Growing Concerns: Answers to reader questions of pruning kiwi vines, madronas

The Super Bowl weekend windstorm resulted in many toppled trees and unwanted “pruning.” If your trees and shrubs suffered split or broken branches, get out the pruning saw or loppers and cleanly remove damaged wood before disease and insects enter open wounds.

We were lucky here at Flying Frog Gardens. We didn’t sustain much damage, except for the roses. I wasn’t worried about the storm’s effect on them, since I always trim them back in late fall. There weren’t any tall, brittle canes for the wind to whip and break, so I was unprepared for the scene that greeted me when the storm subsided. It looked as though the rose garden had been attacked by a herd of hungry deer. Most leaves, both old and newly sprouted, had either been torn off or shredded by those howling gusts.

I plan to feed the roses this month. They seem to thrive on a pre-spring tonic of composted steer manure and crunched-up alfalfa pellets. Yum! They may not look very rosy right now, but new growth will soon fill in.

Rex Dupuis of Oak Harbor asks: “When should I prune my mature kiwi vines?”

Hardy kiwi grows from 15 to 20 feet each growing season. Pruning is a must to keep the plant strong and encourage fruit production, not to mention preventing it from taking over your entire neighborhood.

In order to produce fruit, there must be both female and male kiwi plants. Prune the female now. First remove dead, damaged and tangled branches, and any tendrils that are close to or touching the ground. Don’t just hack away at new fruiting spurs, but do try to keep fruiting branches at least six inches apart. Prune as soon as possible, because kiwi vines tend to bleed as temperatures rise.

Prune male kiwi vines back hard in summer, leaving some of the previous year’s wood. This allows the male to flower and produce pollen necessary to keep the fruiting cycle going.

W.S. Walker of the Shelton area asks: “Is there any information available on the pruning of madrona trees? This would be to retain the root system on a bank, but control the height.”

All the information from professional horticulturists and certified arborists is the same: DON’T! Our native Pacific madrona trees are suffering greatly from the effects of civilization, and many are dying of fungal and bacterial diseases. Even air pollution can harm this massive, yet sensitive tree. Pruning, or any tampering with madronas, shortens their lives.

Madronas are invaluable for stabilizing coastal banks from Canada through northern California. They’re also an important source of food and shelter for a wide variety of wildlife. Left alone, they can live for literally hundreds of years, yet a mere century and a half of human civilization is doing them in.

If you feel that you must prune, remove only the dead wood. You can probably find a tree service that will tell you its fine to “thin out” your madrona. All I can say is that they’re either ignorant or unscrupulous. I suggest you get in touch with Plant Amnesty, a Seattle-based organization, for a referral to a knowledgeable certified arborist. You can reach Plant Amnesty at or 206-783-9813.

Mariana Graham is an Island County-WSU Master Gardener. Contact her at

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