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April 14, 2015 - Pruning

I know it’s Spring time when I find myself out in the Vineyard in mid -February or whenever I can endure the cold.  Usually that is around 20 degrees or warmer with little to no wind.  We live 20 minutes southeast of St. Paul, MN and to give you a timeframe, our ice-out is usually around the middle part of April.  Now, when I am saying ice-out, that is a phrase we speak about up here when the major lakes finally have their ice levels break up enough to eventually melt and the ice goes out.  By then, the pruning opportunity for the season is really winding down.

What’s funny about me pruning in the vineyard this time of year, is the looks I get when there’s still a ton of snow on the ground.  Cars will be motoring by and will slow down to actually stopping, and people getting out to investigate.  I have to admit, it has been a transformation for me.  I used to wait until the lilacs would finish blooming before pruning at our old place.  I think it worked, and most the time the plants came back.  I didn’t notice too much issue with my strategy.  However, I have come quite a ways from those days and have been finding out that late winter is the ideal time to prune your plants.  Pruning is an important time of the year when shrubs, bushes, trees and yes vines, need care. This is an awareness article for you to make sure you take the time to do a little researching during the winter to familiarize yourself with how to prune your  plants on your property.  

Pruning promotes growth and the plants will respond vigorously by driving new growth and blooms to have the plant set fruit which has the seeds to reproduce more plants.  In nature, plants like to stake out their land in order to thrive.  They work with all parts of nature to grow and then have their seeds spread close to the plants when fruit drops to the ground, or by animals carrying or eating the fruit  and then dropping the plant seeds somewhere else to establish a new grove.  It’s truly amazing.  

Because of the vineyard, there are years where I can’t wait for the snow to retreat, because there is so much out there and I wouldn’t be able to get to our vines until May.  I have gone to the extreme sometimes and snow-blowed out my vineyard.    We will get a YouTube video up on the site here showing me snow blowing out the vineyard.  That’s when people who are driving-by, confirm that I am a little bit over the top and have lost it.  All I know is that when Spring finally arrives, your plants will come into bloom and you will be able to enjoy this season more so without having to fight with the insects and bees who want you to leave alone their food source.

I let them think what they want, but pruning is a timing thing.  You have a narrow window to get out there to reshape your plants without doing more damage than you think.  If you wait too long, you can do some serious damage to the plant.  The goal is to get major pruning completed before the sap begins to flow.  So I start in mid-February and it usually takes me 80-90 hours to prune our 700 plus vines plus all the other plants on the property.  Then, we need to come back clean up all the vine clippings, re-tie all the vines back to the cordon wire and get ready for the first spray.  That is another 80 hours or so worth of work.  You have to be persistent.  I tell my better half, that the plants won’t prune themselves and it is a test of your perseverance to complete this cycle every year.

When it comes to pruning tools, your choice are pretty easy.  You have an array of tools, depending on what your needs are for the vine, shrub, bush, or tree that needs pruning.  You may need chain saw or hand saw if you are working on trees.  That is extreme pruning and we encourage you to do the research, know what you are doing, have the proper safety equipment and people to help.  Make sure your equipment is in proper running condition and your blades are sharp.  If you don’t know what you are doing, leave it to the pros and learn from them.  Usually, most of these folks are great to do the work and are happy to give you some pointer while they are on your property if you seek this knowledge.

 The other tools that we commonly use in the vineyard which work well for most of your other plants are hand pruning clippers, loppers, and small hand tree saws.  Like anything, these are sharp instruments and need to be treated carefully and well maintained by keeping their edges sharp.  I find that if I don’t pay attention to this or if I begin to tire, I can make mistakes.  When you feel this way, take a break and do something else, like picking up your trimmings.  More accidents occur because of dull edges and fatigue.  Know your limits and realize what is reasonable.  Pruning is not a race, it’s methodical to attain your desired results.

The reason for  doing this activity this time of the year is that plant when it goes into its winter dormancy cycle, will drive most of its available moisture down back in the roots and pushes the roots farther down into the soil.  There are stories about grape vines that go really deep.  I am not sure if that is truth or a bit of fiction, but the truth is that root stock development happens when the plant above the surface goes into its dormancy stage. That is why it is important to fertilize in the fall around your trees, shrubs, bushes and yes even your vines, so the nutrients can work there way down to the root stock and get absorbed.  When the frost begins to come out and your plants will start looking for its nutrient sources to start pushing the sap back up into the plant.  The sap is the plants carbohydrate source.  We recommend that you do more research and take classes to learn more about the biology of your plants to better understand how to care for your plant more successfully.

All I know, that since we started this vineyard, my view of the world has changed.  One, springtime starts much earlier than ever it did and feels colder than when I was a kid.  Two, I enjoy putting on my earbuds and tuning out to my favorite tunes or podcasts.  Three, I enjoy being out in nature to see the eagles soaring against a blue lit sky, the inquisitive deer stepping out from the pines looking at me as a stranger, the crisp air that freezes in my beard and up sometimes in my nostrils.  Finally, the re-awakening of my heart, mind and soul as this old body feels the effort at the end of every pruning session as it gets ready for another growing season.  While it is the hardest part of the vineyard growing season, it is the most rewarding part of it as well for me, by caring for these vines now, the vines care for us later.  It’s a great relationship that provide balance and reward.