Gardening Tips: Pruning Time

Editor’s Note: I saw the seeds on display in the hardware store recently and realized it was time to re-start the gardening column. This one was first published on 1 March 2017.


What to do this week

March is the month for winter care of trees and shrubs. They are dormant now, and will not suffer from the results of working on them.

Trees and shrubs can be pruned for restoration or improved fruit production. You don’t want to do this in the fall, or even earlier in the winter, because the freezing and thawing you get in winter can damage the tree through cuts you make to branches or bark. So, if you are interested in pruning, now is the time.

Grafting and pruning lesson, Edwardstown Public School, New South Wales, AU (By State Records NSW, via Wikimedia Commons)

Grafting and pruning lesson, Edwardstown Public School, New South Wales, AU (By State Records NSW, via Wikimedia Commons)

If you are interested in grafting apple trees you may want to review my in-depth article on apples. As far as the timeline goes, now is the time to be collecting your scion wood for grafting. When you cut scion wood from apple or pear you want to be sure you only clip last year’s growth. You don’t want wood that is two years old. Just clip the tips of the branches.

The grafting won’t be done until the beginning or middle of April, but you need to cut the scion wood now when the tree is completely dormant. Wrap your wood in a couple of layers of plastic and put it in a cool, damp spot. Don’t store it with apples or bananas or anything else that lets off ethylene gas. Your fridge is fine if you don’t have these other things there too.

Now is also the time to prune your berry bushes. If you have black or red currents, or gooseberries that are overgrown and unproductive, cut out the older wood this month. Leave just enough so that the shrub emphasizes branches that are only one or two years old. This lets in more light and air, and will result in bigger berries and higher productivity.

The same thing goes with fruit trees. If you have older apple trees, or even younger ones that need pruning, now is the time to do it. Go through the trees and look for broken branches to remove first, and do any repair work you discover needs to be done. Then check for overcrowding, branches that are crossing, or water sprouting, and take that out. Water sprouting is branches that grow straight up. Cut them out now. If you make a large cut you can use a tree wound dressing to cover the area. If you are just making cuts that can easily be done with hand clippers, you will not have to do that. You can get tree wound dressing at any garden supply store.

The rule of thumb with apples is to not take more than one third of the wood in any one year.  If you have older trees that are not very productive, or are stretching up leaving all the apples too high, you are going to want to cut off a lot of wood. Don’t take more than one third. You can prune up to one third of the wood a few years in a row, and you will be amazed at how old and unproductive trees will bounce back.

In summary, start that pruning now, Once trees and shrubs start to bud out they are active and won’t bounce back so well from the experience.

Next week, we will cover ordering from the nursery, so wait until then to place your orders.

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Market gardener, farmer, workshop leader, seed-saver, political candidate and mother, Michelle Smith has spent over 30 years coping with the challenges of our bioregion and in the process has built a store of practical and technical knowledge. The Inverness resident has served on the board of Seeds of Diversity Canada and represented Alternative Producers with the Federation of Agriculture but can do nothing about her hair. She is pictured with a head of Club Wheat, a seed that shares her approach to hairdressing.