The Spring-Cleaning Job I Look Forward to Most

“Remove to renew” is a guiding principle in my tiny fruit orchard as well as in my life.

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Posted in , Mar 24, 2017

Pruning fruit trees

One of my favorite gardening tasks actually happens long before it’s time to dig, sow and water. In late winter, I look forward to getting out into my stand of dwarf fruit trees for their big annual pruning.

To me, this is the most satisfying spring-cleaning task because it’s a job that actually enables a living thing to grow and thrive. It is a labor that literally bears fruit.

For seven years, my husband and I have cultivated apple, sour cherry, peach, sweet cherry, and nectarine trees in our tiny orchard. Before we planted, we took a one-day workshop at the University of Massachusetts’ extension school. The instructor taught us how to shape the trees and stave off diseases and insects (we use organic methods, primarily insecticidal and fungicidal soaps).

He also taught us this guiding principle when it comes to pruning: Remove to renew.

There is biology behind this philosophy. Cutting off tree branches that are damaged, crowding out the sun, or growing at an awkward angle allows for proper air and sunlight circulation. It also stimulates a tree’s root system to put out new growth in a way that leads to more—and healthier—fruit production. So literally, removing extraneous branches renews my trees’ growth and vigor.

Read More: A Miraculous Pair of Geese Appear Just in Time for Spring

“Remove to renew” has a deeper meaning for me, though. Having a positive outlook on life is fueled by my desire to feel renewed, refreshed and ready to grow. But I’ve learned I can’t do this unless I have enough space to expand and be productive. Not every branch is fruit-bearing, after all. Pruning extraneous material—clutter, stresses, unhealthy foods—from my life is essential to focusing my energy on those things that bring purpose, uplift and joy to my days.

Ralph Waldo Emerson understood this when he wrote, “As the gardener, by severe pruning, forces the sap of the tree into one or two vigorous limbs, so too should you stop off your miscellaneous activity and concentrate your force on one or a few points.”

I held this sense of strength, focus and potential in mind last week as I took in my favorite March view, which was topped this year by a powdered sugar-y sprinkle of late snow—a tangle of branches that I’ve removed from my trees, renewing their growth and, perhaps, my own. 

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