Ann Wright: Observations from a creepy garden |

Ann Wright: Observations from a creepy garden


Oh, yes — it’s October and after emptying the rain gauge several times, a quick garden walk-about heralds a few frightening observations. It’s definitely time to do some much needed clean-up of fruit mummies, branches and debris. Santa Rosa plums, once dried carcasses in the garden pathway, are now moist, plump and in need of burial. The fierce wind of this past remarkable storm has flattened some of my dahlias, not to mention the downed limbs – everywhere. The hops have a lovely burnished color and there are several sungold cherry tomatoes in need of picking. The much-needed rain has provided a bit of renewal to the garden – even though it is time to start putting it to bed for the winter. The fruit trees in the garden are losing leaves, but are not completely bare as yet. One tree looks pretty creepy with scars from previous aphid or mite infestation. This tree will be sprayed later with horticultural oil – on a consistent basis. In the meantime, pruning will definitely be in the works over the course of the trees’ winter dormancy.

Pruning may be one of the more daunting tasks for home gardeners and may evoke confusion, and sometimes dread or fear. It can be difficult to visualize just what and where to cut. To help, join Master Gardeners of Nevada County today, and next Saturday, Nov. 6, for a two-part virtual workshop, “The Art and Science of Pruning Fruit Trees.” Both workshops are at 9 a.m. via Zoom. The link is on the home page of the website at The workshop will offer information about the tools to use for good pruning cuts, why we prune, when and how much to prune, and basic pruning cuts. Part 2 will offer information about what to do with brand-new trees, pruning young trees and how to prune over-grown trees. Both workshops will be recorded for later viewing; recordings will be available under “Workshop Recordings” on the NCMG website.

Here are some basic tips for pruning:

• Consider why the tree or plant needs pruning – what will be accomplished?

Pruning may be done to help control the size of the tree to make it easier to manage and pick fruit. Pruning also helps strengthen the limbs and enable sunlight to better penetrate the inner most branches. Pruning out dead and inter-mingled, crossed branches will help strengthen and shape the tree. Pruning also helps renew fruiting wood.

• Consider the type of tree and the desired shape to produce the best yield. Genetic dwarf trees usually grow eight to 10 feet tall. Full or standard type trees may grow 25 to 30 feet tall; semi-dwarf trees may grow 15 to 20 feet tall and can be kept shorter by training and pruning.

• Pruning and training techniques may help define the growth habit. For example, an open center system allows for a “vase” shaped tree where the center area is kept free of tall shoots and scaffold branches trained to grow upward and outward. Over time fruiting wood is developed in a more lateral than vertical pattern. Another pruning technique is the central leader system which involves maintaining a central shoot or trunk in the center of the growth pattern with lateral branches forming tiers or layers as they grow. Trees with central leaders resemble Christmas trees with layers of growth around a central trunk. Apples, pears, pecans and quince trees have dominant central leader growth patterns and may benefit from pruning techniques to promote the central leader system.

• Thinning cuts remove branches at the point of origin, and result in a reduction in the number of branches. Heading cuts remove portions of shoots or branches and leave only buds or tiny twigs which results in an increased number of growing branches. Avoid cutting into the branch collar (the point at which the branch joins the trunk of the tree or a lateral branch). Cuts into the collar may leave the area vulnerable to decay. Leave the cuts open to the air – do not apply paint, prune seal or other material to cuts, which may actually seal in moisture and disease.

• Keep pruning tools sharp. Dull blades may damage the wood which may promote disease. Thinning and heading cuts may be done with pruning shears or loppers. Cuts should be done at a 45-degree angle across the branch. Pruning saws should be used on larger branches.

As Master Gardeners of Nevada County wrap up the workshop series this year, we thank the community for supporting us at our “live” virtual workshops and at our Fall Plant sale. Next year, we hope to be back in person with workshops and other events. For now, we are still available on the radio from 10 a.m. to noon each Saturday morning on KNCO, 830 on the AM dial. Listeners can call or text questions to Master Gardeners on the show. We are also available via the website – click the “Got Questions” link.

Ann Wright is a Nevada County Master Gardener

Hops in the creepy garden are a burnished orange-gold after abundant rain.
Photo by Ann Wright

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