I'd also thought pruning would be on the task list by now but no. The cherries are the only fruit trees that are dropping their leaves. Plums, apples and pears are still fully clothed. The raspberries that I've grown are late fruiting Autumn Bliss - they started fruiting in August and are still providing the odd handful. In any case, I've read that autumn raspberry canes should be left until 'late winter' when they can be cut to the ground. What does that mean? Does late winter mean calendar December or, more likely, when truly cold and frosty weather is upon us? Do the canes drop their leaves so that I know for sure? Help! For me, late winter is the last cold month to get through before temperatures start to rise, possibly late January/early February. Could anyone shed any light on this for me?
Pruning is a subject I knew very little about until recently. (I'm reviewing an excellent book with very good chapters on this subject, more very soon.) As luck would have it, last Sunday afternoon I was invited to join a fruit pruning workshop in a local community garden behind a block of council flats. Fruit trees planted there a couple of years back by the Carbon Army (BCTV volunteers) had never been pruned so the council had booked a mid-November tree pruning workshop for the tenants. Problem was, with weather still continuing to be mild (for this time of year), we weren't able to tackle much. The only bushes that were obviously ready were the gooseberry bushes which looked like bleached thorny twigs.
|Tom shows a workshop participant how to prune gooseberries.|
We wandered around looking hopefully at redcurrants, blackcurrants, peach trees and espaliered apple trees, all holding onto their autumn leaves, and were advised that it was best to put our secateurs away. Tom Moggach from City Leaf was our teacher for the workshop and, having explained about the best time to prune different fruit trees and bushes, the hows and whys of shaping an espaliered fruit tree and airborne fungal diseases, he then told us of the 3 D's of pruning (dead, dying, diseased, all should be pruned out) and demonstrated how to shape. We were let loose on the gooseberry bushes, pruning out any of the 3 D's and crossing stems, cutting back the strong leader stems by one-third (to an outward facing bud) and then trimming back any other stems to two buds (again, looking for a bud that would enhance the open basket shape of the bush). Tenants said that these gooseberry bushes had fruited well in the summer and were loathe to chop them back too much but Tom explained that this would promote healthy growth for next season, allowing air to circulate through the centre of the bush and so reducing the risk of any problems from pest or fungal infection. It was really satisfying to get hands on with the job and I think it all looked much tidier when we'd finished!
It was a very informative couple of hours but I'd really gone along to have a look at the gardening space (and available light) as one of the tenants has asked for a bit of help with growing vegetables next year. I have to say, I think she's doing a pretty good job by herself (wonderful nasturtiums, made into pesto for the winter picnic) but the trade-off was being able to see pruning in action. I'm much better off actually seeing something being done (and being able to ask questions, if needed, to confirm that I've got the idea). I've come away feeling that my book learning has been reinforced and, yes, have the confidence to know what I'm doing with my trees (once the leaves fall off!).