In Praise of Pruning

We’re in late winter now and it’s high time to get up into the canopy of your fruit and nut trees and give them their seasonal spruce up. A judicious pruning is probably the best thing you can do to keep fruit trees healthy and productive.

The Nutty Buddy Collective is offering pruning, grafting, and general fruit tree care services, as well as orchard design and consultation services. If you’re looking to hire some help with your trees or plans for trees, send an email for more info:

And a few more words on the subject:

I really love pruning. There are lots of resources out there that will give you rules for how it should be done, but I’ve found it’s really more art than science. And unlike canvas or clay, a tree is active and has a ‘mind’ of its own, acting according to established patterns of growth, in response to what’s going on around it, according to its own schedule and maturation. When pruning, we need to take into consideration so many things: present and potential diseases, pests and other hazards to the tree, the tree’s likely response to pruning cuts, the tree’s current growth phase and how that interacts with the seasonal cycle, what the goals and needs are of the people caring for the tree, the shape of the tree and of negative space, the physical aspect of how the pruner’s and tree’s bodies interact to make a cut possible…

You can follow a protocol to navigate this tangle of considerations, and I do to an extent, but it’s the kind of thing that ultimately needs to become intuitive if you’re ever going to get around to all the trees in the orchard.

OK, now going out on an esoteric limb a bit: It’s a lovely thing, to interact with a tree from intuition. Speaking for myself – though I think it’s true for many of us – I know, rationally, from hearing and reading it from experts, that trees very much have what we can call intelligence, albeit a very different intelligence from the two-legged’s kind.  But this is a hard thing for me to feel, you know? They’re just so different from us, and I spend so much time caught in our anthropocentric echo chamber that it’s hard to stretch my empathy enough to connect with a tree and really sense its intelligence. Well, pruning helps get me there. It’s a bit counter-intuitive to think that cutting a tree is the thing that gets me to connect with it. Seems a little masochistic now that I say it that way. But I insist, it’s not. For one, cutting a limb is not like amputation. Trees evolved with a whole lot of disturbance; think of the pruning saw as modern mastodon incisors. And secondly, through considering and executing a pruning cut and going into that intuitive space I described, you have to focus and look closely at the whole tree, as well as interact with it in an pretty intimate and physical way, getting up in its limbs and even its crotches.

Whew…didn’t think a post on pruning would get so risque. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the act of pruning gets me to pay close attention to and interact closely with trees, to express my needs and desires to the tree and to try and understand what the tree wants and needs. This forces me to think more like a tree and allows me a glimpse of the depths beyond the objectified idea of ‘a tree’ that I otherwise tend to rely on.

There are also less romantic things I love about pruning. One is that it brings order. Which kinda gives that same satisfying feeling you get from cleaning the house or clipping your toenails or getting a haircut. There’s probably some multi-syllabic German word for it. 

Another is that pruning also often yields scionwood, depending on what you’re cutting. Scionwood is like a little rod of DNA, used to propagate and move around varieties of woody and semi-woody crops. Typically, the dormant, most-recent woody growth is used. If the tree you’re pruning grew well the previous year, you’ll likely have many yards of scionwood you can cut off of the prunings, and potentially 100’s of dormant buds. Whenever I’m pruning, I carry some tape and a marker and a plastic bag with a moist paper towel in it so I can collect any grafting material I may want. Grafting is a whole other ball of wax that I’m not going to smear any more of on this page, but maybe I’ll do a post on it soon.


justin on ladder

look how happy this guy is to be pruning

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