Beginning in 1973, after my grandfather stopped driving and I acquired his 1964 Chevy II Nova, I became his gardener. I was 16 years old at the time. I had taken care of my mother’s yard care needs for years, but now I had a second yard to care for.
Mowing and edging the yard was not a problem but trimming roses and citrus trees was new to me and something I knew little about. My grandfather had owned a small farm in the Portland, Oregon area before moving to Oak Street in Whittier.
My grandparents had several rows of rose bushes along the right side of their yard, between their lawn and the neighbor’s driveway. The citrus trees were behind the house and included a large tangerine near the southwest corner of the house. In the far back of the yard, near the alley, there was a navel orange, Valencia orange, and Meyer lemon. He also had a pomegranate, two kinds of fig, a guava, and an apricot tree. His gardens plots included zucchini, rhubarb, and asparagus.
I rarely trimmed the tangerine tree and never trimmed the Meyer lemon except to remove all the suckers. My grandfather defined suckers as fast growing branches, usually green and smooth, which produced no fruit but “sucked” energy from the trees. The sucker usually had larger and darker leaves. They nearly always grew straight upward in the tree.
I regularly trimmed the navel and Valencia trees. The method my grandfather taught me was to remove branches that crossed the main body of the tree and to cut branches so that the buds pointed up and outward. I would climb up into the middle of the tree and, standing on the larger branches, would cut all around me.
After using this technique for a few years, the inside center portion of the tree would be clear of branches and sort of hollow. The had the added advantage of making each pruning easier as the center cleared out. The fruit would be to the outside of the tree in a narrow layer and easy to pick. We never topped the Navel or Valencia tree so some of the highest fruit was not picked.
The method he taught me to use when picking oranges was the gasp the fruit that looked ripe and turn it either forward and backward or side to side without pulling. If it was ripe it would come right off and not tear the skin near the stem.
We regularly pruned the roses as well and used a similar technique. We trimmed away any branches, stems, or canes that crossed the main plant, and all cuts left a bud facing out and upward. This produced a plant with upward growth and blooms and sort of a bowl shape. Because they lived in Southern California there was no need to prune very low in the winter, but we did cut them back and remove any dead canes in the late fall.
Photo by William Krapp.