Allison Titcomb ALTA Consulting LLC

The Value of Pruning

by Allison Titcomb on July 21, 2011

photo of dragon sculpture at Albuquerque Botanical Gardens

ABQ Botanical Garden Dragon

During a discussion with some like-minded colleagues, we all mentioned feeling at a point in our lives where we needed to sift through our commitments and experiences and “clean house.”  In some ways we meant that literally.  But we also referred to the need to clear out certain aspects of our lives in order to make room for new (sometimes as-yet-unknown) adventures and directions.

I tend to think in images or metaphors as a way of sense-making,  so I offered, “Seems as though we all want to do some pruning.”  There was a long pause of collective quiet and heads nodded in agreement.  The idea resonated at the time and has stuck with me since.  So much so that I realized I had the topic, or theme, for my very first blog!

What pruning means to me

My first, literal, thought is that I’m not partial to the idea of pruning.  I like “wild type” growth of the native plants around my living space.  Although I enjoy visits to “tended gardens,” I am more drawn to shrubby, overgrown spots with safe niche spaces for birds and other wildlife.  When I think of pruning, I imagine severely whacked bare rosebushes or damaged trees that look stark and exposed.  Yet, I know that…

… sometimes the “old” growth prevents areas of new growth from nourishment it needs to flourish.

… the plant might be growing in a way that damages other precious things around it– or that limits maximum shade for our relief from the Arizona sun.

… the new growth that happens after pruning can be lush and beautiful.

Pruning can seem harsh if done abruptly, in haste, with excessive enthusiasm, or without mindful choices about where and to what extent.   So a key to pruning is knowing the purpose and nature of the “job.”  The Sleeping Beauty Thorn Hedge needs a powerful sword and strong arm while the delicate Bonsai Tree requires gentle grooming with micro-fine clippers and a steady hand.

What could use some pruning in our lives?  What can we do without? Who or what can do without us?  What needs to be trimmed to make room for new growth?

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

David July 21, 2011 at 9:04 am

What a great metaphor! I, too, fear pruning plants but have found it doesn’t mean that they need to look like French poodles. And I know that is the same in life, too. Thanks for a thoughtful post!


Erik Shapiro October 9, 2011 at 2:00 pm

One of my favorite profs from way back when I was an Aggie was Steve Fazios, who had a stndard lecture with slide show about how to prune and how not to prune called “Pruning, or ruining?” Lots of good metaphors:

Initial pruning should be to create a good scaffold for future growth, think like an architecht.

Branches that cross will rub against each other and give opportunity for disease, so cut off one of them.

The wonderfully named “crotch dropping” which means make your cut right after a branch, so that branch will become a dominant branch. otherwise you get a lot of small branches.

Most pruning should be only done at seasonally appropriate times, when the tree is dormant. exceptions are if a branch is sticking out and you hit your head as you walked by, or if a branch is cracked. prune them back immediately.

Anything else is just ruining.


at October 23, 2011 at 3:04 pm

An echo from Steve Jobs:
Saying “no” to 1,000 things.
Good reminders. :)


at December 23, 2011 at 6:15 pm

Winter Solstice connection: Letting go of what no longer works and inviting in refreshed intentions.


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