Prune soon, fruit trees need spring touch ups

Gardeners Kevin Campbell and Becky Howe work to restore the stonewall garden at Forest Farm in Brooksville, the former homestead of Helen (1904-1995) and Scott Nearing (1883-1983), known as the parents of the Back to the Land Movement, during the summer of 2010. Today, the homestead is being restored by The Good Life Center and is open to the public June through fall.
Gardeners Kevin Campbell and Becky Howe work to restore the stonewall garden at Forest Farm in Brooksville, the former homestead of Helen (1904-1995) and Scott Nearing (1883-1983), known as the parents of the Back to the Land Movement, during the summer of 2010. Today, the homestead is being restored by The Good Life Center and is open to the public June through fall. Buy Photo
Posted March 15, 2012, at 4:59 p.m.

Dig the shears out of the shed and get to snipping. Spring is just around the corner and the window is closing for pruning fruit trees, which are almost ready to wake up and blossom.

If you don’t know the art of pruning trees, then set down the gardening tools for a moment. There’s still time to learn before hacking apart your orchard.

Midcoast arborists will teach two workshops on fruit tree pruning the weekend of March 17-18.

The first will be held at 9 a.m. Saturday during the Midcoast Landscaping Show at Plants Unlimited in Rockland. The free lesson, led by Camden arborist Douglas N. Johnson, will last about three hours.

In addition to being a Maine Licensed Arborist, Johnson is certified by the International Society of Arboriculture and is Maine’s first Tree Risk Assessor, a prestigious international certification. He and his wife, Nancy Caudle-Johnson, own Johnson’s Arboriculture, Treekeepers LLC of Camden.

“You prune fruit trees when they’re dormant, which means this is kind of the last window — this week and maybe next,” Caudle-Johnson said.

“Trees that are well pruned always sustain less storm damage,” she said. “You avoid breaking that might land on a car or house; and we’re having more and more storms, unfortunately.”

The second workshop will be held noon-3 p.m. Sunday at Forest Farm, The Good Life Center’s Nearing Homestead on Cape Rosier in Brooksville. Maine apple expert John Bunker of Palermo will be a special guest at the center’s third annual spring apple pruning workshop, which is also led by Johnson.

This particular workshop is special for several reasons.

Bunker is known as the “Apple Guy” of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and was also dubbed the “apple whisperer” by The Atlantic magazine. He’s the coordinator of FEDCO Seed’s tree division and a well-known expert on heirloom apples.

“What we found last year is, rather than joining in and helping prune the trees, people were a bit reticent and really wanted to have a pruning class,” Caudle-Johnson said. “So [Johnson] asked John Bunker to come. He’s spent decades researching and tracking down heirloom varieties of apples in Maine and identifying them. In his own home orchard in Palermo, he has more than 200 varieties.”

Together, these experts will teach proper pruning techniques and annual maintenance pruning to achieve optimal fruit production, health, beauty and longevity. And Bunker will demonstrate how to prune scion wood for grafting.

“You can do a lot of harm if you cut the branches so that you leave stubs that are too long — or you leave broken branches, then the limb is unable to heal,” Johnson said. “If you think about it like on a person, you want to have a clean trimming of a wound so the skin can heal over the wound. That’s very much how the tree heals also. You don’t want the energy to go out of the branch or limb all the time if it’s jagged, not cut in the proper fashion. And insects and disease can also enter in that ragged cut and get into the tree.”

The workshop location is also a treat. Forest Farm is the last hand-built home of Helen (1904-1995) and Scott Nearing (1883-1983), known around the world as the “parents” or “gurus” of the back-to-the-land movement. In 1952, they moved to the five-acre plot of forested land overlooking Spirit Cove on Cape Rosier to live simply on a homestead that they shared with thousands of visitors. Their numerous books and articles on a range of topics including social and economic justice are still popular today.

An old friend of the Nearings and a steward of Forest Farm, Warren Berkowitz, will be at the workshop to talk about the history of the property and the famous couple that lived there.

“People will be able to go around a little bit of the downstairs of the house, see the landscape and hear about what we’re doing there,” said Caudle-Johnson, a member of The Good Life board who became friends with the Nearings in the early ’80s. “We do their vegetable garden now every year, which is really beautiful and amazing. It’s open for people to come out there, all but two afternoons a week, from June through the fall.”

Attendees will gather at the back of the house in a small orchard just before the stone garden. Ellen and Scott Nearing planted the apple trees in the early ’80s.

The suggested donation for this workshop is $15, which will go to The Good Life Center, a nonprofit with a mission to perpetuate the philosophies and lifestyle promoted and exemplified by the Nearings, Since 2009, The Good Life Center has been restoring the property, barn and stone house, including an extensive and valuable library.

Attendees should bring bypass hand pruners.

If you can’t make it to the workshops, Caudle-Johnson suggests visiting the Arbor Day Foundation website at arborday.org and browsing their bulletins on pruning and trees topics. Visit their animated tree pruning guide at arborday.org/trees/pruning.

For information about The Good Life Center, visit www.goodlife.org. For information about the workshops, call Doug Johnson at 236-6855. Forest Farm is located a 372 Harborside Rd. in Brooksville, and Plants Unlimited is located at 629 Commercial St. in Rockland. For information about the Midcoast Landscaping Show, call 594-7754.

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