The Jiro persimmon tree is still sleeping but will wake soon with the warming temperatures, so I got out this morning to do some pruning. Pruning fruit trees allows air to move more freely through the branches and assists in shaping the architecture of the tree. The first objective helps prevent pathogens and insects from getting a secure hold, storms will blow those little buggers right out of the branches, and the second is to help make the fruit more accessible and the tree more attractive. Pruning also allows the tree to put more of its energy into making fruit instead of growing more wood on all those unnecessary limbs, thus maximizing the potential for finding at least one persimmon that the squirrels haven’t stolen.
Before: Our neighbor lost a large tree that was shading this one for its first few years, so during the last season the canopy grew like gangbusters, and each main branch appears to have sent smaller twigs out in all directions. There is a lot of random mess in the middle of the tree, and there are numerous crossing branches. There are many pruning guides out there, but the long and short of it is, cut out branches that are crowded, crossed, or are growing in a weird direction, particularly toward the main trunk. The center of the tree should be kept fairly “empty” to promote air movement.
Pruning creates wounds on the plant, just like cuts on your own extremities, and the damage has to be healed by the tree. Making a clean and small cut allows the plant to heal itself more quickly with less energy than would be required to repair a sloppy chop and allows the tree a better chance against any pests that may try to enter the wound. Cutting limbs right up against the next major branch allows that branch’s bark to move over the cut area in a a single season, sealing off the wound from the external environment. To minimize the damage when you are removing a larger-sized limb, a three step cutting technique can be employed.
The first cut (1) is an incomplete incision underneath the branch you want to remove, and is accomplished by holding your saw upside down with the teeth against the branch, drawing it through the bark and a bit of the wood underneath. This cut is not all the way through the branch. If the branch gets loose from your grip and falls before it is completely cut through, this scoring prevents the renegade limb from peeling off half your tree, exposing a great deal of it to potential predators and diseases. The second cut (2) is a bit away from the main trunk, is all the way through the branch, can be made from the top, bottom, or side, depending on which angle is easiest for you, and takes off the majority of the weight to make the last cut easier. The final cut (3) is right up against the next main stem without taking the bark off that larger branch or trunk.
After: Even the sky got happier on pruning day. There are still some superfluous branches up high in the canopy, but I am too short to reach them with the step stool I was using, and tall ladder work is a buddy-system activity. If I can enlist the aid of an assistant before the leaves break out, I’ll try to get it a little cleaner up there. If not, this bit of pruning should get the job done for this season, and there is a gorgeous root system down in the ground that was doing quite well last year with a lot more tree above ground, so there will be plenty of energy to get things up and running this year. I’ll spread a bit of compost around the ground a couple of feet out from the main trunk, and it will be off to the races.