Western Morning News

Pruning and planting in the winter mud

- PHILIP BOWERN philip.bowern@reachplc.com

THE orchard in winter is treacherou­s place... treacherou­s underfoot, that is, as the few uncollecte­d windfalls that have not been eaten by the birds mix with the mud, making the sloping surface so slippery it would challenge Torvill and Dean’s abilities to remain upright.

Winter, though, is the time to get out and get some pruning done, when the trees are skeletal and it is easier to see what can safely be taken away to improve the crop for the summer and autumn ahead.

My pruning expertise is limited, so

I take things pretty gently with the apple trees. Branches that are too low dip even closer to the ground when heavy with fruit and make it hard to get through with the mower, so they come off.

Crossing branches and wood that is clearly dead can also be removed. Beyond that, when it comes to the apples, I usually leave well alone.

But there are other, far less precious or productive bushes and trees that need a rather more aggressive approach, and on the last day of sunshine before the weather turned wet again this week my wife and I set to work with loppers, saw and slasher to bring back a bit of order to the wilder ends of our modest patch of ground.

Not too much, order, though. My excuse for untidy gardening is that it encourages the wildlife. We have enough space where we can cut the grass short, put out the tables and chairs and make the best of any sunny weather we get later in the year. Other areas can be left a bit more ragged around the edges to help support the insects, bats, birds and goodness knows what else that comes visiting and occasional­ly, settling through the year.

There are plants that make themselves known all through the year and, right now, a type of fern called, I believe, hart’s tongue is just about the dominant greenery underfoot on our patch.

While the bracken dies back to a pale brown and, when the rain stops, goes crisp and crackly, the hart’s tongue stays green all year. It thrives in the shady places under the trees and on the poor soil on stony banks, too.

After a good day’s work, it is possible to stand at one end of the orchard and see right the way through, unimpeded to the hedge elms that divide our place from the field next door. But no sooner has one job finished than another presents itself. With the leaves off the trees, gaps are becoming all too apparent in the hedge.

The quick remedy is to cut off some willow from up nearer to the house and stick it in to the gaps, where it quickly takes root – always taking care to avoid slipping over.

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