"A hair on the head is worth two on the brush."
-- Irish Proverb
"And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and
the winds long to play with your hair."
-- Kahlil Gibran
I have always felt a bit unconventional, perhaps it's the reason
why I grew my hair in the first place. Of course, that was 35 years
ago, and it was fashionable on campus. It had always been symbolic;
part statement, part security blanket. I particularly loved the way
the wind would catch my hair while playing.
But I gradually tired of people making notice of my hair, and so I
trimmed it during the holidays. And of course, I've gotten more
attention than ever. Mainly, I am told, I look younger -- which is
good, because I am getting older.
Like hair, plants may grow wildly and unkempt if not regularly
groomed. The object of pruning is to modify plant growth and promote
good health. Let's review how plants grow, before we set off to prune
our roses or fruit trees.
All plants grow by elongating at sites we call buds. The terminal
bud develops at the top of a plant, on the end of a stem or branch,
and causes a plant to grow taller. The lateral bud grows on the sides
of stems. These buds produce the sideways growth that makes a plant
When a plant is actively growing, plant hormones called auxins are
found within the growth buds. It is these hormones that actually
cause bud formation and expansion. When a bud is removed, auxin flows
This explains why a plant that is topped grows bushy; auxin is
transferred from the terminal bud to the lateral buds. Conversely,
when lateral buds are removed, a plant will grow taller.
The act of pruning helps to maintain a plant's health. Young
plants may grow actively for a few years, and then become lazy, they
lose interest in being vigorous. To keep plants young, the removal of
older stems directs the plant to produce new stems and leaves. A
simple and open plant structure allows sunlight and air to reach all
of the leaves; a necessity for continued good appearance and new
Specialized pruning allows a gardener to keep plants shapely and
control their growth. With a little experience, you'll be able to
predict the outcome of pruning and produce a variety of special plant
effects. Espaliers are an example of specialized pruning, as are
topiary and bonsai.
Skillful pruning can increase the quality and yield of fruit and
flowers. Many plants, like roses and deciduous fruit trees, not only
require care to gain shape, but are dependent on knowledgeable
pruning to produce beautiful flowers and bountiful fruit.
Pruning, like any gardening or landscaping activity, requires a
little knowledge and lots of enthusiasm. This is seldom learned
through horticultural lexicons but rather through experience, both
good and bad. Remember, plants will grow back!
As Catharine had predicted, it rained for five days. Take
advantage of the rain-free days to complete garden chores leftover
from the holidays. Maybe you could even get your hair trimmed; it's
looking a little shaggy over the ears. See you next time.
* STEVE KAWARATANI is happily married to local writer, Catharine
Cooper, and has two cats. He can be reached at (949) 497-2438, or
e-mail to landscapes@ln.