As we wait for our third child to be born (three days overdue now), i’m finding that life has slowed to a pace where I am noticing much more of God speaking through my surroundings. Yesterday, I looked out of the window of my study at the Magnolia tree in our front garden. It’s a type that sheds it leaves in Autumn, and as we have had a good deal of wind recently, I noticed that nearly all of the leaves had fallen, except ones that were still attached to this years growth. Now, I confess that I am no horticulturist, but if you prune a Magnolia tree harshly, the following year you get what are called ‘watershoots’. These are long, very straight shoots that produce an impression of rapid growth. In summer, it is difficult to distinguish them from the more mature growth as the leaf coverage is so prolific. However, in Autumn, when the first winds have come, they stand out clearly as they are the only shoots with leaves left on them. They are new, young and immature and can hold onto the previous season’s coverage throughout winter. That may seem ok, until you learn a little more about the Magnolia. These watershoots need pruning off. If they are left, next year all of the energy of the tree will go into establishing them, rather than into the production of reproductive flowers. They will, if left, grow hardy and strong-looking and will rapidly increase the size of the tree. So, if it is rapid growth and size that you are after, leave them alone! There is, of course, a payoff. With that rapid growth and size increase, the quality of the reproduction of the tree diminishes. One day, you can be left with a huge Magnolia tree, with very few flowers. All who know the Magnolia, will know that all of the beauty of the tree is in its flowering. If you wait until the late Winter or Spring to prune these watershoots off, you risk ‘bleeding’ as the sap is already rising; this attracts insects and the healing process of the tree is damaged.
So, the only way forward is to take hold of a pair of pruning scissors, climb the ladder and cut off these shoots as soon as they are exposed by the leaf-drop around them. This seems really counterintuitive as they are, by this stage, the only thing about the tree that looks healthy. Surely it is better for you to just wait for the wind to blow the leaves off first (you may ask); but by then, it would be just too late. You have to seize the day, lop them off and then allow the tree to heal through the winter. As I got closer to the tree, I began to notice something for the first time. The tree was already covered in new buds, already placed perfectly to give the most tremendous, reproductive display. By climbing the tree and doing business with the imposter shoots, I was right up close and personal with the promises and the beauty of the next season.