Pruning or destroying, will the apple tree live?

University of Idaho Extension Educator Reed Findlay was kind enough recently to drop by our house to show me how to properly prune our apple tree. We’ve done some pruning in the past, but had over the past few years been ignoring the trimming that needed done.

Reed is a tree lover and I could tell from his exuberance that he really enjoys his job. Not only does he handle horticulture issues like my tree, but also deals with plenty of agriculture-related issues, as well as 4-H and other youth programs in Power County.

Had he known that I have longed for years to rid our yard of the tree and the fruitful mess it leaves on the yard, he might not have wanted to be so helpful.

But he gave me plenty of tips on where to trim, how much to trim and when to do it. He also gave me a grade for the job I had done so far, based on his observation of where limbs had been trimmed in the past and where they had not.

A C+. He said that really wasn’t a bad score. He had seen plenty worse.

I was happy with that. Really thought I was going to get an F.

So taking his advice to heart I prepared for a day of pruning, only to have my sons who were home for a day during spring break volunteer to tackle the job while I slaved away at the office. I explained to them what Reed had told me: trim by the knuckles, take out all of the dead stuff (which had died because of my previous pruning efforts), and don’t trim more than 30 percent of the tree.

Reed also told me that one particularly large limb on the tree that was stretching out lower over the years, which I had hoped to remove, was perfectly fine and should be left with minor trimming.

That was the final instruction I gave my sons, but apparently they heard something else come from my lips, at least that’s what Debbie thinks.

In their testosterone-fueled excitement, a simple pruning wasn’t enough. And they had heard me complain throughout last summer about having to duck under the limb to mow the lawn. They had probably heard me mention that perhaps the yard would be better if the tree weren’t there at all.

So after spending several hours following the rules passed down from Reed, through me, the urge was too great.

When I saw I had missed a call from them and not receiving a reply when I called back, I decided to drive by the house just to make sure all was well.

The first thing I saw was that huge limb, no longer attached to the tree which had given it birth. That one limb alone was probably the 30 percent we should have trimmed, not counting all their other fine work in thinning the tree.

And I knew who was going to take the blame. They both told me not to worry, that just like George Washington and his cherry tree, they could not lie. They would tell their mother it was their idea, not mine, to chop that monster limb away. And they did.

But somehow, despite my protestations and those of my sons, the blame ultimately fell where I knew it would.

First, Debbie asked several times if I had made myself clear about the limb. “Yes, dear,” I answered.

Then she asked if I had winked at them or something when telling them. “No, dear,” I replied.

“Well, it’s still your fault because they heard you talking about how you wanted it gone,” she said.

“Yes, dear,” I said. I could not lie. They are their father’s sons.

But now that the dust has settled I’ve got to admit: I really like having that limb gone.

I just hope Reed Findlay doesn’t drive by and check out our pruning job. He’ll probably chew me out, too.

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