When it comes to pruning, I follow the rules of US garden writer, blogger and grower Mike McGroarty. He’s from Ohio, wears overalls and looks like my late Uncle Alec. How could I not believe him?
Mike says to get a tree looking the way you want, simply prune it wheneveryou like, relying on common sense to guide your secateurs.
It’s always worked for me, which is why I chose to attack the lime trees when I did.
After close examination of the eight trees, I decided two could be sacrificed. They were full of borer, had several dead branches, green shoots covered in thorns were growing from the bottom, and a bad case of sooty mould. No way did I want to stick my head in the middle of them. Those trees were tagged with dreaded pink dazzle to signify impending euthanasia.
For the rest, I lopped off the dead and damaged bits, pruned the outside branches into a better shape, made them shorter so I could reach the fruit, and opened up the centres to let in more light. I think I did a good job but, had I read the Royal Horticultural Society’s book Pruning and Training first, I might have done better.
Although it’s unlikely you’ll kill or seriously damage a tree with bad pruning, a bit of knowledge helps you do a better job of it.
Use clean, sharp tools, but not until you’ve used your eyes. The same rule that applies to measuring (measure twice, cut once) works for pruning: look twice, prune once. I recommend looking at your tree from every angle, since it’s easy to lop off a branch so it looks great on one side, only to discover a large hole on the other.
It’s also important to cut in the right spot. Cut to about 5mm above a strong bud or healthy side shoot. If you cut too far away you can get dieback; too close and the bud might be damaged. Slope the cut away from the bud or shoot so it doesn’t rot. And if you’re pruning fruit trees, don’t prune to an inward facing bud, as it’ll produce an inward-growing shoot, resulting in a tree that’s thick in the middle.
After pruning, offer the tree the pruner’s equivalent of the hairdresser’s cup of coffee – a decent drink of fertiliser.
Spread it out to the edge of the branch canopy, water it in, and finish with mulch. Get The Partner to put the clippings on the burn pile.
About Lee Ann McKenzie
Lee Ann wasn’t always a gardener - she lead what she terms ‘a normal life’ as a newspaper journalist and then television producer in Dunedin until the nineties, when she started moving north. Working on various lifestyle magazines in Auckland, Lee Ann eventually published her own garden design magazine, Alfresco, for 10 years.more of this author