We moved into our house a few years ago in mid-February. A couple of weeks later, a neighbor knocked on the door holding clippers, a miniature saw, and a book on caring for roses. “It’s pruning season,” she said, gesturing toward my backyard, which is teeming with rose bushes.
I’d never pruned anything before. I watched as she demonstrated the technique on a few bushes.
“Cut off anything that’s dead or diseased, anything that’s skinnier than a pencil, and anything that’s growing inward,” she said, as she snipped, clipped, and sawed on a bush.
I spent more than a month pruning the roses that spring, examining each plant before making any cuts. Each one felt like a jigsaw puzzle.
Several weeks after her demonstration, my neighbor walked by and saw me hovering over a bush in the front yard. “Don’t worry. You’ll get more confident when you see them grow back this summer.”
I wasn’t so sure. “Where would you cut this one?” I asked tentatively.
Amazingly the roses bloomed that summer. I wandered among them in the evenings, watching the heads close in the fading light, examining their thorny branches. I already dreaded February’s life-and-death deliberations of which branch would stay and which would shrivel in the yard waste bin.
Then in January, I walked through the city rose garden. The plants, which were gigantic walls of roses in the summer, were pruned down to almost nothing.
A month later, when I returned to the garden with my clipping shears, I had no fear. It took me less than a week to trim all of the bushes, and they were significantly more pruned this time.
Sure enough, by mid-June, my backyard was full of gigantic blooming bushes.
At first pruning felt counter-intuitive to me. I was sure I would hurt or kill the plants by cutting them back so far. But as I return to the garden this year, the process feels more intuitive, and even like an apt metaphor for life.
Sometimes you have to be fearless about cutting out what you don’t need to make space for more things to grow.
[This is an updated version of “Learning to Prune”, originally posted March 2, 2010. It’s pruning season once again, and I’ve found myself thinking of that post. We’ve had some spring-like weather around here, which feels just perfect for pruning – not just the roses, but the house, the closets, the cupboards… It may be a busy week.]