Prunes Are For Eating, Not For Fruit Trees

I am unveiling my latest miracle, botanical invention, the self-pruning fruit tree.

Eat your heart out, Johnny (Chapman) Appleseed, Luther Burbank and George Washington Carver. Our humble farmette is the site of a no-work fruit tree. We do not spray (my wife hates pesticides). We do not prune any longer. We just look at it until the fruit ripens, then eat our fill and/or make preserves to our hearts’ content.

In years past, I tried to keep up with wintertime pruning of a half-dozen apple trees, anywhere from 20 to 80 years old; four gigantic pear trees that produce the hard winter pear variety that our forebears used to keep munchable until spring in fruit cellars, dugouts and similar storage bins; a round dozen of peach, plum, apple and pear trees planted within the past decade by my wife; and assorted grapevines, crabapple trees, that sort of thing.

Fruit tree pruning is supposed to be done when the trees are dormant.

Hereabouts, that means outdoor temperatures that are below freezing.

My loppers work in below freezing temperatures. My pruners also work in below freezing temperatures. For that matter, so do my pole saws, the extendable non-motorized 14-footer with the shark-jaw saw and the rope-drawn lopper and the 10-inch electric chain saw that is supposed to extend to 12 feet, though it takes a better man than I am to hold it steady at that extreme length.

My hands, though … especially my fingers. They do not work well in below freezing temperatures. After 15 minutes of running a snow blower, I stomp back indoors, saying bad it-hurts words while shaking off my gloves and stuffing my stiffened fingers inside my jacket beneath my armpits as I head for a heater or for a sink and its warm water faucet.

Have you ever heard of Raynaud’s syndrome? If you smoked cigarettes for 54 years, as I did, you possibly have it.

In a nutshell, the peripheral circulation in fingers shuts down, causing numbness and excruciating pain until I get the fingers warmed up again, which takes 10-15 minutes.

Raynaud’s syndrome gives me a deep aversion to pruning fruit trees in winter.

But I still did so, to the best of my ability.

Then I discovered a sure-fire antidote, both to the Raynaud’s painful finger numbness and to pruning fruit trees in winter.

That antidote is called “Florida.”

Even in the Florida Panhandle (Deep South Alabama, for practical purposes), I wear gloves while bicycling in February or March. But light gloves suffice — and since we rent, we are not responsible for the fruit trees on or near our residence.

So I no longer prune fruit trees in winter. By the time we return to Pennsylvania and get all the spring-is-coming chores lined up, the fruit trees have already blossomed. Pruning is not recommended then.

So we just watch the trees.

This year, the fruit trees appear to be setting bumper crops, if we can avoid slashing hailstorms and early freezes.

On the smaller trees, we prop up some heavily fruited limbs with clothes poles or scrap lumber from barn renovation projects.

But mostly, we just watch the trees.

Last week, I was not watching at the precise moment that a 14-inch diameter section of a three-trunked apple tree decided to prune itself beneath the increasing weight of a bumper crop of apples.

But I quickly became aware that the tree had pruned itself. It became impossible to get a vehicle through our driveway until I had revved up the chain saw, carted the light limbs to the brush pile for end-of-season bonfire burning, and saw-gnawed the larger chunks into firewood for our occasional outdoor campfires.

We have no wood burners associated with our house, so splitting is not really necessary. I have a jim-dandy weight-and-wedge hand-powered splitter bought at a recent Mother Earth News fair that reduces the few rotund rounds we accumulate to split pieces that fit within the old truck tire rim that serves as our campfire ring.

Some people claim that if I allow our trees to self-prune, they will die. Well, guess what? I am 75. If I insist on manually pruning our trees, I will die. Better the trees than me. Besides, with the new ones taking root due to my wife’s Earth Mother to the World love of planting, there will always be a surplus.

So I say to our self-pruning trees, “Prune thyselves! Prune to thine hearts’ content!”

I wonder if this marvelous invention is patentable.

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Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: