Pruning Neglected Fruit Trees (and a Fiskars PowerGear2 Pruner Giveaway!)

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The past two months have been bitter-sweet. It’s been great having our farm dreams fulfilled, but at the same time, I’m sad to leave my established garden beds and berry plants behind. This was how I expressed it on my Facebook page a few weeks ago, when we broke ground for the very first time on our new garden space:

This feels kind of like a new marriage. I know my previous garden well, but our new farm feels like a new partner, and not just because the terrain is flat instead of hillside. New kind of soil (lots of sand and big rocks), new weeds (this was pasture previously), and completely different sun. Soon I’m sure we’ll both find our rhythm, but right now breaking ground feels like a very awkward first dance.

Our new farm has fantastic potential, but even though it’s an older farm as farms go around here, it’s like starting from scratch on many levels. Don’t get me wrong — this isn’t to fault the previous owners, who had different dreams than us for the property, and simply could no longer take care of the farm’s needs any longer due to their age.

Let’s start with the soil (because everything starts there, right?). Whereas my previous garden’s soil was a well-balanced clay-loam, this new ground is predominantly sand, devoid of hardly any organic matter or nutrients (with the exception of a high level of potassium), and acidic (a pH of 6). In case you don’t speak garden-ese, this means it is going to be a whole lot of WORK to bring it up to snuff.

And rocks! Not just little rocks, but huge slabs of sandstone that we had to bust up with a sledgehammer and remove.

So we hired a farming friend, who brought his big tractor out to till up the market garden for us (we have no plans on buying a tractor, as I’ve found that once my garden beds are established, I rarely need to break up the soil beyond a broadfork or power harrow).

Tractor

And before anyone berates me for plowing and tilling our field… yes, I am aware of the Back to Eden* film, and have myself advocated for minimal tillage to preserve soil structure and biology.

But I can tell you, this soil had as much structure as an hourglass of sand.

And the soil life? In the many hours I’ve spent digging, hauling out rocks, following the tractor, planting cover crops, etc, I’ve seen ONE earthworm. One. Oh, and a few grubs and spiders.

Did I mention this soil needed a lot of help?

Lots of compost is in order, but in the immediate term, a majority of the garden has been planted in summer cover crops, like cowpeas and buckwheat. The cowpeas will be flail mowed in a few months and incorporated into the soil, adding much-needed nitrogen in addition to organic matter. I’ve divided the garden into 10 blocks, each 50 ft wide with beds running 40 ft long. In any given season, no fewer than 50% of the beds will be in cover crop… always adding more to the soil than I take away. An added bonus of the block system? I know what will be growing in every block, every season, for the next 10 years (and thereafter, since the pattern will cycle)! More on that later.

The cowpea cover crop gets going...

The cowpea cover crop gets going…

*The asterisk above and those which follow denote affiliate links. Mother of a Hubbard is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

 

Restoring Native Habitats

As if the soil isn’t going to be a large enough job, a number of invasive plants have gotten a sizable toehold on the property — rambling plants like honeysuckle, multiflora rose, and (gasp!) kudzu. We’ve been cutting out as much as we can as time has allowed, but we’ve purchased some new partners to help us in that task… goats! Right now, our four Tennessee Fainting Goats are just toddlers and kept secure within electric fence netting from predators, but they’ll soon be rotated through the wood edges and hedge rows to clean things up for us. From what I’ve seen so far, they’ll be fantastic; they barely nibble on pasture all day long, but as soon as we take cuttings of multiflora rose or other brush, they chow down enthusiastically.

GirlswithGoat

New Farm Bonus: Fruit Trees!

Even though we’ll be starting over with new plantings of blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries, at least there are a few established fruit trees available to us. I was excited to find that we have an old-time variety of apple called a Horse Apple on our property — these are a tart apple that is believed to have originated in North Carolina in the 1700s, and you simply don’t find them around much anymore (save in old Southern gardens and central Appalachia). Unfortunately, a large wild grapevine was allowed to grow over it, and pulled it down to the ground, but I hope to take cuttings for grafting to start over.

Our other fruit trees are a mix of more modern varieties, like Golden Delicious apples (which I don’t particularly care for, and is very susceptible to diseases), and some unknown varieties of pear. All of these have likely not been pruned in many years (again, not faulting anyone… I don’t think I’d be wanting to climb a ladder at 89 years of age, either).

So, it will soon be decision time. I’ve decided that some of them, like the Golden Delicious, aren’t ideal varieties for me anyway (since I grow using organic methods), and they’ll be replaced.

The remainder of the trees will be successively pruned over the next few years to restore them to proper shape for good fruit production. I’ve found a number of excellent publications on restoring neglected fruit trees, and learned that summer is actually a better time for this task than waiting for winter dormancy (hurray!). I’m optimistic that in a few years time, these old trees will be restored back to their former glory. Here they are for your reference:

Pruning to Restore an Older, Neglected Apple Tree

Apple Trees Benefit from Proper Pruning, Spring and Summer

Pruning Tool Selection Guide

“Growing Together” Giveaway!

Just prior to all of this cutting and pruning, the good folks at Fiskars approached me about trying out some of their incredible PowerGear2 gear. Those of you that have been here a while know that I’m not one for doing product reviews for just anyone, but I happily agreed because I’ve been very pleased with other Fiskars products in the past (including their Cuts+more Scissors* that I use for harvesting micro greens for restaurant sales, and my mother is a big fan of the Uproot Weed and Root Remover* that I got her for Mother’s Day). My experience has always been that Fiskars’ products are built to last (they have a lifetime warranty in the odd chance that they don’t), and they have a long-standing, outstanding reputation (for a company to turn 365 years old this year, it must be doing something right).

Fiskars generously mailed me three tools from their PowerGear2 line: a pruner, a bypass lopper, and hedge shears.

I put the PowerGear2 bypass lopper to work right away, working on a tangled mess of wild grapevines that were smothering the Horse Apple tree. I was impressed with how effortlessly the loppers sliced through the vines, most of which were 2″ in diameter (the upper limit at which these loppers should be used). The loppers are also clearly designed for comfort; loppers I’ve used in the past are heavy and unwieldy for my small frame, and tax my upper body strength to use. I’ve also had problems in the past with lopper handles meeting too closely during a cut, resulting in smashed thumbs and a lot of yelling. With the Fiskars’ loppers, the only yelling is coming from our goats — they get excited when they see me with loppers in hand, because they know a tasty snack of grapevines or brambles is soon to come.

Old, neglected apple tree? The PowerGear2 bypass loppers are up to the task!

Old, neglected apple tree? The PowerGear2 bypass loppers are up to the task!

The PowerGear2 pruner exceeded my expectations as well, easily cutting water sprouts from the trunks of our apple trees, and old woody rose bushes. Clearly, a LOT of thought has gone into the design of these pruners — not just for cutting, but for comfort. The pruner handle actually rolls inward with each cut, preventing any rubbing that might lead to blisters. And they are just so EASY to use; I alternated using the PowerGear2 pruners with an old set of pruners that I have (which are also Fiskars, I should add), and the difference was significant. If you have a loved one with arthritis or a motor disability in their hands, this would be a great set of pruners for them.

The PowerGear2 hedge shears look and feel equally fabulous, though I’ve yet to give them a serious workout around the property like the other two tools. We have a number of well-manicured shrubs surrounding our house, and I’m sure they won’t disappoint me when it’s time to put them in action.

 

Would you like to have a PowerGear2 pruner of your own? Fiskars has generously agreed to sponsor a giveaway and send pruners to FIVE Mother of a Hubbard readers. To enter, simply leave a comment below indicating how you would use the pruners in your garden or landscape. If you’ve got a mailing address in the United States or Canada, you’re eligible. Good luck! Contest ends at midnight on Friday.

The contest is closed. Congratulations to Fern, Jess, Lisa, Susan, and Sheri… enjoy your new pruners from Fiskars!

It's a good omen when the former owners leave a stash of bean seeds for you in the freezer.

It’s a good omen when the former owners leave a stash of bean seeds for you in the freezer.

 

Additional ducklings and goslings arrived last week. Duck breeds are Welsh Harlequin, White Crested, and two colors of Runners. Our pair of geese are Roman Tufted.

Additional ducklings and goslings arrived last week. Duck breeds are Welsh Harlequin, White Crested, and two colors of Runners. Our pair of geese are Roman Tufted.

Our watershed is very healthy. Clear water, with lots of aquatic invertebrates, frogs, and salamanders.

Our watershed is very healthy. Clear water, with lots of aquatic invertebrates, frogs, and salamanders.

Getting a new farm going is lots of work, but we try to make time for hikes in the mountains above our homestead.

Getting a new farm going is lots of work, but we try to make time for hikes in the mountains above our homestead. Still a long ways to go up from here!

 

 

 

 

 

51 Comments

  1. Peggy

    June 4, 2015 at 8:43 pm

    I would use the Fiskars to cut off the branches of weed trees to let in more light for my veggies as well as my hydrangeas, plus cut off all the invasive vines!. Have to do this every year!

  2. Sheri K

    June 4, 2015 at 9:09 pm

    Love your posts and am so excited to see things developing on the new farm! I just ordered myself a copy of “Grow a Little Fruit Tree” so plan to be doing quite a bit of pruning. The PowerGear might be a littler heftier than I’ll need but I think I can make it work. 🙂

  3. Janice Brooks

    June 4, 2015 at 9:32 pm

    As we have lots of woods surrounding our pastures, full of all sorts of vines and small saplings, I would use the Fiskars the most in keeping all the encroaching wilderness at bay. BUT, we do have lots of shrubs and fruit trees already (newly) planted, with more in our 10 year garden plan also….so YES, I could really use the help of some good garden shears!!

  4. Liz young

    June 4, 2015 at 9:32 pm

    I would use them in my herb and vegetable garden. Also on unruly limbs around the walkways.

  5. AttainSustain (@AttainSustain)

    June 4, 2015 at 9:35 pm

    Me? I’d be using them to beat back the jungle. 😉 They’d get a workout, for sure.

  6. Mary Kochie

    June 4, 2015 at 9:50 pm

    I have a flowerbed but I would likely give them to my mother! Lol. I would like the weed and root mover! Sounds awesome!

  7. Texan

    June 4, 2015 at 10:10 pm

    I know how sandy soil is, that is what we have/had here. I have added and added and added. But the good news is I do have earthworms now! Before I went to raised beds I did till my garden spot with a tractor originally for a lot of reasons and where I use a lot of the back to the eden ideas now and find them very effective. I will still initially till any new garden spot we do here for a lot of reasons. Once I get the spot worked and set up I then do not till. I was like you, could not find one earth worm on this place no matter how much digging we did. But I have lots now!

    The goats will be fantastic for helping you clear! We raised goats for quite a few years here and they did a wonderful job clearing out the kudzu and other things! We only have two small pet goats now.

    I raise blackberries here. Once my spot was intially worked and planted all I did/do was pile on shredded leaves year after year on them. One to keep the weeds out and two to help the soil. I put about a foot of shredded leaves on them each year. Kiowa Blackberry variety do super in this soil if your looking for a good variety of blackberry! They have thorns and a lot of them but they are super producers of HUGE berries. I have done a lot of post on my blog about them. I just did a couple post showing some from this years crop as I am picking now. They need no care basically. They are very drought tolerant once established. They are heavy producers but they are invasive and I rarely use that term. Where I live not much is tough enough to really be called invasive lol. But these are.

    We will be starting over ourselves in the Ozarks of AR for retirement at some point so I understand exactly what you mean about being excited for the new but all the work and established beds and such you leave behind.. whew….

    I would like to entered in your give away. I can always use those hedge shears on my blackberries and my raspberries! Speaking of raspberries, those have been a whole different deal than the blackberries LOL… Maybe I can figure out what I am doing wrong reading about yours! I have beautiful plants that just grow and grow but not a berry in site! sighhhh I do suspect it could be heat. I have to cover them with shade cloth in the summer here as they wilt really bad in our extreme heat. The blackberries nope don’t cover.

    Congratulations on your new farm!

  8. anitanolan

    June 4, 2015 at 10:11 pm

    Would love to win the Fiskars! They make great products. I planted apple and pear trees four years ago, which need regular pruning. I’d use them for that. Great post!

  9. patlynnfor

    June 4, 2015 at 10:44 pm

    I wish we had established fruit trees on our property when we bought it, but no such luck. We have since put in a couple of apple trees, 4 pecan, 4 peach and 1 plum. They are all growing nicely, so the pruners would be very helpful! I enjoy your blog.

  10. Petra

    June 4, 2015 at 10:47 pm

    So thrilled for your new farm. Reading your articles make me feel like I am talking to a neighbor. Yes, I am far from home but only have a short time left before I can return. Bring energy to the world a little girl from KY.

  11. Lisa from Iroquois

    June 4, 2015 at 10:54 pm

    We have inherited several neglected and overgrown fruit trees with our new home…. 2 pears, a quince, some apples, and two lilac hedges that need attention. Got lots of pruning to do and effective tools will make it faster and easier.

  12. LindaW

    June 4, 2015 at 11:32 pm

    We cut out a bunch of weedy trees last year, and all the sprouts are going to take a lot of cutting to keep them down.

  13. Brooke

    June 4, 2015 at 11:56 pm

    We’ve moved and are starting over with putting in new gardens. We’d use the pruners on the neglected trees and bushes we started pruning back into shape last fall. It’s a lot of work but it’s exciting to see it taking shape!

  14. Susank

    June 5, 2015 at 12:23 am

    New fruit trees and several well established trees are in constant need of pruning and these Fiskar PowerGear2 hedge shears would make my job so much easier. It is very difficult for me to use ordinary pruners or shears, and these would certainly do the job.

  15. Lawrence Rickson

    June 5, 2015 at 5:01 am

    I could certainly use a new pair of pruners! There are lots of BIG poison ivy and grape vines on the edge of my property that need to go away! Love your blog! Have a great day!

  16. Linda B.

    June 5, 2015 at 9:27 am

    Couldn’t agree more about Fiskar’s quality. We have the medium loppers and the large ones, but the hand pruner looks very handy. We pick up dead branches for kindling and often need to cut the branches into smaller pieces. Or we cut/saw off tree branches to move the canopy up, and then cut those branches into kindlng or to get them ready for chipping. Would love to add these to our equipment! Thanks, Cathy!

  17. Kathy

    June 5, 2015 at 9:55 am

    We could definitely use some large pruners to aid in caring for our old apple trees. We’ve been slowly working to rehabilitate them (learning as we go) for the last five years. I picked up an old pair of loppers at a garage sale and they are ok, but a bit lacking in power. The fiskars ones you describe sound great.

  18. Heather O

    June 5, 2015 at 11:00 am

    I currently don’t have any shrubs or trees of my own to prune, but I always help my grandparents with pruning their fruit trees, and a new pair of pruners would be so appreciated!

  19. JessB

    June 5, 2015 at 11:55 am

    We have grape vines to deal with at our farm plus volunteer mulberry trees that pop up everywhere. I love Fiskars! They were always the scissors my mom used for sewing and we were NEVER allowed to touch them as they were only for fabric, not whatever young kids might have decided to cut on. 🙂

  20. Lisa from Sustainable Possibilities

    June 5, 2015 at 1:32 pm

    I love that you will be starting with cover crops, goats and compost! It seems daunting, but at the same time so full of potential. Good luck! I would use the pruner to keep invasives at bay – multiflora rose, Japanese knotweed, and more.

  21. Janice Yeagle

    June 5, 2015 at 2:42 pm

    I have a tiny yard and half is a garden. The other half I under estimated how fast my trees and shrubs would over whelm it. Although, I like it I realize my choice of plants needs to be trimmed every summer. Good pruners would be a bonus to help out.! Thanks for this opportunity.

  22. Laura Roys

    June 5, 2015 at 3:30 pm

    I have a small fruit tree orchard (apples, pears, and plums so far!), and I am always looking for good pruning tools:) Good luck with the new farm!

  23. livivua

    June 5, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    I would use them with our 4-h’ers in the 4-H garden

  24. donna dillon

    June 5, 2015 at 4:22 pm

    I would use them to cut back the wild blackberry bushes that jump out and bite my husband as he mows.

  25. Andrea

    June 5, 2015 at 6:52 pm

    Kate and I got started on our garden today. Finally. We saw lots of earthworms and we’re pretty excited about its potential in our little space in downtown Pikeville! Love reading your blog.

  26. newbiegardengirl

    June 5, 2015 at 7:17 pm

    I would LOVE the pruners! We have about 40 blueberry bushes, raspberry canes, and multiple fruit trees that have to be pruned every year. I can go through some pruners, for sure!

  27. marshamcvey1836

    June 5, 2015 at 9:07 pm

    I would use the Fiskars to cut off all the invasive Grape vines!. They have gotten into Everything. My poor Meyers Lemon is just covered. Have to do this every year!

  28. Heidi

    June 6, 2015 at 1:09 pm

    We have several neglected fruit trees that these pruners would be perfect for!

  29. Joy

    June 6, 2015 at 3:54 pm

    Pruning our mini orchard…apples, plums, peaches, a cherry, quince, hazelnuts

  30. Fern Johnson

    June 6, 2015 at 4:22 pm

    I also have some overgrown fruit trees in serious need of pruning! I also have a long windy driveway with woods on both sides – I would use the pruners to trim back some of the branches each spring.

  31. Janet

    June 6, 2015 at 7:02 pm

    There are lots of wild grapevines that encroach over the fence from the woods surrounding my house. Fiskar shears would be great to keep them cut back away from the fence.

  32. Brenda Haines

    June 7, 2015 at 12:19 am

    i would use them to prune r big apple tree and to control the blackberry bushes. They can get out of hand.. a lot! Thanks 🙂

  33. Angie W

    June 7, 2015 at 1:03 am

    I would use the pruners on some out of control plants we have on our property. My current pruners are hand-me-downs, and I would love to have good ones to replace it.

  34. Chinquapin

    June 7, 2015 at 2:56 pm

    We really enjoy your fine gardening blog and are trying to learn all we can as we are also in eastern Kentucky. Of course, you know uses for loppers are limitless on a homestead like ours, but our current need is whittling back encroaching limbs on our one-quarter mile driveway. Our LP gas man said he would not deliver gas until our nature-preserve type driveway has an opening suitable for his rig.

  35. sweetgum

    June 7, 2015 at 5:19 pm

    We just got goats too! I’m bringing in branches to the doelings, hoping they’ll develop a love of bush honeysuckle, but my loppers are probably forty years old and not the better for it. PowerGear sounds perfect.

  36. April Harshbarger

    June 7, 2015 at 8:39 pm

    I would use the pruners to cut down mulberry trees that keep coming up in our asparagus patch and also for pruning our 3 very old apple trees. The hedge clippers would be great for our boxwoods and other shrubs. Thanks to you & Fiskars for the giveaway

  37. Angi @ SchneiderPeeps

    June 7, 2015 at 10:48 pm

    I’d be using those pruners to prune our growing orchard. My little hand snips are no longer big enough.

  38. Teresa Schawo

    June 8, 2015 at 11:49 am

    I would use the pruners on all my fruit trees as well as my roses. They would be perfect as my trees are not hugely tall, but with these I could do most of the pruning without a ladder. 🙂 I would love to give them a try!

  39. Anna

    June 8, 2015 at 12:02 pm

    I would use the pruners everywhere. We’ve inherited a number of overgrown Rose of Sharons on this property, as well as some almost aggressive neglected climbing roses.

  40. Susan Swett

    June 8, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    I’m really in need of a good pair of pruners for our new large orchard which my kids and grand kids helped plant and care for, for their 4-H project.

  41. Kathy Drache

    June 8, 2015 at 1:57 pm

    I would have to start with pruning our Apple trees. And the Lilacs need to be pruned this year. And looking out back I see several “mystery trees” in the dogs’ run that need to be trimmed back. Whoa I am tired already.

  42. Brooke

    June 8, 2015 at 2:29 pm

    I would use the pruners for the apple trees that we have now that we live on my husband’s Grandpa’s farm. Since we have been here I also planted a pear and cherry tree. Hopefully, we will have fruit from them in a couple years!

  43. Theresa Queen

    June 8, 2015 at 2:43 pm

    I am a garden, landscape and fruit tree newbie. When I moved to Missouri from California a few years ago, and from no yard to 80 acres there was quite a learning curve. I have an old peach tree that has been neglected and have 2 lovely 2yr old dwarf peaches that have grown wildly with the damp weather we have been having. My new husbands pruners/lopers were bulky, old and tired, and I also being of small stature, found it hard to manipulate them, even on the smaller items like the run-a-mok clematis. I purchased a cheap no name brand, and well, they didn’t last long ; ( That said, I would be delighted to have that beautiful PowerGear2 workhorse! They would be kept very busy and well cared for!

  44. Kim

    June 8, 2015 at 11:04 pm

    I would put them to good use on our new place that is overgrown with weeds and neglected trees. I am going to be moving there soon so it will .be a workout

  45. Debra Whited

    June 10, 2015 at 4:00 pm

    I have large shrub roses in my potager that require lots of maintanence. The pruners would be a big help as I age (!) and lose hand strength.

  46. momengineer

    June 10, 2015 at 4:19 pm

    The previous owners at our home had planted spreading ground cover and ivy to cut down on maintenance (they were elderly as well)…I would take the pruners to the ivy which is choking some trees!! Love your blog!

  47. Jenny

    June 11, 2015 at 10:00 pm

    I learn so much from your blog! Thank you! As a young family on our first farm, we’ve also inherited some old neglected fruit trees, overgrown shrubbery, and wild masses of flowing foliage (grapevines included!) – the Fiskars would do wonders to speed and ease the process of thinning and pruning. Thanks for the chance!!

  48. Kelly Wood

    June 12, 2015 at 12:15 pm

    I would use them for cutting the low branches of our oak tree and dogwood trees. They are blocking the sun, and my grass and plants are suffering from it.

  49. Brenda Blanton

    June 12, 2015 at 4:11 pm

    I am just starting out in gardening. Blogs like yours help me so much! I have so much to learn, but you make it all seem possible for us without a green thumb. The pruners would help get rid of the bushes my landlord planted and get my rose bush back under control. Thanks!

  50. Lisa from Iroquois

    July 9, 2015 at 11:43 am

    Just wanted to say my new Fiskars PowerGear2 Pruners arrived yesterday. Heading out to give them a test run when I finished my indoor chores this morning. Thank you for providing this opportunity to win them 🙂

    • Cathy

      July 16, 2015 at 6:07 pm

      Awesome, Lisa! You’re most welcome!