Gardening – Pruning time is here

I must admit, looking out the window at the dreary grey sky doesn’t do wonders for the spirit; I’d much rather be in a tropical lagoon somewhere! However, when that opportunity doesn’t present itself, it’s good to take advantage of the few crisp, sunny days that we get up here in the so-called winterless North. Those are the days I like to get out into the garden and prune. In fact I like pruning so much that I’ve already finished all the deciduous fruit trees, the grapes, the hedges and had a decent hack at the citrus. Just a few natives and a couple of camellias to go and I’m done!

There is no great mystery to pruning; unlike commercial growers that have to consider each bud and twig as a potential fruiting opportunity, I just concentrate on pruning to suit my style of gardening, as we produce loads more fruit than we can eat anyway. On the deciduous fruit trees, everything below ride-on mower head height gets pruned off and anything that needs a ladder to pick gets pruned off too. Likewise, as the citrus and other subtropicals grow, anything that blocks a clear path around the tree for the mower comes off.

Once those rules have been met, then I prune to suit the type of tree. Apples, pears, plums, peaches and the like all get pruned to a flattened open vase shape; more like a doughnut really. This shape keeps the centre of the tree open to allow more sun & air flow in and is the easiest to maintain as well as being quite productive. Vigorous shoots get stubbed back to a few centimetres to encourage fruitful spurs in the next season.

Citrus, avocados and feijoa are usually given only minimal pruning as each tree is harvested. Branches too close to the ground are trimmed back to make access under the trees easier and to reduce fruit rot. Taking out a main central branch on the bigger trees every couple of years is a good way of both keeping the size down and letting more light into the centre, which improves fruiting. This year an orange that has become riddled with borer has had more drastic treatment, I’ve pruned the top half off, to encourage fresh new growth from the middle. For the same reason, I’ve pruned off all the sides of a lemon tree, allowing more light to get to the base where I hope new shoots will come from. If I’d taken the top out of this one, there wouldn’t have been much left, so this will happen next year.

The fig, cherimoya and tamarillos are all allowed to develop a natural, bushy shape in my garden. Often these crops are trained upright like other fruit crops, but I find they become so top heavy that they topple over, particularly in our soft soil. Having side shoots coming out near ground level gives them extra support and all I need to do is stub the more vigorous growths back after each of these crops have fruited to keep the tree size reasonable.

Spending a couple of days pruning in sunshine is good for the spirits; more importantly though, it stops the garden from becoming unmanageable, a vital preventative in our lush environment.