Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
New England
January, 2001
Regional Report

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Pruning cherry trees in the snow is a good way to "garden" in winter.

Starting the Pruning Rounds

I know it's still midwinter, but during those few warm (40-50F) days we get this time of year, I'm itching to get outside and "do something." One gardening activity that I start now and hope to complete before the buds on trees and shrubs begin to swell is pruning.

Pruning Fruit Trees

With a good snow cover this year, it's actually easy to prune the semi-dwarf fruit trees in my yard. The 'Northstar' sour cherries grow to only 8 feet tall, so with a hand pruner I can walk around the tree on top of the snow removing dead, diseased, broken, and crossing branches. I particularly look for branches with a sappy golden ooze extruding from the bark. This is a sign of possible disease, and I remove and destroy those branches.

My plum and apple trees have good branch structure from my diligent pruning in their youth. So now I find myself just removing root suckers and water sprouts. Water sprouts are those one-year-old branches that grow straight up, usually near a previous pruning cut. Again, with a hand pruner I remove those branches. I try not to prune too much because the more I do, the more water sprouts grow up for me to prune next year.

Pruning the Top

Some of my plums are reaching 20 feet tall, and I like to keep them shorter for easier harvesting and care. I'll break out the pole pruner for this chore. Pole pruners have a blade at the end of a pole that can extend 20 feet. By using the pole pruner, I avoid the precarious act of balancing on a ladder while pruning. I try to cut main branches out of the top of the tree at a spot where a downward or horizontal side branch is growing. That way, the new growth won't grow vertical next year.

Cleaning Up

After pruning, I remove and destroy the branches I cut, saving some for forcing indoors. I don't paint or treat the pruning cuts with any material, since clean cuts made close to the branch will heal quickly on their own.

The berry bushes and woody shrubs are still snowbound, so I'll be out again next month to continue the pruning rounds once the snow subsides.

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