Growing a littler fruit tree.

Ann Ralph does make it seem easy. She is all about the backyard gardener being the one in control, managing the tree, and not letting it decide on its own how big to get.

If you didn’t have to climb a ladder to tend your fruit trees or pick the fruit, wouldn’t you find it simpler to keep up with the maintenance and to enjoy the harvest? Most of us don’t need bushels of fruit from one tree, so it’s good stewardship to reduce the quantity of fruit likely to go unused anyway.

I read her book in the fall, and wished I had known about it when we were choosing trees at the nursery two years ago, because you can make the most of this method if you start with a specimen that has a couple of lower-than-average limbs to begin with. Mine are not ideal that way, but I think I can still be the boss. I pruned my plum trees severely before Christmas; but at the summer solstice, according to her plan, they should get their second pruning. I did that a day late, this morning. It took me exactly 50 minutes – I know, because I had set my timer so I wouldn’t be late for an appointment.

I had reviewed the pertinent paragraphs right before I set to work, so as I walked around the tree and made some preliminary cuts, and circled around to the other side to look from that perspective, and on and on in that fashion, I had some  phrases lingering in my mind to guide me and give me confidence:

If you see something that cries to be corrected or pruned away, prune it. As always, prune out limbs that annoy you. Picture the height of the tree you have in mind. Don’t allow the tree to get taller. As Scenic Nursery’s Jim Rogers would remind us, “insist.”

Limbs that annoy me? Well, yes, I did find a few of those, that were angled down, or toward the center of the tree; maybe there were a couple that just seemed a little pushy in the wrong direction and not beautiful…. Must we analyze every annoyance?

I wish I had taken a Before picture. In this After picture you can see I hadn’t really finished, because the clippings are lying all over. But I have just hired someone to help me in the garden on a continuing basis — my heart is dancing for joy about it — and will let him do that part (as well as trim the wisteria vines which are coming into the picture from above, hoping to twist on down into the tree).

In the foreground below are yarrow, lavender, and hummingbird mint, favorites of the birds and bees. The picture is taken from a different angle on the same tree. Both of these pictures make me wonder if I shaped my trees enough… those gangly limbs… I trimmed them less because they had the nice curve and direction I am encouraging. They are small and not getting out of hand, so I thought they could wait until the main pruning in winter.

I’m feeling so relieved and restful about the garden now that I’ve engaged my Helper Gardener, cleaned the greenhouse, and pruned the plums. I can think about tackling a few other categories of projects and tasks on my to-do list. And also, sit down in the garden with a book, listening to the hum of contented pollinators.

a contributor to the hum, on the teucrium

9 thoughts on “Growing a littler fruit tree.

  1. It is very much easier to keep a tree small if you buy it on dwarfing rootstock. Otherwise you have to keep pruning and pruning. Which is much better with a Garden Helper! How nice for you to have found one:) I like that pruning advice about pruning out annoying branches. Personally, my mantra is – if it isn’t contributing to the beautiful shape of the tree, it has to go.

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  2. It is so wonderful that you have a help in the garden now! it would be a lot to keep up by yourself! I would think if you have more fruit that you can use, then it could be shared; all in balance right? I am so glad that you don’t have to do the garden alone! 🙂


    1. Even sharing the abundance of garden produce so often turns out to be a theoretical thing, when short of time and energy… to get out the ladder, gather the fruit, find the people who need it and/or can come and pick it themselves. It’s another good activity that doesn’t just happen. And if you have smaller fruit trees, you can sometimes fit in more varieties of them, if you want to have extras for sharing.


  3. When I originally learned to prune the focus factor was getting light to the center and making the tree happy with proper shaping. I’m a happy pruner now I prune rigorously all summer to keep Heather fluffy and shaped, figs nipped in the bud for more fruit less leaves and roses after bloom flushes. It satisfies my need to pick about and help God… Bless as you enjoy your garden and the pollinators.


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  4. Oh I have enjoyed this post. What a lovely little book. Attuned to the sentences: “…prune out limbs that annoy you. Picture the height of the tree you have in mind.” I did a little of that kind of pruning just a few days ago. A shrub branch had suddenly shot out in front of one of my peonies. It was annoying to see it spreading out past its allotted space in so ungainly a fashion. So, I clipped it back, just that one branch. It was at once much tidier again. I’m sure my peony felt happier not having that branch waving in front of her face.

    Wishing you a beautiful day…
    Brenda xox

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  5. My husband would love this method. He is a happy pruner of trees. I, on the other hand, can’t bear to see limbs cut off. I tell him so what if he bangs is head on it cutting the grass, just remember to duck! No fruit trees here but plenty of land to grow them, not sure we should start. Maybe one or two?

    Congratulations on getting some gardening help!

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  6. Hahaha – I love that word: “insist.” Well, I think you did a good job. At some point, one must just get on with it, right? I’m so glad you have a helper now.
    We’ve done this with our massive fig tree. It’s now no taller than me (mostly), and the birds won’t get the lion’s share of the fruit. The pear tree still has one very large and tall portion. Adam was to wack that out this year, but I think it looked daunting to him.

    Liked by 1 person

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