On this unseasonably frigid morning, a small group of us gathered at the garden to prune the fruit trees. Pruning should be done when the trees are dormant, and sap is still far from the distal tips of budless branches.
I had worried that the third week of March might be past the optimal pruning date. As I my feet slowly numbed while I stood in the snow that collected last night under the trees, I understood that we probably could have waited a week or two longer.
Removing branches from a tree opens up its canopy, allowing in sunlight and oxygen and preventing injuries to the tree from the rubbing of entangled limbs. Clearing away water sprouts (or suckers) and small, non-producing branches also directs the tree's growth into the larger branches. Pruned trees often produce more fruit than their untended counterparts.
Although I understand this on an intellectual level, I always find it difficult to close the lopper blades that first time, or to saw through the base of a branch that has grown too much for its small space in the espalier. The task gets easier the more I do it.