree to tree, torching twigs and branches until the tree looks scorched.  Evidence of the infection becomes more obvious as we head into June.

 Fire blight is a bacterial disease that affects certain plants in the rose family. It is especially destructive to apple, pear, quince and crabapple. It attacks in spring, when temperatures reach 65 degrees F and frequent rain occurs, and then bacteria overwintered in cankers on the tree resume activity, multiplying rapidly.

 Though the good news is that we’ve had some rain and humidity, the bad news is:  the recent weather created good conditions for this damaging disease.  This is when masses of bacteria are forced through cracks and bark pores to the bark surface, where they form a sweet, gummy exudate called bacterial ooze.

 Insects such as bees, ants, flies, aphids and beetles are attracted to this ooze, pick up the bacteria on their bodies, and inadvertently carry the bacteria to opening blossoms. Bacterial ooze splashed by rain also can spread the disease.

 Young branch tips can be infected through air openings on leaves, called stomata, air openings on branches, called lenticels, or, more commonly, through wounds created by pruning, insects, or hail storms.

 Droplets of ooze can form on these infected twigs within three days and fruit may be infected through insect feeding wounds. Girdling cankers – areas of disease on the wood – eventually develop from branch or blossom infections.  Leaves wilt, darken and curl to form a shepherd’s crook. This gives the tree a fire-scorched appearance, thus the name “fire blight.” 

 There is no cure for this disease, so prevention is the best solution. Fire blight control methods include use of resistant varieties, cultural practices, pruning and spraying. Using resistant varieties is the most effective prevention method, but keep in mind that resistance doesn’t mean immunity.

 Remove and destroy newly infected young twigs as soon as possible, so that your tree doesn’t become the mother ship for disease in the neighborhood.   Do this when no rain is predicted for at least two weeks.   It may be best to leave pruning until winter when the bacteria are not active. This reduces infection on the tree and the number of bacteria available to infect healthy blossoms and shoots.

 In young twigs, make cuts at least 12 inches below the dark, visible edge of infection to avoid slicing into the bacteria. Remove all blighted twigs and cankered branches. Prune larger limbs about 6 to 12 inches below the edge of visible infection.

 After each cut, surface sterilize all tools used in pruning. Spray tools with Lysol or dip tools in 70-percent ethyl alcohol, or a 10-percent bleach solution.  Bleach can rust tools, so if you use this to sterilize your pruners, wash them after you’re done and apply a light tool oil to keep them rust-free.

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Now that gardening season is so close we can taste it, I’ve returned to the digital screen in a series of how-to videos, produced by the Boulder Camera, a newspaper that carries my gardening column. 

The first in this year’s series is a blatant attempt by me to distract all of you green thumbs from rushing forth into the garden and, in your enthusiasm for spring, do harm.  This happens in several ways, such as tilling soil, wet from snows, which creates clumps that dry into cement-like hardness. 

Other gardeners are starting seeds, which is fine.  Except some people are starting plants like cucumbers or summer squash, which, as a warm season vegetable, don’t get planted out until mid-May.  Giving a plant like that a 10 week head start is alarming – imagine how big they are on the 1st of August, which is ten weeks from when we direct sow them into the ground!  My zucchini is easily three-feet wide by that time.

Yes, the madness must stop, at least temporarily. 

Instead, dance between the rain showers this weekend and prune your fruit trees.  Check out how to work with cherry and peach trees in this week’s video.

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 There is a foodie magazine in the area, Edible Front Range, that I contribute articles to occasionally.  It’s a wonderful magazine filled with interesting stories on local food and their blog is always fun to read.  Last year I added the following post on making your own Greek-style dolmades, the little grape leaf rolls commonly served as appetizers.  Here it is for you, in case you have grape vines that need a little pruning:

If you grow grapes like I do, you’ve probably noticed that the wet weather has turned those well-behaved plants into The Vines That Ate The Neighborhood.  Though grown dry, grapes actually love water, taking all we can give them; the result is wild, uncontrollable growth. 

Instead of hanging demurely on the trellis, the shoots are running rampant – cascading over fences, coiling around perennials, and throttling the competition.  These plants are out of control – I live in fear of them grabbing small pets or compact cars as they go by. 

The choice is simple:  either let the grapes terrorize the neighborhood or give them a haircut.   While the first is amusing, the plants can’t tell friend from foe and my own garage is being swallowed whole.  They must be stopped, so armed with shears on a sunny day, and I marched forth to prune.  Sixty minutes of clipping, snipping, and flailing later, I stared at the pile of cuttings. 

 Slowly a delicious thought formed:  it’s time for Greek dolmades. 

Don’t groan – those over-pickled, canned stuffed grape leaves can’t hold a candle to the light, savory flavor of fresh dolmades and they’re surprisingly easy to make.  That stack of shoots was ideal for the job, because those leaves were young, soft, and medium-sized.

 Bright eyed and eager to try something new, I took the vines into the kitchen, piled them on the counter and commenced diving into cookbooks for recipes.  Yet tome after tome was silent on the subject, as if Greek cooking was too complex for words.  But the leaves were waiting, so I did what every red-blooded cook has done through the ages – I panicked.  Then I called my friend for help. 

She’d seen dolmades made from fresh leaves once, and rummaged about until she found the recipe.  Preparation is simple – just clip the petiole of the leaf off, wash them gently, and par boil them for three minutes.  Plunge them into ice water immediately to cool.

The stuffing’s just a bit of rice, dried currants, pine nuts and herbs from my garden, all boiled together with water and lemon juice.  After it cools to room temperature, you fill and roll the leaves, drizzle them with olive oil and lemon juice, and bake them.

All told, it only took an hour and was much easier than pruning.  And the result was light, delicately flavored hors d’oeuvres fit for a fancy event or simple gathering of friends.

If you’re not growing grapes, ask your friends if they have some leaves to spare – 40 are perfect for the recipe, but it feeds a crowd.  Use only leaves from edible grapes, not ornamentals.  Make sure the plant hasn’t been sprayed with pesticide, and use the leaves the same day they’re picked.

Check out the recipes at What’s Cooking America. 

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If those shrubs you planted when you moved in years ago have gotten big enough to require a new ZIP code, the time has come to consider pruning.  With a little care and contemplation, the haircut you give them will leave them looking fresh, rejuvenated, and ready to burst forth with blooms year after year.

 Timing is everything if you want to keep flowering shrubs looking great, so mark your calendars for getting out the pruners.  Then take a few moments to plan your approach, keeping your snips to a minimum – removing no more than one-third of the shrub each season. 

Shrubs that flower in spring form their blooms during the previous summer.  To keep the show dazzling year after year, hold off on pruning until just after flowering is finished in early summer.  In the two weeks that follow blossoming, reshape your plant.

Most shrubs need a light trim to keep them contained, so make each snip count by focusing on those branches that are long and leggy.  Though this takes time, prune off branches one by one, sculpting the plant into a natural looking shape. 

 Make cuts one-quarter inch above a bud to force branching to fill in leggy bottoms and new growth that blooms more freely.  Broom plants should not be cut heavily; remove only one-third of the branch tip, taking care to avoid cutting into old wood.

Planted where they can ramble, junipers don’t need much pruning.  But if you’ve got one near a sidewalk or drive that’s starting to take over, give it a custom haircut to leave it looking natural and well behaved.

Prune anytime except in late summer, when the clipping stimulates new growth that won’t harden off in time for winter.  Avoid cutting the plant in sub-zero temperatures in winter.

Junipers put on new growth from the tips; if your plant is severely overgrown, a hard prune into bare wood will leave a bald spot.  Choose your cuts carefully, and head back each branch to an actively growing, upward facing side shoot.  This will encourage the plant to fill in.

The creamy white interior wood of juniper is very obvious against the dark mass of needles.  Keep those stubs unobtrusive by angling your cuts downward, so the white won’t show.

Tools for the job:

– For shoots less than one-half inch thick, use bypass pruners for a clean cut instead of anvil pruners, which crush the wood.

– Loppers are used for stems up to 1 ½ inches in size.

– Saws should be used on any branch thicker than 1 ½ inches.

This post previously appeared in the Longmont Ledger.

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If you have an apple or pear tree that needs a trim, now is a good time to get out and prune it.  In this second of a two-part blog, we’ll look at some ways to tidy up your trees. 

Please note that there’s a difference between training a tree – shaping it so that it has an open center and low, outward branches – and pruning a tree, which is keeping it cleaned up and productive.  Today we’re focusing on pruning pointers; for training (shaping) the tree, see the excellent fact sheet from North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension.

On a warm, sunny day head out to the yard, gathering up a hand pruner, loppers, and a tree saw.  Buckets or a wheelbarrow are helpful for carrying twigs and branches from the area once you’re done. 

Be sure to take tool disinfestant with you, to clean your tools between every cut.  Apples and pears are notorious for carrying Fireblight (Erwinia amylovora), a bacteria that’s lethal to these trees.  Cleaning your equipment between each cut is a good plan to reduce the chance that you spread the problem.  You can use a mix of 10-percent alcohol to water or use a disinfecting spray.

Stand back and look over your tree from a slight distance, checking for branches that are crossing others, broken, or diseased.  These are the first you’ll remove.  Twig tips that are dried out with a grayish or black appearance should be nipped off, cutting them back to a bud or to the junction of twig to branch.

When pruning to a bud (the outward-facing side), clip it one-quarter-inch above the bud at a 45-degree angle, making your angle slant the in same direction as the bud.  

Prune out any crossing or rubbing limbs, or those that grow in towards the center of the tree.  Keeping the center open to sunlight means your fruit will ripen more evenly and be sweeter.   

Suckers at base of apple tree. Prune these off.

Next, target water sprouts and basal suckers (the vigorous upright growth shooting up from branches or from the base of the tree).  This type of growth is usually weak, and fruits poorly. Prune it completely off.

Finally, remove twigs that grow with narrow angles to the branch.  Open angles – where the twig joins the branch – are strong enough to hold the weight of fruit.  Narrow angles may break, especially if your tree is loaded with fruit when one of our wet fall snowstorms come through.  

Apple spur

Apples and pears bear fruit on stubby growth, called spurs, which form on three to five year-old wood.  Though most trees put on spurs naturally, some are shy about it and need a little coaxing.  Known as spur pruning, this technique is best for young trees that already have good shape.

Spur pruning is done on maiden shoots only – those that are one-year-old and unflowered.  Clip off the tips of these maidens, leaving just four buds.  In summer, this twig will grow both flowers and woody shoots. 

Apple flower bud (left) and wood bud. Flower buds are much larger, rounder, and fuzzy.

Next winter, nip back the branch to the outermost flower bud, or if there is room to let the limb get many spurs along its length, leave three or four wood buds.  Apple and pear flower buds are much larger, rounder, and plumper than the buds that grow twigs. 

When pruning go lightly, removing no more than one-quarter of the tree’s branches in a season.  Trees store energy in roots and trunk for the following season; prune off too much while the plant is dormant and the energy is pushed into sucker growth, rather than to healthy, strong wood.  Clean up your tree over several seasons if you have to, to avoid over stimulating the tree into sucker growth.

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Late February is the perfect time to get out into the warm sunshine and prune a few trees.  The balmy, 45-degree days with blue skies are calling us to the garden, but wet soils mean we should hold off on tilling and sowing.  Lopping off a few branches is the perfect way to indulge our gardening itch, plus keep our fruit trees healthy.

In my first-ever two-part blog series, let’s take a look at the steps to follow when caring for trees that work for a living.  To keep your trees in full production, spend time with them this spring by giving them a nip here, a tuck there, to tidy them up and get the flowers forming.

Pruning allows air and sunlight to reach the center of the tree, improving sugars in the fruit while reducing disease.  For all types of fruit trees, follow a few basic steps:

Step 1, tidy it up:  prune out any dead or diseased wood.  Look for twigs that are dried out, with a grayish or black appearance. Though it’s tempting to snap off dead wood, cut it off instead to avoid tearing the bark.  Broken twigs are a harbor for disease, so cut them back to a bud or to the junction of twig to branch.

Step 2, one-way, please:  prune out any crossing or rubbing limbs. Branches that rub one another sloughs off bark, setting them up for disease problems. Crossing limbs, as they grow, often begin rubbing each other.  

Step 3, get rid of sprouts:  Cut out water sprouts and basal suckers (the vigorous upright growth shooting up from branches or from the base of the tree).  This type of growth is usually weak, and fruits poorly. Prune it completely off.

If you have peaches or nectarine trees here on the Front Range, you’re a gardener who loves a challenge.  Though these plants survive (well, they try to survive), they aren’t the most productive fruit we can grow; frost freezes their buds off nine years out of ten. 

 Nonetheless, we try to grow them, and to give them the best chance we can for forming fruit, it’s all in the pruning.

 Peaches and nectarines fruit on one-year old shoots, so the goal of pruning is to force part of the tree into new shoots every year.  Do this by cutting back branches that fruited last year to a woody bud – it looks pointy instead of plump.  

Woody buds on peaches look pointed

 But don’t go hog wild, cutting off every branch – only cut back one out of every four branches that fruited last year.  This gives the tree enough leaves to photosynthesize food for itself.  Do this every year, and your tree will give you plenty of fruit.

If you can’t find woody buds on your shoots, don’t worry.  Very often these trees will have triple buds, where a woody bud is flanked by two flower buds.  Prune off at this point, gently rub off the flower buds on either side, and let the woody bud grow into a shoot. 

Peaches can have single, double, or triple buds

Important note:  when pruning to a bud, prune one-quarter-inch above the bud, at a 45-degree angle.  Pick buds that are pointing outward – they’ll go that direction.  Avoid inward-facing buds, since you don’t want your branches to run back into the center of the tree.

If you’re cutting the branch off entirely, prune to just outside of the raised area at the junction of the branch to the trunk – this is the branch collar.  Leaving this intact will help the tree seal that cut off from disease.

Up next:  apples, plums, and pears.

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Pruning pointers

Trees aren’t the only ones whose sap rises in springtime.  The balmy weather we’ve been having is driving every gardener I know crazy with desire; they’re frenzied with wanting to get out, get planting, and get growing. 


But before you content yourself with pruning, keep in mind that a little restraint is a good thing. 


Looking at a plant that needs pruning can be daunting.  The branches go everywhere and gardeners do one of two things:  either they freeze at the brink of making cuts, or they chop away, never stopping to look at the results until it’s too late.


This last approach was my brother-in-law’s method when pruning overgrown upright junipers on either side of the front window.  The result was breathtaking; two vertical trunks with a feathering of foliage – tufted totem poles instead of trees – was all that was left of once full-figured evergreens.


Don’t let this happen to you.  Remember, pruning is not a race, and gardeners who flail about with sharp tools and no plan can expect to have amazingly awful plant shape.  There is no hat big enough to cover the blunder.


crossing branches

Yet pruning need not be a reason for panic.  Start with the easy stuff, by removing any broken or competing branches, and often the twigs needing more cuts reveal themselves.  Competing branches are those that rub against one another, or block other shoots, developing wounds that disease enters.  Prune one of the two rubbing branches off to allow the other to grow.


prune broken branch  clean up torn bark












Once this is completed, stand back and look over the plant to see if these few snips have left the plant misshapen.  Take time to consider what other cuts will help the plant maintain its form, or remove anything that blocks walkways, seating areas or drives. 


In all, removal of up to one-third of the plant will be fine, provided the tree is young.  Should it be more mature, removal of up to one-quarter of the overall plant is the limit.  Large branches over two-inches in diameter shouldn’t be pruned unless there is a jolly good reason.  They don’t seal well and disease could be a problem.  If you must remove a larger limb, do so over several seasons by cutting back one-third of the branch each year instead of lopping them off in one fell swoop. 


ALWAYS use the three-cut pruning method for removing limbs two-inches in diameter or larger to keep bark from tearing.  The first cut is made about 12 inches from the trunk, sawing upwards into the bottom of the branch.  Next, move out from the trunk another inch, and saw down through the branch from the top.  The final cut is made at the trunk, just outside of the branch collar.


You don’t always have to take off the whole branch.  You can partially prune to shape, by making the cut (called a heading cut) one-quarter inch in front of a growing bud.  Choose a bud that will grow in a direction that is outward from the plant and will not cross other branches.  If the plant is near a walkway, choose a bud that will grow above head height or away from the walk.


Should the entire branch need to be removed, make the cut one-quarter inch in front of the branch collar.  The collar is a ridge of slightly thickened wood surrounding the junction of branch to trunk.  If care is taken not to nick this collar, the wound will seal over and the tree will remain healthy.  Longer stubs of more than a quarter inch will not allow the tree to seal the pruning cut, looking nubby and unsightly on the tree.





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