Although it is, by now, abundantly clear that spring will never, ever arrive in the Northeast of these frost-laden United States, we’ve decided to prune the apple tree anyway.
When we moved onto the farm, we planted five heirloom varietal apple trees along the drive leading up to the house. These were just wispy saplings when they went into the ground, so it will be another year or two before we expect to see any fruit from them. There was, however, a fully mature tree out in the back, and it had not been well-maintained.
Early last spring, we got out our loppers, pruning shears, and pruning saw and set to work lovingly sculpting this beautiful tree’s branches into bonzai-worthy patterns. We tweezed and plucked and trimmed. We cleared away obvious blemishes such as The Suckers (the spindly, pointless branches that grow straight up from a main branch, sap the nutrients, and produce no fruit), The Twisters (branches winding around other branches), and The Blockers (superfluous branches blocking sunlight and inhibiting fruit growth).
What we didn’t do, however, was prune the tree sufficiently.
When your tree isn’t properly pruned, it not only looks bad, it actually can do significant damage to the tree. This is what happened with ours. As you can see in the above shot of the apple-heavy tree, it needed at least eight feet of height removed, to say nothing of the enormous amount of weight needing to be cut away from the center and sides. Because it is recommended that only about five or six inches of height be removed at a time, we will have to approach that part incrementally. The tree in this picture looks WAY more like my moppy-haired, drug-addled high school boyfriend than a successful, fruit-bearing perennial.
When the tree bears too much extra weight, as ours did, the branches will actually break when the heft of the bounty becomes too much. This autumn’s hefty bounty did the job and we came out one day to find that a fairly large branch had come down overnight. When this happens, the branch needs to be removed fully and the remaining bits pruned back to the main branch or trunk.
We sealed the resulting wound with an asphalt-based emulsion. This is a non-toxic dressing made specifically for trees that have suffered due to pruning or other damage. By dressing the wound, you protect the tree from the decay, fungus, and insects that frequently attack damaged spots on trees.
But that was back in the autumn.
Now, it is allegedly almost spring and we are pruning, pruning, pruning. We have learned our lesson the hard way (our preferred way of learning lessons, apparently) and are aggressively pruning without fear or, really, a solid understanding of what not to do. We’re basically using that old expression about sculpting an elephant or a bear, or whatever it was, as our guide and we’re pruning away everything that doesn’t look like a healthy apple tree.
Since today has been the first reasonable facsimile of spring we’ve seen in quite some time, I let the goats out of their enclosure for a brief explore. They were quite thrilled to be on this field trip of sorts but ventured only as far as the base of the tree while I pruned overhead.
It was quite a lovely view from up there, among the increasingly thinning branches. The sun was shining as the goats stood munching on the pile of fallen wood below.
Too bad it’s all about to be covered with icy snow once more. Le sigh…