My part-time job as horticulturist for Stoneridge Resort in Blanchard, Idaho requires a wide variety of skills. I recently took on the remedial pruning of two very large, neglected crabapple trees. Way back in 1989 or 1990 I had pruned these trees, but no one, it seems, had applied a pruning tool to their vigorous growth since then.
I have always loved pruning, and when much younger I made a decent living working in the commercial fruit orchards of north central Washington. I had learned a bit about tree pruning before moving to the Okanagan Valley, but my employer and teacher there, Oscar Thornton, instilled in me an ongoing and evolving understanding of and respect for fruit trees, their growth habits and the rewards of proper maintenance.
During my few years in the orchards I pruned many hundreds of standard size apples, some pears and soft fruit and semi-dwarf and dwarf trees. After moving to Idaho in the late 70’s I pruned seasonally here also, finding a surprising number of small home orchards that needed an experienced pruner.
So despite my present age (62 years young), I was eager to take these crabapple trees from an unhealthy neglect to proper form. This is what I started with:
I’ve always preferred climbing instead of ladder work, and on this terrain, climbing is the only way to go. But first I had to do quite a bit of major saw work, with both chain saw and Power Pruner (chain saw head on extendable pole).
When I got up into these trees with loppers and hand saw I recalled the great joy I used to take in pruning. The vigorous exercise and practiced skills result in a healthier, better looking tree. And the views from up in the tree are beautiful!
Tree pruning is excellent for mental sharpness also; literally hundreds of decisions are made for each tree based on experience, site-specific conditions and individual plant characteristics. The eye moves from the present cut to the next decision in rapid succession so the body can move without delay to the next cut.
Though this tree is still relatively young (for the Malus species), I was concerned about removing too much wood at one time – my full size pickup with racks was overflowing with prunings. So I’ve left a fair amount of detail pruning for late winter or early spring, but the tree is looking much better: