Garden · How-To

The Longest Day for Cutting Things Short

Tomorrow is the Summer Solstice! And for my fellow fruit tree wranglers, that means time for summer pruning.

If you recall, I also do pruning around the Winter Solstice. Pruning in the winter, while the trees are sleeping (except you, citrus, yes, I know), is mostly about shaping a tree to encourage growth. Summer pruning is about discouraging growth. Pruning while the tree is in full I’MA MAKIN’ BABIES mode means that its energy is focused on making fruit, not growing limbs, so this is the time to make cuts in those places you do NOT want growth.

Let’s start with the easiest first: the fig tree. Also, this means I will be showing the trees in counter-clockwise order and this pleases my tiny, tiny inner rebel. It’s really tiny, but hey, she still has needs.

The left: not fashionable. The right: feet are footloose and branch free.

Okay, the fig. This is a fancy-named “Violette de Bordeaux” and a newer tree to my garden. She was planted only this past winter as a stick with bare roots. As a wee thing, she will not be getting any severe cuts; I want to promote growth for the most part, not curb it. With the notable exception of the branches growing on her feet – not only are furry feet totally not the fashion this year (sorry Frodo) but those bottom branches are likely to be damaged by a small person or a dog that can’t look where he’s going when chasing squirrels. Off they go!

Next up: the cherry tree, or Stella II. The first Stella met an untimely end due to infection. A former peach tree did NOT wear a mask while it was infected with brown end rot, and Stella I did not maintain sufficient social distance. A lesson for us all.

Left: Stella II in her windmill phase. Right: smaller windmill.

This is also a young tree, planted at the same time as Violette. However, Stella II is proving to be an overreacher – she has sent out these crazy long limbs in all directions. Some I will keep but trim a bit to avoid any injury from the wind, others will be removed entirely because they invade my partner’s Lawnmowing Corridor, and since I don’t want to mow the lawn ever, I respect his boundaries.

Now the apple! This little guy has been a TROOPER. The salvia behind him has no concept of personal space and to avoid it blocking all sun from getting to the apple tree, I have had to cut it back almost every month this year. I will be your lady knight in shining armor, apple tree! Beyond beating back the salvia, I won’t do anything else to the wee Newton Pippin. I want to encourage growth, so I will wait for winter.

There is no difference in the trees pictured. I told the salvia what-for with my pruners, not that you can tell.

The newest addition to our garden is the Red Baron peach tree. He has done remarkably well as we planted him mid-spring. Oh man oh man I had to sit on my pruners with this one. There are some serious cross-axis and interference action happening here and it was very difficult for me to wait until the Solstice to address it. It’s like watching a kid with a bad haircut throughout summer because you know you’ll need to do it anyway right before school starts.

Left: bad haircut. Right: only slightly less bad haircut because this sneaky tree has FRUIT on the worst cross-axis offenders. Well played, Red Baron, well played.

Last but not least: the PLUM. This tree has been the work of years. And yet, it still mocks me with its four-foot-tall water sprites. EVERY YEAR. It was definitely a good call to make the Big Cut in winter – I have had much less issue with pests so far. An aggressive grower, my summer pruning on the plum is always part taming the chaos for my control freak, part saving it from itself.

Left: plum tree with plans for world domination. Right: a “naked” tree according to my partner. Oh, and I took away the chickens’ shade by accident. Oops, sorry chickens!

Ahhhhh, much better. I don’t have control over much, but every solstice I at least get to pretend to bend the garden to my WILL.

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