By MK Martin
Life. For humans, it’s full of lessons. In every life, a little rain must fall. The sun’ll come out, tomorrow. To grow, you must be cut down to size. You would think, with lessons like these, all humans would resonate with the plant life around us. Our folk words are their commandments. The truest, most barbaric and most necessary, is that of the cutting.
If you want bunchy blackcurrants, the wafting, floral scent of sun warmed raspberries in summer and fall, blackberry stained fingers and faces and shirts, gruesome with nutrition, you’ve got to cut those plants down to the quick. This counts too, for roses, if you like to line your shelves with ruby kissed shotglasses of vitamin C and sugar.
So, you’ve put in a few raspberry canes, and they shocked you with fruit on your first try. If they are summer bearing, your only job is to mow them down to the quick. Doing so will allow light and air to move through the plant, stimulating its growth. To minimize your raspberries taking over the world, as they ought, bury some wood planks under the dirt, in the space you’d like them to occupy.
Blackberry bushes require a little more attention to achieve robust growth, but the steps are easy to remember after the first year: prune once, to encourage growth, and then again in fall. In spring, once the snow has melted at least once and exposed slumbering dandelions to sun, cut your canes to 24 inches. If smaller than that, just cut the first inch or so of each cane. Remove any diseased or dead canes. After fruiting, blackberry canes are spent. Cut any canes down to the ground that have fruited, and it will encourage the plant to send up more canes next year.
We inherited a dog rose with our house, and it produces tart little blushing globes easily, ever year. I pruned it for the first time last year, being previously unaware that gardening requires a little savagery. With this rose bush, you can cut the whole thing down in spring, after enjoying its thorny stalks and a few left behind hips, in winter. There’s an old saying, ‘prune your roses when the forsythia bloom’. Forsythia is a flowering shrub, that flowers before pretty much anything else. You can loosely translate the adage to whatever first true signs of spring come your way. This could be when the robins return, when the redbuds bud, when the snowdrops slowly uncurl. Either way, do it before it gets too warm.
To decapitate your fruit-bearing friends, you’ll want to invest in a strong pair of gardening gloves. I’ve tried a number of branded gardening gloves over the years, but the best I’ve found for most tasks is a small, streamlined work glove. They can be found at hardware stores in a variety of styles and are far more durable than traditional gloves.
Once you’ve got your gloves on, you can wield your shears. Choose a pair of hand held ‘secateurs’, which will have an extremely sharp, curved edge and matching top shear. Make sure you can close the ones you choose easily.
“You are responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose.”
– The Little Prince, Antoine de St.-Exupery