It’s a testament to the hardiness of peach trees that mine is covered in pink blossoms. Between high wind gales, sporadic snow and sleet, and chilly nights, there shouldn’t be anything left on that tree but frost-nipped branches. And yet, three days of semi-warmth and those blossoms burst open like firecrackers. Staring at them reminds me I never got around to pruning that tree last fall. Now it looks like a teenager with pink-dyed, badly overgrown hair in need of a trim. Fortunately, I know just the man to do it. More fortunately, he lives next door.
He’s a retired arborist who likes taking care of trees in the neighborhood. He sought and gained grateful permission to resurrect a faltering maple tree in our front yard. Other improved trees along the street reflect the willingly shared expertise of this kind, soft-spoken friend to all.
The greatest evidence of his skill grows in his own front yard. As last year’s high winds snaked down our street, they paused long enough to rip a third of his globe willow from its trunk, leaving the clump of branches lying on the ground, connected only by a swath of bark. The void created in the tree’s previously rounded crown was heart breaking. The next morning, I asked if he wanted to load his clump onto our trailer with our own lost limbs. No, thanks, he told me.
Later that day, I looked out and saw the clump of branches stuck back on the tree. Shocked, I walked over. He had bored holes through the trunk, found help to lift the large third of the tree back into place, then secured it with huge bolts. He wrapped webbing in several directions around it to secure the broken third back to the trunk. The entire operation looked surgical in its care and neatness. Still, I wondered how on earth a branch that had been lying on the ground, attached only by some bark, could be reborn. Well, it can. The leaves of the “broken” section began forming this spring along with the rest of the tree’s branches. I’m once again in awe of our local “tree whisperer.” Which is what brings me to his porch. When he opens his door, I blurt out, “Can you please help me prune my peach tree. Again?”
He gently smiles, gathers up his equipment and joins me in my backyard to study the tree. He talks as he works, quietly explaining the reasoning behind each cut he makes: Prune to balance the tree so no side carries more weight than another. No branches should grow into each other. Keep the branches low enough to be able to reach the peaches. Don’t overcut. Don’t undercut. Consider the weight you’re asking each branch to bear when it’s full of fruit.
Smaller branches can be pruned any month of the year, but larger pruning must be done in the right season. This year’s fruit comes off of last year’s growth so plan your cuts. The one in charge of how much fruit will come and when it will come is the tree — not you. So be patient.
Let enough sunlight into the tree so all the branches are sufficiently lit. If you leave too many branches, then all of them suffer.
The right equipment is essential. His well-maintained hand pruners slice branches away with surgical precision, putting to shame the gnawed results of my semi-useless pruners. My kitchen step stool was politely replaced by his 6-foot aluminum ladder — easier to carry, significantly increases his reach, and the pruning session ends when the limbs are properly cut away, not when someone falls.
Life lessons seep into this pruning session: balance is essential, keep burdens reasonable, all things happen in their proper seasons, plan ahead, be patient, let the light in, use the right equipment. Pruning isn’t so much about knowing what to remove as it is knowing what to leave. And “seasoned” people still know more than the rest of us — if we’ll just listen.
He finishes and folds up his ladder. I’m more grateful than I can say. As this modest mentor turns to walk back home, I tell him, “Thank you so much.” Over his shoulder, I hear a quiet, “You’re welcome.”
He’s a people whisperer too.