Book Review: “The Hands On Gardener – Pruning” by Smith and Hawken

I grabbed this out-of-print book from the library to brush up on pruning to prune the trees/plants during the winter dormant time.

I have been successful at pruning my fruit trees last winter that resulted in a wonderful crop of Fuji apples this summer. Thought I might learn a few more things from the book and I learned there is a science to pruning – not just caring for the direction of the shoots and inside opening that I knew. Overall, this makes a good reference book.

The “tip” bud (the highest bud on each shoot) produces two hormones: one encourages the shoot or grow vertically and the other prevents dormant buds below the tip bud from producing shoots that will compete with it. Wow, what an amazing communication mechanism within the tree.

Various types of flowering shoots:

  1. Terminal-flowering shoots (plants the grow only once on the current year’s growth, partially or fully leaved-out before flowering begin)
  2. Second-Year Flowering Shoots (current spring’s bloom comes on last year’s growth). They are constantly producing flowers farther and farther from their center. E.g. Peaches
  3. Summer Flowering Trees/Shrubs (plants that make new shoot growth in the spring to store up enough food for blooming in the summer through the fall).
  4. Spur-type Flowering: flowering at the same location. E.g. apple, plum, cherry and pear.

Tree Shapes:

  1. Decurrent and Excurrent Crowns: Decurrent trees are trees with wide, rounded corwns with may tip buds completing for the dominant position are called decurrent trees. Has more than one trunk. Excurrent trees maintain one trunk up through the entire height of the crown – have strong tip-bud dominance at the top of the central trunk.
  2. Primary and Secondary Scaffold Shapes: Standard Scaffold, central leader scaffold, open-center scaffold, delayed open-center scaffold.

When to prune:

  1. Spring pruning (or dormant or winter pruning): no leaves when stems are still dormant. Can stimulate new branches.
  2. Summer pruning: thinning the canopy (reduce the size after all the bloom from spring has died back).
  3. Winter pruning: most dangerous time to prune in cold climates. In moderate-winter climate like California, it’s common to complete all pruning by Thanksgiving.

Tools of the Craft: hand clippers, loppers, pole pruner, ladder, large handsaw, chainsaw, hedge clippers, sharpeners, wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses or screened goggles.

Method of pruning: pinching back, shearing, disbudding/rubbing, deadheading.
Anatomy of a proper cut: correct cuts next to the dormant buds, clip for direction, identify the branch collar, cut big branches in 3 steps, removing suckers.

Special measures to encourage growth: I’ve heard about this but it seems counter-intuitive. Notching (scarring) the bark below a bug on a fruit tree can turn a dormant bud into a flower bud. Ringing (removing a strip of bark from around the entire circumference of a branch – width of 1/4″ or less): a courageous measure used for branches that refuse to flower.

The rest of the book goes into detailed pruning techniques per chapter for specific type of plants like roses, perennials, vines, hedges, shrubs, and trees, fruit and nut trees, and espalier. I didn’t bother to read them as they get too specific for me.