…and you know it’s hard to pretend…

(With apologies to Supertramp)

Wet Weather

I’ve been getting a little fed up of all the wet weather recently. I don’t mind being out in the rain – providing I have the appropriate clothes on – but even I am not so excited by my allotment that I am going try and work the soil when it is REALLY wet. So I have been a frustrated gardener. I did spend some time doing a thorough seed audit, and then putting together an order for seeds to go to the allotment secretary. And I do now have a fairly detailed plan of how much of what to plant where. Assuming the weather ever allows me to get up there and prepare the beds… But I was beginning to get cabin fever.

Fortunately for me there was one job that could be done even in steady drizzle – raising the crowns of the silver birches. This really has to be done in winter, before the sap starts rising, as birches tend to bleed a lot and this can weaken the tree and leave it prone to disease. So, wrapped up in waterproofs I grabbed my pruning saw and assessed the job at hand.

For The Chop

My trees are still relatively young and most of the branches are quite slender, making the job rather easier than Sara recently tackled over at Hillwards. By raising the crown I get more of the lovely straight trunk to admire, and avoid the lower branches fouling the fence or other trees and shrubs. Even quite slender branches can be surprisingly heavy, and it is difficult to control the saw well and support the branch as it starts to sag away from the cut. To avoid damage to the trunk itself I always take out the bulk of the weight first. I make a cut from underneath the branch about a foot from the trunk, and then a downwards cut about 5cm further away from the trunk.

Controlled Breakage

The first cut – the undercut – provides a break point, stopping the bark from tearing all the way to the trunk if the branch breaks before the second cut is completed. This method allows me to deal with most tree pruning without having to enlist help. Strangely enough the other people in the household tend to be less than keen to join me in gardening chores when it is raining…

New Cut

The final cut is made close to the trunk but preserves the branch collar – the ring of slight swelling at its base. The branch collar is the most active site of the tree’s natural defences, so leaving it intact gives the tree a better chance of healing from the wound. I sometimes find it hard to tell just where the collar begins and ends, so if I can’t see it I start the cut 2-3cm (0.5″ – 1″) away from the crotch and angle it slightly outwards.


The leftovers are currently creating a trip hazard on the patio. The thicker pieces will be sawn into lengths of around a foot (30cm), and taken to the allotment to create a small log pile as a refuge for insects and other wildlife. I already have one in the back garden, by the compost bins. The smaller twiggy bits will go through the shredder and then either to the compost heap or to the allotment again for use on paths or around my “under development” seating area.

I love being outside, even in poor weather, but I would love to see the sun again soon. I want the soil at the allotment to dry out enough to work, and to be able to walk home without being two inches taller due to the mud on the bottom of my boots. The weather forecast keeps promising me a sunny day and then rescinding that promise in the middle of the night. I wake up to find that wretched rain icon again, and dull damp weather outside. A case of “sun yesterday, sun tomorrow, but never sun today”.

Thank goodness for Violas, and the welcome sight of snowdrops pushing their way up through the leaf litter.

ViolaEmergent Snowdrops

39 thoughts on “Oh no it’s raining again…

  1. Congratulations on a good job of work heroically done in the rain, and the sweet violas and snowdrop shoots – better days are coming!

  2. Hang on in there – there must be some sun coming soon.

    Also, well done on getting out there are doing some outdoors work – doing your pruning now will afford you more time at the allotment when that sun comes :-)

    Rainy days aren’t all bad though – they’re good for dreaming and planning and imagining how great it will be in summer, e.g. enjoying the freshly picked peas, salads etc

    1. I have to admit that part of the reason for pruning in the rain was that I knew I would rather be up at the plot on a non wet day, never mind a sunny day!

  3. I thought this was your GBBD post seeing that very perky viola. So few of anything here but snow, so it is a pleasure to see such a happy little flower. And your cutting up the birch logs for the insects. I admire you for this. Too many want to rid themselves of critters, but it is great you have made a refuge for them. Two now as a matter of fact.

    1. Hi Donna, I am ashamed to say that I had forgotten about the Violas when I decided not to post for GBBD because I didn’t have any blooms… Am hoping for the odd frog up at the allotment to keep the slugs down, so seems only fair to give them somewhere to hide!

  4. Hi,

    Good job with the tree prung, great advice too on how to cut the branches – it’s something I’ve never done before and hadn’t considered cutting beneath first.
    I need to coppice some Willows over the coming days/weeks and will take it into account.

    Sorry to hear you’ve been unabe to get working on the allotment. For the most part it’s just been grey here but thankfully not too wet – even had sun day and it was really rather warm in it, I’d estimate around 15oC in the sun because it was 11 in the shade… Very nice.

    1. That was meant to say pruning… Ooops!

      Hope you have a good weekend too, and manage to get some work done on the alloment! :D

    2. I owe the tree pruning technique to my trusty “RHS Guide to Pruning and Training”, which I invested in when I planted the trees. I did manage to get up to the allotment a couple of times this week, before the ground got totally sodden. Will post about progress at the weekend. Happy gardening!

  5. Hi Janet
    Oh god, I hope I don’t come across as a smart arse, but your beautiful Birch I am almost positive is the white stemmed Jacquemontii Himalayan Birch, the leaves are much larger than the common Silver Birch and of course they are mainly grown for the attractive white peeling bark. Our Jacquemontii had outgrown its position and I also have taken a chance with some severe cutting back. Now when I say taken a chance, what I mean is, there are a few trees which should actually be pruned in mid Summer when leaves are mature. These are the few trees which actually bleed profusely in Winter, and yes Birch is one of them. I suspect your pruning is not so severe as to cause a problem. Alistair

    1. Hi Alistair. You are both right and wrong! The trees are indeed Betula utilis jaquemontii, but according to my RHS book and several websites (e.g. Plant Advice and Crocus) they should still be pruned in winter – or at least after the summer. Its been working fine for years now, but thanks for caring enough to comment about it.

    1. Hi Lucy, just been to your blog and seen how similar the weather has been down your way! Miserable…

  6. I’m fustrated as well – only have weekends to garden until days get longer and the rain jut makes everything too soggy. Planning on sowing sweet pea this weekend just to cheer myself up

    1. Hi Helen, I’ve been thinking about you and your allotment this week. I’m lucky in that I can rush out during the day if it stops raining briefly, but you have to deal with working full time and not from home. Sowing sweet peas sounds like the perfect antidote, something I plant to sow more of this weekend too now that I have more room to play with! Hope you manage to get out there – with the parental assistance – soon.

  7. Good old rain – we wouldn’t be the same hardy island race without it and the roast beef of old England. Good job of pruning the trees – I just hack like a bloody mad thing until I’m happy with the result.

    1. You are right, we need the rain, I’d just like the occasional dry day inbetween!

  8. Hi Janet, I’m impressed that you ventured out into the mire to prune your trees. Such beautiful white bark! I hope that our young Jaquemontii ‘Trinity College’ sapling will look as good as yours when it matures a little – the birch that we inherited with the garden is much darker in colour, a standard silver birch I think. I too bought the RHS pruning and training book a few months ago, to help with the work on our trees, training our espaliers and dealing with roses, both shrub and rambling, which we haven’t grown before. It’s an amazing book, it didn’t leave my side for the first few weeks as I tried to assimilate all its information, and it has already proved its weight in gold. Although of course, it gives little advice on pruning mature beech, birch and horse chestnut trees, besides getting in a tree surgeon! And they were of course the three we had to wrestle with! Sara x

    1. “Wrestle” is about right! I was so impressed that the two of you tackled those huge trees. I’m sure your ‘Trinity College’ will soon look wonderful, I planted mine as bare-toot maidens and by year three they were looking like proper trees and singing out in the winter gloom. I have to admit that I called in a lovely tree surgeon to take out our too-large and leaning-precariously-out-over-the-garden eucalyptus a few years ago, I didn’t want to be responsible for it hitting the house as it came down. The pruning book is a mainstay, so clear.

  9. I really like your idea of intentionally leaving small logs around for the insects to colonize. I have a woodpile for the fireplace that accidentally has served the same purpose.

    Some people in my area grow birches, even though they’re not well adapted to our climate. Their branches–even in their “tripping hazard” version–are quite striking.

    1. Hi James. I agree, the branches are lovely, it should make for a rather attractive log pile.

  10. I have to agree that rainy weather is frustrating for gardening. In fact, snowy days (if they aren’t too cold) are more inviting for outdoor activity. I hope the rain let’s up soon so you can get back to your alottment. I’m jealous that you have blooms!

    1. I’d always rather have cold but clear and sunny than mild and grey! Though funnily enough I don’t actually mind being outdoors in the rain, its the fact that the soil is too wet to work that frustrates me. The violas are a welcome sight, though I think next year I need to go for more, and probably Pansies, as more noticeable from the house.

  11. Quite a task to do under the rain. I Hope your tree recovers soon and that you get some sunshine soon.

    1. Thanks fer – some sun would be wonderful! Currently the forecast says Monday is going to be sunny, but I’ll believe it when I see it…

  12. I am very encouraged to see the white bark on your birch and to learn how old it is. I planted the same variety as a maiden about 15 months ago and it is just starting to show the bark while still looking basically like a big stick. Maybe it will take off this year! Also impressed with your pruning technique. We have a gardener who helps here one day a week and I wimp out and leave it to him because he so palpably knows what he is doing and I so palpably don’t.

    1. Hi Elizabeth. I was astounded at how quickly the trees established themselves and started to look like young trees rather than expensive sticks, so I’m sure yours will soon be doing the same. Pruning technique all book-learnt, courtesy the RHS, but thank you for the complement! I was really scared the first time I pruned the birches, never having done anything like it before, but it is actually really straight forward and very satisfying. Mind you, having a capable gardener on hand is just as good! I draw the line at anything that requires a chainsaw…

  13. A good day of pruning in the winter always makes me feel good. Glad you were out there shaping up your birches. Good for you to demonstrate the 1-2-3 cut!!

    1. Hi Janet, what an excellent name for it! It is the 1-2-3 cut from now on!

  14. I had high hopes of getting into the garden today, but it’s WAY too windy to be safe – lots of stuff was damaged by the amount of snow we had and now small branches are coming down nineteen to the dozen, so I’m going to stay tucked up inside and get on with the depressing task of trying to work out what we lost in the potting shed fire at Christmas :(
    I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog though – it’s brightned my day!

    1. Hi, thanks for visiting, and glad to have brightened your day, something we could all do with at the moment! Your wind sounds pretty impressive. Read about your shed fire, truly awful, so dispiriting. Its not only the loss of “things”, it is the collection of memories and stories they represent. Hope 2011 is disaster-free.

  15. Such a great feeling of accomplishment when you can be out working in the garden – especially if it’s a time you wouldn’t normally go out…the bark on the silver birch is so beautifully rich and textured…I took one of the smaller limbs off my native persimmon tree and laid it along the top of my wrought iron gate that I have near the fountain. It gives the birds more room to perch and it seems they like it…I need to post about that! Have a great weekend!

  16. Nice pruning! Teeming down here a direction which made going to feed the chookie a tad hard too! Feel for you – I’m in writing up and repeating the mantra when looking at the organic garden catalogue ‘I don’t need anything, I don’t need anything, I don’t need anything!’

    Enjoy the tree!

    1. And how is that seed buying denial routine working out for you?! I got a new catalogue yesterday that had me drooling over various oriental veg that I have no room for and a lovely purple dwarf French bean that I have no need for but which would be so pretty…

  17. Thanks for the photos of your pruning – I’ve never done a silver birch and it’s very useful to have ‘work in progress’ photos. It’s raining like mad here in Northants. but I don’t mind so much after all that snow!


    1. Hi Jane, thanks for visiting, delighted you found it helpful. Its a very satisfying job.

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