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Green Acre #41: Fear of . . . Pruning

The Meyer lemon chez Cavanaugh. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

THERE ARE CERTAIN plants in my little solarium that are passing the winter in a sorry state, spindly and barely clinging to life. So sad do they look that I kept them nestled against healthier specimens, like one set of sticks that’s been sitting for months scarcely pimpled with bitty leaves.

Friend Maggie gave me that plant last spring, when she came to dinner. A lovely little bushy thing it was, and I did have its name tag handy for months and months and then lost it . . . so I have no recollection of what it’s called but I do remember

iStock photo.

reading that it was a favorite in Victorian conservatories. I also recall that the plant had small but sprightly orange flowers—or it did when I received it.

As it so often happens, heavy sigh, when the plant was moved to what I considered to be a reasonable spot in the actual outdoor garden (in this garden there are no such things as ideal spots), the flowers faded and dropped off while the branches grew increasingly piddly and scrawny.

And when it moved inside for the winter it just sat there being sulky; why I bothered even watering I just don’t know. But then, about 10 days ago there were suddenly little swellings along those skinny stalks. And I said to myself, better prune this sucker, elsewise you’re going to be sorry.

But I was so happy to see something happening that I couldn’t bring myself to clip . . . and each day I watched as the swellings became ragged little green leaves with tiny splotches of yellow and I cooed and couldn’t cut.

And then, last night (or so it seems), clusters of buds appeared on top of the sticks.

So what do I do now? If I prune it down perhaps the plant will branch and get bushy and more flowers will emerge and wouldn’t that be nice I say to myself, rather gently, because I can become truculent if I’m ordered about.

And myself replies: But maybe not! Maybe these are the only buds we’ll see. Can’t we leave it be?

The eye glances toward the Meyer lemon that sat for years with a broken branch wrapped with brown paper packing tape and supported with green wire, the only branch on the plant that ever bore fruit. A few weeks ago I finally bit the bullet with that one, and the whole bleeding thing is positively floriferous, dripping honey-scented buddlings.

Hand me those secateurs. It’s on.

—Stephanie Cavanaugh

LittleBird Stephanie writes about city gardening. You can read previous columns by searching for Green Acre in the Search box, top right.

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