My First Orchard; Winter Pruning

LM tree sketch 1 smMY FIRST ORCHARD: Winter Pruning

Regardless of the weather, I try to spend time outdoors first thing in the morning while I drink my coffee and sit for a bit in the orchard with my dog, Hurricane. Over the past 20 years I have planted about 25 fruit trees and assorted berrying bushes, vines and flowers in my suburban front yard orchard.

It’s very quiet and still in the orchard as the snow absorbs the morning sounds. This is typical of the winter orchard, but seasons are about to change and I’m getting anxious to get it in shape for spring.

Pruning tops my to-do list. As I have been surveying the trees during the winter, without leaves their shapes are very visible and some are odder than I’d like. This is the consequence of my being the master pruner and having learned to prune on these trees. Needless to say, some of my cuts have created an unusual branching structure.

LM orchard sm 4

I remind myself to take my yearly look at The Apple Grower: A Guide for the Organic Orchardist by Michael Phillips for advice as I begin again to shape my new trees for the growing season ahead.

I have begun to tackle one tree each morning. I have finished with the grapes and currents, the persimmon and pear trees and have begun to tackle the apple trees. Only the almonds and peaches are left now to prune.

LM winter orchard sm 1

I’ve stored my tools in a metal can in the orchard, making them accessible and ready to use when I have a free moment. (Clippers, a small saw, a rag and a bottle of alcohol for cleaning my tools between cuts.)

This afternoon a gifted botanist stopped by to help me tackle a few of the more daunting branch structures. We look to make the fewest cuts for the best shape, the healthiest tree and the most fruit. His vision helped bring my pears into shape, and I thank him for this guidance.

Soon my assemblage of trees: pears, apples, persimmons, peaches and almonds will look so much sturdier and well balanced. While pruning I ask myself these questions: Can light penetrate the tree? Is their branching appropriate? Are they far enough off the ground to protect them from disease and provide ease of access? As I go forward I attend to each tree with attention but also with a bit of haste because ready or not spring will soon be here, the buds will be bursting out all over and then pruning will be over for the season.

LM winter orchard sm 2
I must admit, I seriously love my fruit trees. I am inspired and have the good fortune to be reading Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture by J. Russell Smith. Though published in 1950, this book still commands a huge amount of respect among orchardist and permaculturists. As J. R. Smith wrote: “The man who loves trees finds that this group of friends (trees) stays with him, getting better, bigger, and more lovable as his years and their years increase.” I know what he means and it is part of what inspires me to get out and take care of my trees each spring by pruning them for the season ahead.

3 comments on “My First Orchard; Winter Pruning

  1. Carol Avery

    I too have been pruning my fruit tress which were planted by my parents in the 1970’s; apples, pears, peach, mulberry, black walnuts, crab apples, chestnut to name a few. These are older trees and I have to be careful. Pruning now is the best time while you can still see the trees shape and most of the sap is still in the root system. The nut trees are big and strong but the dwarf fruit trees are fragile. My parents made the mistake of planting dwarf fruit trees which only last about 25 years. The birds love our fruiting trees as do the wood chucks and chipmunks! We have often been told that fruiting tress are messy (like our black cherry trees), but these fruiting trees are not only for us but for the animals whom we so love.


  2. Linda

    Dear Leigh,
    I do not have trees or land right now but your insight and wisdom makes we want to go up to any tree and hug it.
    Thank you,


  3. Rosalee

    Thanks so much . . I was so happy to see the “mapping” picture and just to read your words.
    You are one terrific gal.


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