A Cut Above

img_3548We had another couple days of unusually warm weather for winter, up in the 50s, earlier this week. Since I was home on Monday and it wasn’t raining (like it was going to the next day), I decided it was time to do this winter’s dormant pruning. I used to wait until my husband was available so he could use his reciprocating saw to cut through any branches that were too thick for my bypass loppers. Now I use this nice QuickSaw and can do all the pruning myself. This is one of the tools I got when I won the Corona Tools Fathers Day Giveaway several years ago.

Pruning Lilac

BEFORE Pruning Lilac - 2/6/17

AFTER Pruning Lilac – 2/6/17

AFTER Pruning Lilac - 2/6/17

BEFORE Pruning Lilac – 2/6/17






Above are the before and after pictures of the lilac I pruned. This lilac has come along very well since I got it years ago from my friend April when her family was moving from one home to another. It was small and had grown a little crooked, so it was a good fit for this corner of my cottage garden bed. In fact, it was exactly what my garden plan called for! (I’d adapted it from one of the garden plans then on the Better Homes & Gardens website.)

After the lilac blooms, the spent flowers should be cut off. - 4/27/16

After the lilac blooms, the spent flowers should be cut off. – 4/27/16

From the beginning, I did a good job of pruning the spent blooms away after it had bloomed. That is the proper time to prune all spring blooming shrubs to avoid accidentally removing the next year’s blooms. However, it was not until I was taking Master Gardener classes that I learned I was pruning the trunks wrong–I had been trying to keep the thicker trunks in the middle. I learned that lilac is a multi-stemmed shrub, not a tree, and that the thickest and oldest trunks were the ones I should remove to keep the plant renewed and happy. Little by little I’ve done that every year since then. Granted, this is not the best time of year to be pruning the lilac; but without all the foliage on it, I could better see what remained to be done. I removed the last three thick trunks that were left. You could watch a good explanation and demonstration of what I’ve been doing here: How to Prune a Lilac Bush.

Finally my lilac is in much better shape and condition although I wish I’d been able to get closer to the ground with many of those cuts. (See the mushrooms–turkey tail mushrooms I think–growing on one of its stumps in the picture below.) From now on I plan to keep up with renewal pruning every year after it blooms.

Mushrooms are now growing on one of the stumps left from a previous year's pruning.

Mushrooms are now growing on one of the stumps left from a previous year’s pruning.

The area under that lilac, by the way, is where I intend to put my A Midsummer Night’s Dream themed miniature garden. (As you may already know, I’m a huge Shakespeare fan, so I HAD to pick that theme for my own fairy garden!) Over the last couple years I began clearing away the older plants down there, and I planted some miniature hostas and moss in there. I’ve already collected several lovely treasures for this special corner, and hopefully this will be the year I finally arrange them and set up this fairy garden.

Pruning Mock Orange

BEFORE pruning mock orange shrubs - 2/6/17

BEFORE pruning mock orange shrubs – 2/6/17

AFTER pruning mock orange shrubs - 2/6/17

AFTER pruning mock orange shrubs – 2/6/17







I have not done a good job of pruning the mock orange every year after it flowered. The truth is, I was never very thrilled by this shrub even though it, too, was recommended by the cottage garden plan I originally used for this bed. I even tried planting a reflowering mock orange in front of it, hoping I’d find it more appealing. It wasn’t. It did not flower any more or any better than the older shrub behind it. Now that I have a nice asparagus bed to the right of it, I want to remove that larger shrub  (maybe both shrubs) so the asparagus could get a little more afternoon sun. Therefore, I pruned it back a lot, more than I usually would, so that it would be easier to dig it up this spring. If anyone wants a mock orange, come and get it! The first one to come and dig it up can keep it. Seriously! I might even be willing to give the smaller one away, too, if there’s a call for it.

Pruning Apple Trees

Figuring out how to take care of my organic fruit trees has not been easy, and I do not consider myself an expert–especially when it comes to pruning. These four apple trees are indeed my babies because I grafted them myself at a Midwest Fruit Explorers grafting workshop seven years ago. (Actually, I had a lot of help from older members–and that may explain why all my subsequent attempts at grafting have not done so well. Anyway, that’s a story for another post.) I grafted four apple trees, and three of the grafts took. I planted all four of the trees and then tried to fix that fourth tree a couple years later with a cleft graft, but that didn’t take either. I was, however, successful three years ago when I did regular whip grafts on several branches of the trees with scions of several different varieties. I call that my Frankenapple tree now.  (I’m going to have to do that again with the tree whose trunk snapped below the graft this last year.) Here is what those trees look like now.

I ended up not pruning them now after all.  I’ve decided to wait until closer to the next grafting workshop. Then I could use the trimmings for grafting practice. I might even use any suckers that I could pull up with some root attached as free rootstock for grafting new trees.

Oh, and there’s still the little pear tree by the side fence! It actually fell over last summer because it had so much fruit on it. (It was staked and tied up, but it broke its ties.) I plan to move it this year because I’ve decided I don’t trust the neighbor’s lawn care service. Why should I put all this effort into growing organic pears only to have my tree absorb whatever fertilizers and pesticides the neighbor is putting on his lawn? I should probably prune that tree a bit, too, before I attempt moving it this spring.

Pear Tree - to be moved

Pear Tree – to be moved

Those trimmings would also be useful when comes time to try grafting again next month. What I really should be working on is cleaning of the work table and potting bench in my utility room so I could get started on seed starting. Hopefully my little box of grafting supplies would turn up!


About A Well Watered Garden

Rea is my last name, and Chez Rea is what we call our home and family. That’s French for the Rea House, and it rhymes. Say “shay ray” and you’re pronouncing it right.
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