Every year about this time, when the fruit trees are coming out of hibernation aka “breaking dormancy”, I dust off my pruning shears, bow saw and loppers in prep for pruning. The logic goes that fruit trees, particularly apples and pears, should be pruned in late winter, before they start waking up, leafing out and flowering, but after severe cold temperatures have passed.
Two years ago in late March, I had the privilege of accompanying my friend and apple tree expert Joe Horak on a tour of his expansive orchard to prune some apple trees and collect “scions” for grafting some of his rare apple varieties onto my apple trees at home.
Pruning is satisfying, because its one of the first spring chores you can do, even when the ground is still frozen and “un-diggable”. The goal of annual pruning is to shape your trees into ones that will be beautiful and productive. It’s hard to learn how to prune from a book or set of instructions, since its such a visual process, but its a good place to start.
If you don’t have an old timer willing to take you under their wing, YouTube is a great resource, as you can watch a professional while they prune and explain the process. Here is one such helpful video on pruning young (less than 5 years old) apple trees.
The best part about assisting Joe was that I could ask questions about the process that always pop up when I’m reading about or in the act of pruning solo. The other benefit was being able to see a mature orchard several decades old that had been maintained by him, and I could finally visualize the results behind the logic of pruning all in one place.
Joe loved his trees like a father loves his kids, and he was like a modern day Johnny Appleseed, collecting varieties he liked, (sometimes digging abandoned apple trees out of the woods with a backhoe) and transplanting them to his farm where they were lovingly tended. Joe passed away on August 4th 2013 at the age of 82 and his orchard remains as a testament to lifetime of work and skill. I regret not having spent more time learning from him, as there is so much to learn!