Summer Pruning / Pinch an InchWritten by Tom Ogren
Summer Pruning…Pinch an Inch
By Tom Ogren
Like most people who grow deciduous fruit trees (apples, peaches, plums, cherries, apricots, etc.) I used to do lots of serious heavy pruning every winter.Each winter I would head back dozens of those long, tall canes that had grown year before. On some trees, plums in particular, each year I’d often find myself cutting back a huge number of new branches, many of them well over six feet in length. I occasionally wondered: Isn’t this hard pruning cycle putting a big workload on tree? Each summer tree pours all its energy into growing those overly long new branches, and then each winter I’d chop them back, trying to keep tree’s overall height under some semblance of control. And then too, despite my best intentions and hours of work spent pruning, each season trees still seemed to be a bit taller than year before. However, each winter for decades I kept up this hard winter pruning, working with standard conventional wisdom that it was necessary in order to have a decent tree and a good set of fruit. At time it made perfect sense to me. Because of apical dominance, when a tip is cut off, next bud back from what is now tip, this bud will normally sprout next. The topmost bud on any strong branch has high concentrations of natural growth hormone, indole acetic acid (IAA). When we prune grapes (which unlike most pomes and stone fruits, set fruit only on new wood) we have to prune last year’s wood hard. We cut back to a few large, strong buds. The lower down on branch a bud is, larger and stronger it is. Thus, heavy pruning makes plenty of sense with grapes, or others that bloom on new wood, figs, mulberries, and roses. But does this same sort of hard pruning make sense with most fruit trees, trees that do not set their fruit on current season’s wood?
About a decade ago I read that in order to save money on high labor costs some orchard owners had resorted to pruning only every other year. Yes, they had to cut off more wood, and pruning work took a bit longer than normal, but overall they were saving some money. The interesting thing, too, was that this every-other-year-pruning didn’t seem to hurt fruit production all that much. I myself started this every other year dormant pruning and it beat pruning every year, but it still felt wasteful, wasteful of tree’s stored energy. Let’s go back to apical dominance for a moment: Because of apical dominance, when a branch tip is cut off, next bud back from new tip, this bud should sprout next. The lower branch is, thicker branch will be, and these lower placed dormant buds will also be larger and potentially much more vigorous. Thus heavy pruning, chopping back to these fat lower buds insures lots of vigorous new growth and makes plenty of sense with grapes, and of course with roses, which also bloom on new wood. But apples, pears, apricots, plums, peaches, nectarines and cherries don’t set fruit on new wood, they all bloom on wood that is at least a year old. A few years ago I made a major switch and started doing almost exclusively summer pruning, pinching really. Every few weeks from mid-spring on, whenever I noticed a new branch growing rapidly, I pinched off end of it. If you had to use a pair of pruning shears to do this, we’d call it a “hard pinch,” but what I started doing was a “soft pinch.” I merely pinched off, with my fingers and thumbnail, last inch or two of each fast growing branch.
How to Plant a Heather GardenWritten by David and Alissa Dewitt
HEATHER GARDENS - Mass plantings of heather, either planted with one of each variety or one hundred, can be ideal for a sunny area. Spaced appropriately, plants will mature into a tapestry with drifts of foliage and flower color.
When planning a garden of heather, begin by making an outline of your area first. If you're planning a border, start from back of bed with taller plants and work forward; if bed is to be viewed from all sides, begin sketching your design from center out. If you have room, planting varieties in odd-numbered groups is most effective. Even numbers of plants often make a new garden look too balanced and unnatural. Draw circles outlining area that plants will fill out at maturity (about 3-5 years) growing into a weed smothering mass. Roughly figure 18” spacing when determining how many plants you will need (sq. ft. x .44 is formula) for a large bed. Choose taller growing varieties for back or center of bed and work your way to edges, keeping in mind that plants will grow into a solid mass of foliage leaving little bare ground exposed. Grays and dark greens absorb light; reds, gold and glossy foliage reflect. You want contrasting foliage to define each grouping, so choose a gold or other colored foliage variety, then choose a silver, gray or dark green for next grouping. Flower color is not as important as you may think but offset mauves with white or light pinks if plants are to bloom at same time. Use winter blooming Erica’s' glossy green foliage as a buffer between a lot of Calluna with colored foliage.
This may all sound a bit confusing on printed page, but don’t let it be because they are all compatible with each other. Arrange them until placement looks right to you. You may want to plant other types of plants in heather garden. Dwarf conifers are natural companions with interesting foliage and habit of growth. The vertical forms they achieve are welcome in heather garden. Other companion plants are: low growing Sedum’s, Iberis, Hypericum, Lavender, Sempervivum, Allium, Arabis, Artemisia, Dianthus, Nepeta, Santolina, and Thyme to name a few perennials. Compact Cotoneaster, Vaccinum, Cytisus and other leafy shrubs can also be interesting companion plants in a garden of heather.