As a long-time teacher of permaculture, I've learned the important thing is usually not so much what you teach but what you leave out.
People learn much better if you just tell them what they really need to know and leave everything else - however fascinating it may be - firmly on a back burner.
That is exactly what Chloe Ward has done in this booklet and I can't recommend it too highly. For most of us, unless we're fortunate enough to have a real live teacher at our elbow, learning to prune fruit trees is confusing. We stand there, secateurs in hand, book in the other, tree before us. We tremble at the thought of actually cutting a piece out of the magnificent living thing in front of us, especially as it bears very little resemblence to the trees depicted in the book.
The best alternative to that live teacher is Chloe's booklet and an armchair. It's divided into three Steps: Reading your tree, Understanding tree growth and Pruning your tree. Right at the start she says, "Please - resist the temptation to flick through to the most relevant looking diagram. Put down your pruning tools, make a cup of tea and read steps one and two carefully. ... It is worth learning how an apple tree grows before deciding which bits to cut off." Sound advice!
Your tree still may not look exactly like the pictures in the book but you will understand what you're looking at and you'll have an idea of the pruning options open to you and just what you can achieve by each of them. The booklet covers formative pruning of young trees, maintenance pruning of productive trees and restorative pruning of moribund trees. Both open grown and wall-trained trees are covered and the information is as relevant to pear trees as it is to apples.
There's information on tools and cutting techniques. If I have one criticism it's a minor one, that the position to make your final cut when removing a branch is not shown in enough detail, though that for small twigs is. Apart from that I can't fault it.
This booklet will be a godsend to everyone from the complete beginner to those of us who have been pruning for a few years but are sometimes not quite sure if we're doing the right thing.
Patrick Whitefield is a permaculture teacher and author. His latest book, How to Read the Landscape is out in December.
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