Gardening Tips: Time to Prune

Editor’s Note: This column last appeared on 14 March 2018.


What to do this week

This week, we have a success report from Madeline about her globe artichoke overwintering experiment, and some encouragement to think about the early spring pruning of your trees and bushes. Let’s start with pruning.

The little bit of snow we are getting this week may put them back a bit, but it has been mild enough to be out checking the trees and shrubs, and it looks like it may be mild again soon if it’s not already.

Take a look at how your trees and shrubs have survived the winter and the wind. Look for dead or broken branches to cut back, and check the overall shape. When it comes to your currants and gooseberries, you want to take out the old wood, leaving room for air and light circulation around the newer, greener branches. You can tell the old wood by the color: it will be darker than the new wood. You may have to cut some new branches to get at the older wood, but keep to the overall objective of opening up the interior of the bush. You are aiming for an open, vase-like shape. If you have a lot of new growth, making the central part of the bush dense, you actually have too much new growth. This will result in smaller berries if you don’t clear some of it out.

Globe artichoke. (Photo by Madeline Yakimchuk)

Globe artichoke. (Photo by Madeline Yakimchuk)

Your fruit trees have similar requirements. With apple trees, you always want to prune to an outside bud, coaxing the tree into a weeping form. This makes it easier to get at the fruit. You may want to cut back the central leader, which is the central part of the tree, and cut any branches that cross each other or point back toward the trunk. Once again, you are looking for a nice, open shape so that lots of air and light can get at all of the apples.

It is important to do your pruning before the trees spring back into life. The branches will be better able to handle the trauma of being cut now, before spring is here in full force.

While you are pruning your blossoming trees, if you find yourself hungering for some spring blossoms, you can clip a few branches and bring them into the house. Make a nice arrangement in a vase, add warm water, put the vase in a nice sunny window, and wait. After a bit you will be delighted to find that you have a blossoming arrangement. You can do this with forsythia, apple, cherry or any of the spring-blossoming trees.

And now for the good news about Madeline’s globe artichokes. You may remember her plan to bring the plants in for the winter. So far, three of the five potted roots have sprouted new growth. It is time now to bring them up from the basement into the light of day and water them. It wasn’t necessary to actually pot the roots up. Wrapping them in burlap or peat would have been fine, but the potting experiment seems to have had some success. If all goes well, Madeline will have more artichoke this year than she would from new plants.

In other parts of the world where the climate is kinder, globe artichoke are perennial plants. Their productivity improves the second year. Overwintering an old plant will give it a head start, and surely be worth the effort. Experiments like this are just one little part of the joy of gardening.




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.




Backyard food gardener Madeline Yakimchuk caught the food-security bug in the early ’90s through Cuba’s Urban Agriculture Department, taking her first permaculture course and planting her first garden. She can often be found discussing food security, nurturing a plant-based lifestyle or trying to give away vegetables. Professionally, she is GRYPHON media productions but sometimes uses la bruja in her volunteer work, most notably in managing the garden column, which begins life as a telephone interview.





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