Tree Following February 2017: Malus Aforethought

Many thanks to  Squirrelbasket  for hosting this monthly meme  #Treefollowing

Remember my tree? Remember the photo of it I included in my initial tree-following post?

Well, though the photo was real, it was arguably unreal. It’s a matter of time and angle. Time because it was taken almost immediately after the end of the autumnal leaf drop when I had lots of crabs and no blackbirds. Angle because from where I took the photo, the tree looked quite balanced. So that bit was real. But, taken in mid-January and from a little way away in front, another photo reveals that the tree is a bit lop-sided and overcrowded, mainly because it was overshadowed by its much larger neighbour, a now-demised whitebeam. Indeed the whole tree seems to be leaning over, although it was perfectly vertical when planted.

As you can see, the growth is all to the right, over the car.
This photo shows the whitebeam, left of, and overwhelming the malus. It also shows another builders’ mistake in front of the house. That tall hedge and conifer went in 2015.

Timing the pruning is important. While the tree is dormant it’s easier to see the wood and it’s a lot lighter without all that greenery. And the remaining crabs are starting to look a bit manky. If pruning removes one or two, or five dozen, or five hundred, or the lot, it won’t hurt and will save me at least some of the daily grind of cleaning the chopped up fruits and blackbird poop off the car. I promised you poop, didn’t I? Well I’ve been fighting it since the first blackbird erected the “free lunch” sign! And why must the damned blackbirds always poop onto the door handle? You can see where the “hate” element of my relationship with this tree comes from. Before you ask, the car’s under the damned tree as that’s where it has to be. But that’s another story.

Anyway, timing the pruning …. The downside of winter pruning is that it tends to produce leafy growth at the expense of flowers. And a Malus is a flowering tree and I want flowers. If you want to promote flower growth you prune in the summer.

I couldn’t do much about that but I needed to open the growth out a bit.

They’re about £15 on Amazon. Just search for “Grumpy Gardener”

This job was too delicate for the power tools; even the extending lopper only made two cuts. Most of the work was done using anvil secateurs. No Niwaki secateurs were harmed during this operation so they’ll stay sharp to prune another day; anvils are much better for cutting wood, especially if they’re ratchet-assisted. Mine came from The Grumpy Gardener and have the added benefit of a pivoting knuckle guard. You won’t realise what a benefit a rotating knuckle guard is until you use one!

Having hung around (damn! no excuse for not doing the ironing though that’s why this post is a week late) whilst it rained day after day, a dry though frosty day finally saw me wrapping up warm and chopping away. To start with, a couple of over-long and thick branches got the lopper treatment; then a dozen over-long but not-so-thick branches got secateured. This bit was quick and easy as I’d spent some of the rainytime studying photos and marking where I was going to cut (pruning photos with a pen can help a lot as once you’re up a ladder your view of the tree is limited and if you cut the wrong bit off you can’t stick it back on again; before now I’ve made marks on a photo then duplicated those marks on the branches of a tree with chalk so I know where I want to cut).

Drastic cuts out of the way, it was time to nip away at the tangle of little twiggy growth. After four hours of this (with a lot of climbing up and down the ladder and standing back for a look (preferably once I’d climbed down the ladder), I’d filled two big green tip bags with little twigs anything between three inches and a foot long.

I looked at the bags and was pleased as I chucked the big branches into the back of the car. I missed! Then I stopped looking at the bags and, watching what I was doing, managed to actually chuck the big branches into the car. The big green tip bags were quite heavy (their cubic metre capacity had very little air around the mat of small twigs). And I was pleased that I’d removed so much overcrowded growth.

Then I looked at the tree.

And the bloody thing didn’t look any different!

But I did get a shot of my dull grey lichen. Not as pretty as The Cynical Gardener’s bright yellow though.

10 thoughts on “Tree Following February 2017: Malus Aforethought

  1. Oh I so know the feeling! All that work, all those branches and twigs and bags! And you stand back and the tree looks like you haven’t been near it with a pair of tweezers let alone anvil secateurs (which by the way I am ordering today!) Great post.

    1. Thanks for dropping in Jane. It was a bit frustrating to see little difference after hours of “work”. But looking down from upstairs windows, I can see the difference so have some consolation. Having had a haircut now, the tree’s due for a pedicure this month. Rachet-assisted anvil secateurs make a lot of difference when pruning brown stuff (woody branches). The rachet helps to get through thicker stuff too, which saves a lot of tool-swapping. Let me know how you get on with them.

    1. No contest! I hate ironing which, on the world scale of hated things, hovers around mothers-in-law and tooth extractions without anaesthetic. I hate it so much that I buy non-iron-needing clothes whenever I can and for things that need the iron I have enough to last a year or more. So ironing is confined to a “get-it-over-with” weekend around January/February each year. Thinning out a tree, on the other hand, can be satisfyingly delicate and gives you a sense of achieving something. Until you look at the tree afterwards. 🙂

    1. Whereas mine is just patterney. I did search hard for any that wasn’t grey.

  2. Ha! Well it is different and now it is done! You just reminded me of ratchet pruners, I used to have some and they were great. I wonder where I left them, or which compost bin they are in!

    1. I’ve often wondered why bypass secateurs usually have gaudy red/yellow/white handles so you notice them. But all my anvils are grey or pale blue. Is it, perhaps, that grey or blue will show up against the brown of the wood they are supposed to be used for?

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