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Last week I went back into the garden I volunteer with for the first time in months.

It was time to do some maintenance, and pruning the fruit trees with Philadelphia Orchard Project (POP).

I’m very happy to get back into gardening (more in a few weeks as it warms up). It’s meditative, and I was thinking about you can draw parallels to pruning the trees and pruning in how you live your own life.

When pruning trees, first determine the structure of the tree and what you want to encourage. In the photo on this post, the tree we pruned (the little one in the foreground of the photo) has a vase shape, or an open-center, that we want to encourage. Take out the center so it can be more open.

Cut away anything dead or diseased – it’s not going to help anyway, and dead wood is attractive for pests and disease to enter the tree.

Cut away branches that cross or crowd. (There were “three C’s” in pruning, but I can’t quite remember what they are … I think one might be…)

Remove competition: if a branch has one over it that will end up shading it, cut one away. Last week we “cut to weakness” meaning we’d pick the one with more potential. In the metaphor for life benefiting from pruning, I don’t know that this one would apply.

Make some “tipping” cuts. Encourage growth horizontally by cutting off bits that are going more vertical. Encourage “away” direction.

However, you only want to remove a maximum of 30% of the tree when doing all of this cutting. Cut away too much, and the tree is putting all its energy into vegetative growth to recover. After the initial “is this okay?” while cutting, it was very satisfying to get the tree into a better state for the growing season and we would get to 30% fairly quickly.

Besides cutting, I found “tree spreaders” to be interesting and we used a couple on various trees. Pruning is about encouraging the tree to go in the direction and shape you want to encourage, so putting a spacer of sorts between branches can push them apart enough to encourage them to grow away. But if you don’t take these out eventually, the tree will grow over them!

When we pruned the harvest almond trees, we could take branches home and put them in water and the buds blossomed:

almond blossoms

In this, there was beauty in what we’d cut away.

POP has a pruning guide if you are curious to learn more about pruning 🙂

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