Pruning in Autumn
Some years by the end of February, I’m pleased to see summer pass by. During those years, the whirl of the holidays is replaced by an unrelenting heat and mosquito broken sleep. But this year I’m not quite ready to say goodbye to the lazy days of summer and nor is my garden. The expected dry has been broken by the perfect amount of rain spaced evenly through the season. I’ve barely brought out the garden hose and my lawn is still green - apart form the scorch marks still remaining from the New Year's garden party fire.
I know that autumn is on its way but I’m not yet ready pack up and move on. Still though, I know that at some point it’ll become time to clear up the summer’s growth.
This year my autumn job is pruning. Over the summer the garden has risen several meters further up the mountain. While I hesitate to prune back the trees that keep us up to date with Tui politics and other feathered affairs, I’m looking forward to opening up our views again. In New Zealand we are not good tree pruners. We tend to let them become too big and then they get the chop instead of a little bit off pruning every year. We plant trees for a reason; to frame views and screen our neighbours kitchen windows. Then when they get too large we curse them. I often meet with clients who have acquired a new garden and quickly removed a tree only to find that once it’s down they are then faced with an ugly view they’d not realised was hidden, or a strong wind they’d never noticed before. The problem is sometimes poor planning or random gardening, but more often than not it’s more about maintenance of trees from a young age to make sure they grow as intended.
Pruning trees should be done ideally in autumn so we get more winter sun, and they grow better for the summer to give us shelter from the deep summer’s heat. It is also less stressful on the plant as the temperatures cool, growth naturally slows and many trees are heading for a period of dormancy. Pruning should always start with removing any dead or diseased limbs that the tree will probably drop in winter storms anyway. Put aside now, they can be used for kindling later. Then you need to think about the desired shape of the tree. Sometimes the best approach is to open a tree to let light through the branches. This is normally the case when privacy or shelter is needed or with larger trees that have not been pruned prior and would look unusual if topped. Thinning out the branches is also good practise for fruit trees as they mature, to get light and sun into the centre of the tree and encourage fruiting.
The other approach is to remove the top and side growth and shape the tree. If doing this, decide if you want a formal effect, in which case you should prune it evenly all over. This will give you a solid form like a hedge. Alternatively if you want keep the tree loose and natural; prune the branches at slightly different lengths similar in shape to the natural form of the tree. As a rule taking up to a third out of a tree each season is not going to cause stress to a plant. You may sometimes need to take more if the job as been left undone for a few seasons, but in this case check the variety with an expert.
There’s plenty of good advice about pruning online, but the best advice I can offer is take some time once a year to keep trees healthy and doing the job they were to planted to do so you can enjoy them for years to come.