Growing up in a family of plantsmen and horticulturists gave me the inspiration to follow in their footsteps. I once thought that studying western horticulture á la British Gardening Journals would give me a permanent and unchanging knowledge of plants. I was wrong.

I often find myself thinking of all the garden lore that I have had to “unlearn”.  Here are some examples: 

1. “One must work the soil deeply incorporating manures or compost in order to have success.”  FALSE  

Actually, the simple act of mulching the soil surface with some form of organic matter will greatly improve the soil texture.   

2. “Flowering plants should be deadheaded as soon as possible after blooming.”  FALSE

How will you or the birds ever get to enjoy the fruits, pods or seeds unless they are allowed to develop?

3. “Leaves, twigs and other garden debris should be raked up in order to keep planting areas clean and free from pests.”  FALSE 

See #1 above (and there are other ways to control slugs).

4. “You must prune your fruit trees in winter, when they are dormant.”  FALSE

A tree pruned in winter will grow rapidly back to its original size; too big for a small garden and too tall to harvest the fruit. 

This last item has caused me a great deal of anguish. My conversion came after many years of preaching the virtues of winter pruning. It isn’t so much that I was wrong before; after all, that is the time of year when there will be the least impact on the vigor of the tree. But winter is the ideal time to prune only if you have a large garden with full-size trees, the ability to pick fruit 20 feet above your head, and a way to use or dispose of a pile of branches. How many Bay Area residents have these options? I sometimes envy those who do, but they have their work cut out for them. For all the rest of us, consider summer pruning.

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