Then I knew it was time to prune, and I felt faced with a daunting task. The first thought that came to mind was the medical principle: Do no harm.
I knew that I needed sharp tools so I got out my pruning shears and loppers. With the help of a little steel wool, a sharpening stone and a few drops of mineral oil, my pruning arsenal was ready for deployment.
After spending what seemed like hours reviewing each of my 10 fruit trees, I concluded that I had no idea what I was doing. Pruning was not going to be the easy task I had envisioned, and I was concerned about violating the “Do no harm” rule. Research was required.
Thanks to several books and the Internet, I developed a better understanding of pruning, starting with why it's necessary. Top three reasons: You prune to strengthen the branching structure;to control tree size for ease of harvesting; and to both promote and control fruit production. Lastly, at least to me, you prune for aesthetic appeal. I care less about how the tree looks and more about how much fruit it produces and how the fruit tastes.
After my research, I was able to formulate a general pruning approach. By general, I mean that fruit-tree pruning is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. Different trees have different needs.
Start by removing any dead, damaged or diseased branches. Dead wood will be dark or brittle, often with the bark falling away. Diseased wood is often a different color than the other branches. You can, and should, prune dead, damaged and diseased wood at any time of year. Whenremoving diseased wood, be sure to clean your toolsafterward so you not spread disease to other trees. Use a solution of 10 percent bleach and 90 percent water.
Next, remove any suckers, the branches growing from the base of the tree. Then cut off any water sprouts, thin branches that usually grow straight up. They will never bear fruit, and they just sap energy from the plant. Removing them early in the pruning process will help you see the structure of your tree and make it easier to see where further cuts are needed.
Prune out downward-facing branches as they will be shaded and won't be productive. Remove any branches that cross or rub against larger branches. Over time, the sustained rubbing would damage both branches.Each branch that remains should create an angle of at least 45 degrees.
Now focus on thinning interior branches so that sunlight can reach all the fruit. Light penetration is essential for flower-bud development and for optimal fruit set, flavor and quality. Be ruthless. You can safely remove up toone-third of the branches. Cut off all spindly growth.
Although a mature tree may be growing in full sun, a dense canopy may not allow enough light to reach the interior. Thinning the canopy also enhances air flow through the tree, minimizing the risk of fungal diseases.
Last but not least, prune your fruit trees to the desired height. I don't want to get out a ladder every time I want an apple or peach, so about eight feet is the maximum height for me.
After you finish pruning, practice good sanitation and cleanup the area. Remove fallen leaves, mummified fruit remains, twigs and branches. I put everything except diseased wood in my compost pile. The diseased wood goes into the yard-waste bin.
I have covered what you should do. Now I'll mention acommon practice to avoid. Do not apply sealing compounds or dressing to pruning wounds. Research shows that these materials seal in moisture, which promotes rot. Leave the cuts open so they can dry and heal naturally.
Now it's time to sit back, relax and dream about sampling the year's first peach, apple or plum. You've earned it.
Pruning Workshop: Napa County Master Gardeners will host a workshop on “Fruit Tree Pruning” on Saturday, February 22, from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. (indoor lecture) and from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. (outdoor hands-on workshop). Lecture location is the University of California Cooperative Extension, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Napa. Outdoor location to be determined.Now is the best time to prune your fruit trees. Learn techniques to keep them healthy and productive. Please dress for outdoor weather. Online registration (credit card only) Mail in registration (cash or check only)
Napa County Master Gardeners welcome the public to visit their demonstration garden at Connolly Ranch on Thursdays, from 10:00 a.m. until noon, except the last Thursday of the month. Connolly Ranch is at 3141 Browns Valley Road at Thompson Avenue in Napa. Enter on Thompson Avenue.
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. Napa County Master Gardeners ( http://ucanr.org/ucmgnapa/) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions? Find us on Facebook under UC Master Gardeners of Napa County
Raw kale salads with lemon and olive oil or with peanut and ginger dressing are making appearances on restaurant menus. Baked kale chips are a hit with kids. And more cooks than ever before are looking to kale for their winter vitamins.
Kale is a member of the large Brassica oleracea species. Cousins include collards, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and broccoli. All are commonly referred to as cole crops, from the Latin word caulis, meaning stem or stalk.
Now is a great time to shop for kale seedlings at your local nursery or garden center. More varieties are being offered than ever before as interest and appreciation for this versatile vegetable grows.
Choices include Tuscan kale (also called lacinato, dinosaur kale or black palm) with its bumpy, black-green leaves; ‘Redbor,’ with its frilly purple-red leaves; and Siberian kale, with bright green, smooth leaves. All kales are rich sources of calcium, potassium and Vitamin C. History tells us that kales and wild cabbages have been foraged, cultivated and eaten throughout Europe for more than 3,000 years.
Tuscan kale adds a dramatic component to edible landscapes and is the preferred type for Italian cooking. Its leaves are up to ten inches long and two to three inches wide. As you harvest the leaves from the bottom, the plant gets taller and taller.
‘Redbor’ kale’s gorgeous magenta leaves make a stunning backdrop to orange winter calendulas. Try growing beautiful deep-pink flowering kales in front of a trellis of ‘Old Spice’ sweet peas.
If you prefer your vegetables to be green, consider Siberian kales, which are a little more like collards. ‘Winterbor’ is a deep frilled green and is both beautiful and useful in the kitchen.
Most kales are extremely winter hardy. While kales produce year round in our climate, the first light frost will bring out their sweetness as the leaf cells develop carbohydrates to buffer the plants from the cold. Harvest outer leaves from the bottom up; avoid picking the inner leaves which protect the growing point. Territorial Seed Company recommends washing and then cooling your kale harvest quickly. Keep refrigerated in a plastic bag to maintain freshness.
Kale thrives in well-dug, humus-rich soil with neutral to slightly acidic pH. Cold weather does slow the action of soil microbes, so you might need to add a complete organic fertilizer and some bone meal to your beds when you plant winter crops, just to give the microbes a boost. Always read fertilizer labels and apply as directed.
Vegetables in this family are occasionally subject to aphids. Immediately after planting, cover your crops or seed bed with Reemay or other row cover cloth to keep aphids from getting a hold. If you do discover aphids, you can usually control them with a hard spray of water. Winter crops are not typically as prone to aphid infestations as spring and summer crops are.
If you see little moths fluttering above your kale or other cole crops, look closely for cabbage looper, the larva stage of these moths. Loopers and other worms can eat your crops from the bottom up. Call the Master Gardener Help Desk (see below) for help in identifying and solving the problem.
Baby kale leaves can be harvested as soon as 25 days after planting, although cold temperatures can slow germination. Toss the baby leaves into fresh salads. Larger leaves can be steamed, braised, grilled, used as wrappers, stuffed, roasted and added to soups and stews. Harvested young, tender kale leaves can add color, texture and extra nutrients to winter meals. Seed can be sown successively throughout most of our mild winter.
My daughters taught me their favorite summer camp salad: Wash and dry the kale leaves. Remove the large central rib, then tear the leaves into bite-size pieces or shred. Squeeze fresh lemon juice onto the leaves, and rub the juice into the leaves with your hands until the leaves are wilted and soft. Finish with a drizzle of good olive oil and salt to taste. For other ideas for preparing kale, check www.epicurious.com. The site has 176 recipes for kale.
Open garden: Napa County Master Gardeners welcome the public to visit their demonstration garden at Connolly Ranch on Thursday mornings, from 10:30 a.m. until noon, except the last Thursday of the month. Connolly Ranch is at 3141 Browns Valley Road at Thompson Avenue in Napa. Enter on Thompson Avenue.
Workshop: Join Napa County Master Gardeners for a workshop on “Indoor Gardening” on Saturday, November 9, from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Transform a room into a vibrant living space with houseplants. Learn how to use color, texture and pattern for design and how to care for houseplants. The workshop will be held at the Senior Multi-Use Center, 2185 Elliott Drive, American Canyon. Online registration (credit card only) Mail in registration (cash or check).
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. Napa County Master Gardeners ( http://ucanr.org/ucmgnapa/) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions? Find us on Facebook under UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.