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The Power of Pruning...for plants and for us

Updated: Feb 28, 2023

The spring peeper frogs (Pseudacris crucifer) are awakening now. On my morning walks in the woods I find them by their breeding calls. They will only mate when the temperatures begin to rise so I take my cue from them and hurry to finish my garden work that is best done during winter.

There is only a small window in the year to safely prune most trees and I always feel a rush to finish it before spring.

I have been meaning to move a shrub that has grown to close to the driveway. It is a tea camellia ( Camellia sinensis) from which black and green tea leaves are harvested.

I cut off the lower branches that prevent me from seeing where the root ball begin and rake back the leaves that have been mulching it for years.

The soil is softer in winter, another reason to move plants then. This camellia It is surprisingly easy to uproot and gives me a wonderful full body workout. Don’t be afraid to pry it away from the soil by severing any stubborn roots. It always feels good when it comes free at last.

I gather woody compost from my pile to mix with the native soil where the shrub was planted. Camellias love the acidity of a woody soil so I give it a temporary home in a large pot with this soil mix at the bottom. I carefully cover the roots with the native soil from the original hole. I don’t yet know where I want to replant it so it will fine here for another few weeks if kept watered to lower transplant shock. I gather the trimmed branches and add them to my large compost pile, covering them carefully for faster decomposition, and then spend some time getting more of a workout by aerating the pile from the top.

Winter is also the best time to prune a vine or tree. My muscadine grapevine needs an especially hard pruning to stay productive. I grab large handfuls of the errant tenacious tendrils and quickly sheer off the main unruly growth. I then go back and carefully trim each of the fruiting spurs so they are of the look and size of an open hand holding a cluster of grapes . Muscadines grow best when they are trained to one central trunk 5ft high and then two branching arms out 10 feet on either side. The spurs pop up and down these arms about every 10 inches, allowing for maximum sun exposure. I also trim off my branches attempting to grow directly off of the trunk. The vine feels so much calmer now, which is the goal of pruning.

If these living things can not only survive a strong pruning and uprooting, then I can too. And if they can even thrive because of it, then perhaps any pruning seasons in my life will yield a greater harvest I cannot yet see. When I prune my plants, I embody these realities in a way that seems to integrate them in my mind, body, and spirit and I come away with a calm I didn’t feel before. I see with my eyes the chaotic “before”. I hear the cutting of the clippers, I see the wounds, I gather the debris, and carry it to compost. I witness the calming effect on the whole plant. I can observe how its debris is composted & transformed into even more life by unseen forces at work beneath my feet. This life- decay- renewal process speaks of abundance and counters the scarcity mindset to which I often default.

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