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Pruning in the Park

By Anna Haller

 

Early one morning, several years ago, I was walking my dogs through Avent Park and spotted a worker with a power pruner. He’s just a youngster but he’s no tenderfoot. In fact, he’s doing a swell job, so I stay for a while to pick up some pointers.

I must confess that I loathe pruning. I have no confidence that I do it right, and I hate that balky bundle of branches I have to lug to the curb.

I usually get my husband to do the pruning. Watching the young man prune, I noticed what my husband never does. The young pruner deftly saws the target branch underneath first, and then on top, letting the branch drop cleanly to the ground. The old-timers would always tell you to do that. My husband just saws from the top of the branch, causing a long strip of raw bark to peel itself away half way down the trunk.

“Just what I need,” I say to him, indicating his nifty power pruner, and smiling broadly as the dogs shy away from his buzzing gadget.

“Excuse me, ma’am?” he responds. As he turns to study some remaining unpruned branches, I can see he’s even much younger than I first thought.

“I said, I could use one of those power pruners,” I say.

“Yeah, they’re pretty good, ma’am,” he says, still working.

“Do you know where I could get one?” I ask.

“No ma’am. Sorry, I don’t” he says, pausing to wipe his blade clean.

“Do you think Sneed’s would have them?” I ask.

“Don’t know, ma’am. I’m not from around here,” he informs me. He’s boyish, and rather athletic looking. He’s also painfully shy and doesn’t allow himself to look me in the eye. He’s maybe twenty-two or so.

But he sure knows how to prune. He’s working on the park’s best pecan tree, and he’s doing it just right. That tree will have lots of nuts next year because he is surgically removing the unproductive branches. Sunlight will be able to penetrate further into the heart of the tree.

“This one belongs to the Park Commission. Maybe they got it from Lowe’s in Batesville,” he says. “That’s where I’m from.” He seems oddly unassertive, the aw-shucks country-boy type.

I’ve learned one thing: Pruning a tree is both science and art. To make it hard for the insects, you want to get rid of crossing branches. You also want clean cuts. Ragged cuts will just encourage disease.

Safety issues also crop up. It’s hard to reach high-up limbs. Five years ago, my husband was using a manual pruning saw on the end of a 12-foot pole, with a rope attached to it in case the saw blade got stuck. Well, the blade did get stuck and he tugged on the rope to loosen it. The blade suddenly burst free, and the pole came back at him like a javelin, and broke his toe. I thought I’d die laughing.

I linger a bit longer to watch a pro at work.

“Are you just working for the park this summer?” I ask, wanting to keep the conversation going while I studied his technique.

“Yes, ma’am. I go to Ole Miss,” he says.

As we chat I resolve to buy myself a power pruner. One target would be my sloppy mulberry tree, which drops leaves any month it chooses. Also I’d go at my steroid-powered fig tree, and cut it down to size.

I would seize control of the shrub-pruning assignment from my lopper-happy husband, and never again have to toss myself bodily over the azaleas to prevent him from slicing away all the emerging blossoms.

No longer would I have to tell him to heavily prune the roses of Sharon, then to stick the trimmings in the dirt to get more roses of Sharon, or to tell him to prune the big-leaf hydrangeas after they have finished blooming because they set buds on old wood, or tell him to do the opposite on all my other hydrangeas. A power pruner gives me full control.

The young man is getting ready to move onto the next park. I ask what he was studying.

“Physical Therapy. With a major in hi-tech prostheses,” he says. His bashfulness is painful to witness.  “In another year I’ll have my degree,” he adds, almost in a mumble.

“So, you’re taking the summer off and just working in the park?” I ask.

“Not really. I want to take a summer course. I’m working here to pay for it. Summer courses cost a bundle,” he explains.

“But after that you have another whole year, right?  How will you pay for that?” I don’t know how anyone can afford college these days.

“Umm, I got a baseball scholarship,” he says, looking at the ground. His boyish face has gone bright crimson.