Monday, February 8, 2010


Sally finished pruning the fruit trees yesterday. She started last weekend with the apricot trees, and then finished the plum, cherry, pear and apple trees this weekend. Sally is always eager for Spring, and lives out the hope that gardeners and orchardists around the world embrace. Whether flipping through seed catalogs, starting bedding plants in a south window, or pruning the trees and bushes, getting into the process in February seems a good way to hurry the change of seasons along.

Sally said she wanted to get the pruning done before getting dormant spray applied, but I suspected other motives. She was recovering from surgery last year and had to rely on my efforts, albeit under her watchful eye. This year she didn't even ask for my help or counsel. She was pruning, by golly, so there!

The trees survived my pruning last year, as they have survived the efforts of others in years past, some doubtlessly more skilled than others. The truth of the matter is, we can make a tree more productive by skillful pruning, and we can certainly change its aesthetics, but its life, especially this time of year, is centered elsewhere. The roots are where the action is. Prune as you will, the roots will feed growth that will soon erase the signs of your activity. Of course, if we cut too much and too deep, we'll kill the tree, right? Maybe not.

Two seasons ago, after three years' consideration, we decided to cut down the Winter Banana apple tree. As a tree lover I found the decision difficult. The loss of any tree seems profound, and yet in this case it felt like euthanasia rather than senseless destruction. The tree was old and tired. It's fruit, never the best, was greatly enjoyed by earwigs and fly larvae, but not so much by us. Rather than continued efforts to do tree life support by the application of more and more potent chemical sprays, we cut it down. In its place we planted a Montmorency Cherry tree.

So the old apple tree was gone, right? Sure, except that its roots are still where they always were, producing sprouts and suckers that spread through the yard to as great an extent as the old tree's shadow. Prune as you will, even cut down the tree, the life is deeper still, and abides.

There's a lesson here of course, but finding the words to convey that lesson is difficult. Perhaps its enough to leave the story as it is, and to let each reader draw their own conclusion. But whatever you or I might conclude, make no mistake about it, the life abides.


  1. Try as we do to manage our crops and trees there is always more to learn. Those hidden secrets of soil and mycelia where the nutrients get transformed.

    Now...where to put those blueberry bushed?

  2. Constant pulling of those apple suckers and you'll eventually discourage the roots so much, they will stop. They need the energy produced up top to keep growing.

    I think. :)