Learning to Prune in the Historic Fort Ross Orchard

Photos and Article by Melissa McCarthy

On March 10, 2018 I arrived at the historic Fort Ross Orchard on a foggy late-winter day, there was a chill in the air but the winds were calm. I heard cheerful sounds coming from the trees and as I followed the sounds I saw a group of friendly faces under a giant pear tree with branches stretching high into the air. Our dedicated orchard volunteers, led by Susy Rudy, greeted me and introduced me to Keith Park. Keith is a National Park Service horticulturalist, pruner, and arborist. He works at the John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez California, maintaining the orchard and other trees on the parks grounds. He was at Fort Ross to guide us in a pruning workshop. 

Keith walked us through the basics of fruit tree pruning: how to approach a tree and look at it from all angles, what tools to use and how to use them, what cuts to make first and what to save for last. He also gave us information on how trees grow year to year and how pruning practices have changed over the years. We then approached an apple tree to get more of a hands-on training. Keith showed us some important cutting techniques, like making an undercut when you are working on a large branch so that the weight of the branch doesn’t tear down the bark of the trunk as it falls to the ground. We watched Keith in his flow, pruning the side of the apple tree with much growth from last year, he made it look seamless and easy, it is truly an art. With all of this information under our wings we set out to do some pruning of our own. We started slow. Even with some pruning under our belts all the knew knowledge from Keith was making us extra cautious in our cuts. Soon lopers and saws were out, ladders were being moved from tree to tree, and branches were coming down. We were getting into our own flow, and working together as a group to prune the pippens.

Just as we were finishing our work the sun broke through and we were called to the picnic tables where Susy had laid out a beautiful spread of hot tea and two kinds of fruity cake. We merrily ate and drank away the afternoon. As one volunteer said, it truly was a “Day of Heaven.” Big thanks to Susy and Keith for orchestrating, for Renova Fort Ross Foundation for underwriting the project, and of course to all the volunteers who came and enjoyed.

Click here for more information about the Fort Ross Orchard.

Post Author: Fort Ross