You’d think a gardener could rest from yardwork in January. Not according to Richardson Wright, one of America’s foremost garden historians, advisors, and authors (1887-1961).
As you lean against your pillow, lamplight upon pages you hold open to “January 20” in a well-worn copy of “The Gardener’s Bed-Book,” the furnace blowing warm air from a vent into your room, you read his concluding words for the day: “All tree pruning should be finished before the end of this month.”
“What?!” you declare and drop the book upon your lap. “Richardson must be joking! This is Michigan!”
Now, you know better, for you’re acquainted with Mr. Wright’s devotional dedicated to efficient and wholehearted gardening. Whether it be identifying his garden tools with a patch of French blue paint, to his passion for cut flowers arranged in a vase on a table or nook, the former editor of “House & Garden” magazine in the 1920s and 1930s speaks with authority.
Even so, you’ve long spoken his first name in praise and complaint as you absorb his knowledge, wisdom, and humor seven mornings a week.
You’ve also heard him earnestly speak your first name, friend to friend, when he repeats his reminder, “Yes, all tree pruning should be finished by the end of this month.”
More often than not, you’ve turned to your window, sleet or snow beating upon it, and ignored Richardson’s January 20 footnote. Come spring and summer, your puny peach harvest confirms the man from Connecticut knew what he was talking about when his book was first published in 1929.
Nature cannot change her ways. Trees leaf and bear best when pruned in winter.
Well, you offer one last argument – who needs to prune fruit-bearing trees in freezing weather when you can buy produce from the local farmers market? Perhaps it’s best to cut the peach, pear, and apple trees down and simplify life.
Here, Richardson hides his mustache and scorn behind a hand, and leaves you to the consequences of your own neglect.
In time, if you truly desire to consume the delicious labors of your land, you’ll observe the remainder of January’s weather forecast for a sunny and calm day.
Meanwhile, you’ll assess your trees’ needs, sharpen your saw, and have the appropriate ladder at ready.
When the ideal pruning morning arrives before February first, you’ll put down your coffee or tea mug and pull on your snow gear. For you’re determined to put Richardson’s advice to test.
You understand there’s more visibility of the tree’s structure without its leaves to better prune. And it makes sense that diseases and bugs are less prevalent to make a home of the fresh cuts in dormant limbs.
Furthermore, winter pruning doesn’t stimulate new growth that may not harden before the sap runs in springtime.
Eventually, dear Reader, you suspect your good friend Richardson Wright promoted winter pruning to relieve the demands of springtime gardening upon his fellows.
In genuine mercy, he submitted his friendly pruning reminder of January 20.
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