Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Leaning Trees

For me, the last chore of each gardening year begins with an impossible puzzle. After much swearing, I head out to do battle with a new blade in hand.

This is the first horrifying sight I encountered this year. Suckers from its rootstock have completely engulfed this poor little apricot tree. This is purely from neglect on my part. I should never have let things go this far. I do have a good excuse, though: ants. Each time I tried to get close enough to the tree to pull the suckers off, my legs were swarmed by wicked biting ants. I finally just gave up.

This is my poor little tree after surgery. I had to actually saw into the burl to remove all the suckers. I doubt if it will live and I feel terrible about it.

Next, another apricot. Believe it or not, a few years ago, this was my best looking fruit tree. It was tall and had a nice top. It did have a tendency to lean, but I tied it up straight to a post and called it good.

Over the course of time, the tree began to lean even more. The more it leaned, the tighter I tied it. It just kept leaning anyway and eventually leaned the post over along with it. What I think I have here is a non-conformist tree. Whenever I look at it, I think of Hermie wanting to be a dentist. 

Next, it sprouted these crazy tentacles way down low on the opposite side.  A four headed hydra.  With trees, after many mistakes, I'm finally learning when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em.

It does have a sort of strange symmetry, doesn't it? I could have chosen to lop the top off right above the sprouts, but look at all the flower buds on top. I could have cut the sprouts off, but then the tree would still be leaning. In an orchard this tree would be culled out for being the rogue it is, but I'm choosing to leave it be and call it a fabulous one of a kind tree.

When I look around, there seems to be a whole lot of leaning going on around here.

I don't even know what to say here.

My first dog leg

I've read many text books on the correct way to prune trees. I know about things like central leaders, scaffold limbs, and crotch angles. What none of them tell you is that trees exercise a certain amount of free will. This was my first attempt at correcting the shape of an asymmetrical tree. My thought was just to lop the top off and start fresh. This was before I knew about the leaning. Well, the tree budded out directly South/West. So now instead of an ugly top, we have a ridiculous trunk. I banished the tree to a back corner and turned it so you can't see the kink.

This was my second attempt at correcting an ugly tree. Look at how perfect the top is with its "branches radiating around the trunk like spokes on a wheel and nice wide crotch angles".  Here's the problem:

Damn, another dog leg.

This time I attempted to outwit the tree by selecting a bud on the North side of the tree and making the cut right above it. I thought that as the new shoot leaned South, the trunk would straighten out on its own. The tree chose not to sprout right below the cut, but instead from several feet lower, on the South side, of course.

Plum tree before

Not all of the pruning was weird.

Plum tree after

The little plum tree just needed to be thinned out. This is going to be a nice tree someday.

Yellow Delicious apple before

Yellow Delicious apple after
Pretty straight forward. Just needed thinning out too.

Arkansas Black apple

This tree has been awesome right from the beginning. I've never pruned it at all.

20th Century Asian pear

Here's my newest tree. Any more, I just look for trees that aren't too small or too big with tops that look strong and ready to go. I won't be messing with this tree. It's not perfectly shaped, I know, but I'm much more accepting now of trees and their strange quirks.

Leaning pear

Young Catalpa in a straight jacket
This little tree began leaning almost immediately after it was planted. I suspect that eventually it will end up right about at the same angle as the oak in the background.

Here's a little volunteer Willow that sprouted up in the front garden. It's leaning so far over, it's practically flat.

On the other side of the gate is a Pomegranate. I didn't plant it and can't think of a worse place for such a giant shrub. Apparently the carpenters who nailed together the house had a hobby: seed spitting. It's leaning right into the arch.

And here, in the front garden, a quiet rebellion has been brewing for quite some time. The Japanese maple has been growing very tall and very wide, hogging up all the sun and causing its fellow garden citizens to seek light in any way they can. I think of the newspaper headlines when I see this and chuckle.

A smaller Japanese maple has become vine-like in its search for sun.

So has a shrub rose.

The big maple is also coming perilously close to the chimney. Something must be done, but what? Any gardener knows the correct answer.

Top that tree and limb it up a bit! A garden is more than just one plant.


  1. You have a lot of trees there. Come Spring they will look so much nicer without those suckers also. Nice job and I bet they'll be fine with all the pruning since you did it now.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

    1. Thanks Cher!
      I'll hope for the best.

  2. You have quite a n orchard going on there! I have a leaning plum; terrible, I know. But it almost died once from a borer or something so I was happy to have any tree left at all. Tho this year I will probably trim it up a bit. Glad to hear you could plant your peas; the birds seem to have arrived early and Im afraid they may have gotten some of mine....

    1. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one with leaning trees! If your peas all get eaten, I'll send you back some seeds next year.

  3. Hermie...dentist. Man, that coffee is hot coming out of my nose!

    1. Any day that starts with coffee spewing out of your nose is a good day for me, Sis.

  4. Yes, lots of leaning, the trees may be lying down, but you are certainly not doing all the pruning necessary. In this 'no leaf' period, you sure can see the tree's personality. Snow here last year completely engulfed a young peach tree and it bent all the way to the ground. Luckily it popped back up. Tenacious! Your trees will be spectacular in bloom!

    1. I can see you're not buying my excuses. I've made a resolution to be a better pruner this year and added two more trees. One to replace a plum that was broken in half last year by a heavy load of wet snow. Trees that are flexible pop right back up, like you said, and trees that are strong can hold the weight of the snow just fine. It's those in between ones, neither strong nor flexible that crack. Looks like you finally got your inside day! I don't know about you, but I'm in front of a blazing fire with a nice hot cup of tea right now.

  5. I could not help smiling while reading your post and your leaning trees. Enjoyed your tree tour.

    1. Thanks, Norma! It's always good to make someone smile.

  6. Wow you have so many edible fruit trees growing around your special eden. I understand the feeling that it is not easy to do work when there are a lot of biting ants around the plant you want to get close too...same with harvesting as well.

    1. The ants are pretty horrible... so are the mosquitoes and deer flies. I sure don't miss them in the Winter.

  7. A very strange case of the leanings going on there!

  8. The shape of Japanese maple tree is really funny,I think.but I personally feel the leaning branch is so zestful and elegant,I love it:)
    Correcting ugly trees or thinning out are SO hard job,aren't they? You must be tired. Great job!I have to thin out "Fine-tooth holly"and"Rose of sharon",too.
    By the way,I was very surprised to hear an ant bit you in the leg.I haven't been bitten by it before.but I have been stung by a polistes wasp in my garden before while putting flower pots in order.So, I'm afraid of wasps.

    1. Good to hear from you again, Kumittyi!
      I love that little tree too. I smile when I look up at it. Knowing when to cut a tree and when not is the hardest lesson. I still think I've yet to learn it well. I'm sorry you're afraid of wasps, but I do understand that feeling. When I was a small girl I was stung by a honey bee. I was afraid of them for years. But now that I spend so much time with them, I see they are really very gentle. So are the wasps in our garden. They only get angry when you disturb their nest - just like the ants. I'm sure your holly and rose of sharon will be beautiful!


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