Hello, and who ARE you? (Besides you, of course, Mom.)
The pepper tree lives. And grows, rapidly.
The last time I wrote, I vowed to curb my over-pruning tendencies and put away my pruning shears for one whole year. Well, of course, I didn’t. Lucky for me, it seems that the tree will need more frequent pruning to keep it in check and well-behaved.
So I have broken down and taken the shears to the tree TWICE since last I posted in late April. The first time, it was due to a seeming need to choose a leader. . . .
[At this point, I think it’s important to point out that this is all an experiment for me. For once, nerdy academic that I am, I’ve not memorized the manual before attempting something new. In fact, at best, I’ve skimmed the manual.]
In my LIGHT manual skimming, one thing that stuck was that if you want height, it’s important for a tree to have one clearly dominant vertical trunk (aka The Leader). Vertical shoots produce a growth hormone and, if there is more than one, they dampen each others’ growth. Cut off competitors and the leader will grow more strongly. So I decided that I wanted my tree to grow taller faster and took out the competitor.
That said, it’s hard to objectively say if I truly ‘needed’ to choose a leader as I am pruning intuitively–and how seriously can we take the intuition without experience? I guess that’s a question I’m trying to answer. The assumption being that intuition guided by experience produces the best outcome.
But choose a leader, I did.
Here are the ‘before’ pics. You should be able to see that there are two vertical shoots.
The candidate on the left is actually just a branch off the original trunk, but, as you can see, it’s growing more vertically than the original leader. It would be possible to train the original back to a more vertical shape or to let the slight bend add to the tree’s character. However, I still wanted the tree to develop more height and was concerned that the original leader was growing in such a bowed manner that it might jeopardize the long-term viability of the tree. So I went with the shoot on the right. See ‘after’ below.
The pepper tree has responded well with rapid growth. I ended up staking it to train it vertically anyway as the asymmetrically selected branches gained weight and were pulling the top of the tree to the right. [Beware of just poking a stake in next to a tree–you can knock roots off.]
With all the new growth, as you can see from the picture above, the lower branches on the right were growing directly into the stair railing. Not going to work in the long run. So I cut them (and the lower branch on the left) back to a third of their length. I’m keeping them around for some extra leaves, ie nutrition, while the tree grows to the desired height and seems to have enough leaves on the upper, developing branches to sustain it.
Another tidbit that I’ve gleaned about pruning–the branches stay at the height from the ground that they start at. All vertical growth in a tree comes from the leader, not from the base. Important to keep in mind when imagining the tree’s potential future shape.
If my pepper tree doesn’t make it through all this experimentation, my next pick is a New Zealand tea tree. So delicate and gorgeous up close and so suited to our climate. . . more on tea trees another time. It has occurred to me that, on an unconscious level, I’m actually in the process of slowly murdering my pepper tree so that I can replace it with a tea tree. Time will tell. . . .
Now, if only pruning brains was as seemingly straightforward as pruning trees. With trees, one can kind of know what effect on the whole a cut to one branch is going to make. And the branches are so accessible and few, and pruning shears are more easily wielded than words.
Until next time.