Category Archives: Plants

Pruning Points

July 25, 2021

Last week Ann saw a T-shirt with printed words, “I don’t get it.” That’s me and pruning!

I have been watching Ingela masterfully craft the orchard fruit trees for 10 years but, this week, it was I who grasped the pole pruner and reverently approached the William’s Pride apple tree.

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I am grateful for my education from all of the pruning class instructors, pruning book authors and WSU extension pruning experts. However, most of the notes in my notebook are from Ingela. I hope she doesn’t choke if she reads this blog post.


A few rules for pruning fools that I applied this past week:

Apical dominance has critical significance. Each branch is wired to send some growth skyward. Leave some of those antennas on the tree, especially on a vigorous tree.

It’s seducing to practice reducing. Heading a branch back to a lateral, one at least one third to one half the size of the headed branch, opens up space and allows growth energy to be redirected.

Heading is a mode where you cut near a node. The result is a stub and you often can flub. The resulting new growth can push out in all directions, making next year’s pruning challenging. Buds become stimulated for shoot growth, rather than flower (fruit) production.

Thinning is winning. Complete removal of a branch, just to the edge of the collar of the supporting branch or trunk, creates space and air flow. Thinning can also remedy twisting and/or over-loading a branch, causing it to break.

West of the Cascade Mounts, it’s air flow that counts. All pathogens fungal can really keep us humble. The late professor Bob Norton said it best, “Make sure you can throw a softball through the apple tree!”

Local classes on fruit tree pruning: Plant Amnesty, Sky Nursery, Seattle Tree Fruit Society, City Fruit, Lee Harrison-Smith, Seattle Tilth, and the UW Botanical Center


Good tree fruit pruning articles:

The 1-2-3 rule of pruning – Turn wood into fruit on apple and pear trees.
Bas Van Den Ende
Good Fruit Grower. January 15th 2010 Issue

Spur pruning ‘delicious’ apple for improved spur quality and yield
Curt R. Rom, ActaHortic.1992.322.6

William’s Pride before






William’s Pride after

Tried-and-True Tomato Trellising Technique

June 23, 2021

The Florida weave! Is it a type of shawl? A new hair style? Some kind of line dance? No. The Florida weave is used widely and is well thought of as a tomato-trellising technique. Rutgers has a fine explanation online.

Sue’s tomato plants get big and weigh a ton. In the past few years, we have used bamboo and added several extra supports so the mass from 16 vines doesn’t topple over and kill someone.

This year she is trying out the Florida weave, on recycled galvanized pipe. Nancy found a few pieces of seven-foot pipe but we just couldn’t come up with the 10 more pieces needed. Then Ruth decided to donate the plumbing pipes from her home. (Well, that old galvanized had to come out sometime.)

Sue says, “The Weave will be easier to use for me, a near-to-five-foot gardener. Once the poles are in, the twinning work will be easier. I will add another horizontal weave with every ten inches of plant growth.”

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Sue is training to just one central leader this year. She hopes for good air circulation and this system will make her keep up with her fastidious thinning and pruning. She’s hoping for less bulk but more productive flowering.

This year’s indeterminate cherry tomato varieties are: Jasper, AAS award-winning, Cherry Bomb and a few Sun Peach – all late-blight resistant.

“We always have green tomatoes left on the plants because we have a short season in western Washington. I like to take them home and ripen them up. If they rot, instead of ripen, I know that variety could get late-blight and I tend to stay away from it.”

Next season, Sue will plant tomatoes in a different bed. She will have the poles ready to pound in, without having to make a new trellis out of bamboo.

This new method fosters recycling, will be labor-saving, and is portable. The proof, of course, will be in the tomatoes!


The Handy Dande

May 19, 2021

Dandelion – Taraxacum officinale – origin from Greek words meaning ‘disorder remedy’ – Asteraceae family.

How did we ever come to hate dandelions? Well, who knows. In any case, Europeans thought them valuable enough to tote them to the New World in the 1600’s. In ancient times, the plant was valued as a diuretic and liver tonic.

When the soil temperature hits 50 F (that was April 15 at the orchard) the dandelion is triggered to make flower heads … and then away they go! The orchard becomes a sea of dandes, busy doing their fine work – prying open the heavy soil with their deep root.

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Some weeders can’t resist pulling dandelion plants. That’s fine, as long as the plant gets recycled: either tossed back on top of the soil, or pitched on the compost drying rack. We think of them as Class A compost plants – plants that we would compost in any manner – directly on the soil, in a static compost or in a thermal compost. Class B compost plants are those that we would only put through a thermal compost, so the high heat can kill unwanted seeds. Class C weeds belong in the yard waste – bindweed, Himalayan blackberry, etc. They would also be devastated by the thermal process but why take a chance when we have so many other wonderful plants to compost.

This week at the orchard, we are scooping up the dandelion leaves, along with two great mulch plants: early-flowering borage (Trachystemon orientalis) and common comfrey (Symphytum officinale). Plants that produce a large volume of material above ground are good mulch plants.

This fresh ‘green manure’ will have a carbon to nitrogen ratio of about 20 and will help produce heat in the upcoming compost pile.

Feverishly pulling the dandelion plants for a thermal compost isn’t the best use for our dandes. There are other uses with more substantial benefits: medicine, wine, tea, salads, antioxidants, seeds for birds, mosquito repellent, and nectar for bees. At FECO, they are a preferred food of the menacing Eastern Cottontail rabbit. All parts of the plant are edible and the USDA ranks them higher than spinach or broccoli in nutrition!

Well, are you starting to like these sensational plants better?



More about the dandelion:

Nutrition of dandelion:

Nutrient content spreadsheet:

The dandelion society:

Dr Duke’s Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases

Soil temperature by county: