Thanksgiving leftovers are almost eaten, my guests have all gone home, and it rained last night. It was the first rain of the year. Granted it was only a tenth of an inch, but to my rain-deprived brain, it sounded like a deluge.
The skies have been gray all day, which, combined with sweatshirt temperatures, propelled me into the garden to prune.
I have a love-hate relationship with pruning. I know, that if I want abundant crops of apples, nectarines, pluots, apricots, peaches, grapes, and figs, I have to prune.
While there is a certain satisfaction that comes from snipping and cutting and shaping trees, I have so many to do (about 20 at last count) that the prospect of annual pruning is totally overwhelming.
And it isn’t just the pruning that’s the issue. There’s the disinfecting too.
Peaches and their relatives in particular are very susceptible to pests and diseases. If I’m not careful, my pruning tools can transmit them from one tree to another. To avoid that kind of contamination, I disinfect my tools as I finish pruning each tree. Tools get dipped in a 10% bleach solution or spritzed with spray or foaming bathroom disinfectant, then wiped with a dry towel.
The foaming disinfectant is definitely more fun.
Because pruning is such a huge task, I tend to take it in stages. Figs are far and above the easiest trees to prune thanks to their soft wood. I hardly ever need to use a saw, just pruning shears, a lopper, and my favorite pruning tool, a Fiskars pruning stick (no, they don’t pay me to say that).
There is another reason I like to start with figs; I want to prune them before they develop next year’s fruits.
Shortly after I pick the last, succulent fig of the year, tiny green orbs begin to form at the tips of each fig branch. Those orbs are next year’s fruits. If I wait too long, I’ll prune off those developing fruits and voila! No figs next year!
I learned this the hard way.
Today, I started my pruning with the ‘Brown Turkey’ fig that stands aside the stairs to my vegetable garden.
I first pruned off all the branches that were growing too tall. I cut off some dead wood and then I worked on the arch I’ve been directing over the stairs.
I started the arch several years ago. It is slowly taking on the shape I want – one that will eventually allow me to reach up and pick figs as I walk down the stairs!
My post-pruned fig doesn’t look beautiful now, but when the new leaves come out in the spring, my tree will be gorgeous!
In a future blog I’ll explain how to prune to control the direction of branches. But before it gets dark, I have to head out to the garden and finish one more task.
Rather than composting the branches I pruned off my figs, I’ll cut them into 8″ long lengths and pot them up. With a protective cover (i.e. a loosely tented clear plastic bag), they’ll root over the winter.
By next spring, I’ll have baby trees to share with my fig loving friends!