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A group of twenty or so sits attentively, waiting for me to begin my seminar on pruning. There must be a lot of interest since pruning seminars are always well attended as opposed to other topics like yard clean up or drip irrigation. I like to poll the audience before I start and as usual half this group has mature trees while the other half has young trees. It doesn’t really matter since most of the principles are the same. It’s just a lot easier to anticipate and remedy problems in young trees with pencil size branches headed in the wrong direction than to have to remove 4,6 or even 8” diameter branches that start on one side of the tree, cross over the center and chafe against a similarly sized branch on the other side of the tree.

“Sir?” calls a woman in a maroon pants suit from the back.

“Yes,” I respond.

“Well, I’m here because every year my husband goes out and just prunes everything way back, and I tell him he’s not doing it right and he does it anyway.”

There’s a lot of confusion about pruning I explain. I go on to say that trees do not need to be pruned, tat they got along for millions of years without weekend whackers but that, with a little common sense, people can understand how to prune.

“Sir.” She says, “Won’t our trees blow over if we don’t prune them back?”

“Actually no,” I respond.

I further explain that pruning doesn’t necessarily mean “cutting back,”
and that cutting back can ruin the structure of the tree and possibly cause the growth of dozens of “water sprouts” from a cut. These, I say grow straight up and are very susceptible to wind breakage.

“Sir?” The woman in the maroon pants suit is now standing. “Should our shade trees be round or flat topped?”

In my response, I try to paint a picture of a beautiful, statuesque tree “like in a Maxfield Parrish painting.” A tree which has a natural looking canopy and whose branches grow “out and up.”

“A shade tree” I continue, my audience hanging on every word “should look un-pruned but have a structure that evokes strength and romance.” As I gaze over my audience, I notice the woman in the maroon pant suit has left. I go on
to explain that what this all means is that for most shade trees pruning simply involves selectively removing branches that are growing downward or toward the center of the tree from the outside and “weak sister” branches that are growing closely parallel to other more desirable branches.

At the conclusion, several attendees line up with their individual questions. As I finish with the last person, another man appears who was not at the seminar. He is a man wearing a sap stained t shirt stretched to its limits in both the shoulder and the waist. His well worn baseball cap is grimy and sweat soaked. Pieces of sawdust dangle from the stubble of his facial hair. His silent gaze holds me until a woman steps to his side. I maintain eye contact with him, but can tell her figure is draped in maroon. “So,” I blurt out, “What can I do for you today?”