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Apple tree pruning?

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Hi all

I've got a small mixed orchard, planted about 5 years ago, mainly on MM106 rootstocks. I've lightly pruned the trees in the past, but think I need to do a heavier prune this winter. Below is a photo of the largest and most unruly tree. I know to prune dead, diseased, dying, then any crossing branches, and can do that. However, to get it to the open goblet shape I think I'm aiming for, I think it needs more. Marked in red is what I think would be about right (cutting back the longer sections so we can reach the apples on the remaining branches and opening the middle a bit) and marked in green is what I'm toying with doing for a harder cut back and to guide the tree more towards the goblet shape.

Does anyone have any thoughts on this? I think there are a couple of pruning specialists on here... The green option looks quite drastic, but might be worth doing to get the tree into a better shape for the future...

Thanks.

IMG_20220120_113915.jpg

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Well, first thing  to do is get rid of all that grass growing underneath! But i think  yr pruning strategy is not far wrong. K

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21 minutes ago, Khriss said:

Well, first thing  to do is get rid of all that grass growing underneath! But i think  yr pruning strategy is not far wrong. K

Agreed, get rid of the grass and do some mulch around the base of the trees if you can. 

 

You don't want to go about tip pruning the branches really because that takes the flex out of the branch which defeats the point in fruit trees as you want the branches to be weighted down by the fruit, so to speak. You want to select the main branches you want to keep and then keep those as the dominating scaffolds of the tree. Take out any additional branching so you have an open centre and keep it that way. Key is an open centre. You don't want central leaders you want to keep the tree to a comfortable height so you can keep pruning it and getting the best fruit the tree can give. I am guessing you are talking apples based on the rootstock you mention? You want to take out any branches that are growing inwards rather than outwards. You can do about 3 main cuts a year and some smaller cuts to finish off. Don't go overboard in one season. 

 

Stone fruit should be pruned in early/mid summer. 

 

Hope that helps. 

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Id maybe crown raise & and take out crossing branches, but  not go OTT on  the green marked ones  as looks like it may cause a mass of water sprouts making tree more dense.

 

 

image.png.3a72fd55994fcf64f3246fb9c62226b2.png

 

If cut green could end up like this.....

 

Better to take out   say any congested branch  completely near the main trunk than have too many, branches half cut off imo....

 

m106 is kind of abit  large rootstock for aiming for no ladders needed?

But  will compete better with  grass than a more dwarf rootstock would.....

Think now commercial orchards plant on a more dwarf rootstock than m106 so no ladders needed....?

 

Id do the red /leader prunning in summer....

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Agree about removing the grass . The dark art of pruning orchard trees requires the center of the tree to be pruned out , I believe to do with air flow ? Any way commercial trees are kept that way . 

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I looked after an orchard in Kent for over 30 years which was grown on semi-dwarf stock. I currently have my own which has apples on MM106, pears on Quince A, plums on St. Julien and cherries on Colt. These are around 11 years old, planted at  12' spacing and the apples do not need a ladder, so it can be done.

 

There are many approaches to fruit pruning. The first question is the form you are going for. I would suggest a fairly low bush is what you are heading towards, which will help keep the tree workable from the ground at the expense of easy access underneath, so you will need to kill the grass. I use a layer of cardboard covered in chip which has been stacked for a year or so, which isn't the prettiest but works fine. Note, this is not a modern orchard form, producing lower yields per hectare than a very dwarf stock grown densely on a permanent vertical stake, but these are short-lived, high input and not really very attractive aesthetically.

 

With regard to pruning, think of a stemmed glass. That could be anything from a standard wineglass to a champagne coupe. Anything growing up the middle comes out. You need main branches arranged roughly evenly around that - usually four or so. From above, they would look like spokes of a wheel but actually they come up at an angle. Simply cutting off anything too upright or too low is an option, but cutting tends to result in more vigorous growth in response, so an alternative approach is to bend the existing branches to shape. This can be done using string or poles. There is an art to knowing what will bend, how far, and create a strong shape when it does, but generally lowering the branch angles like this tends to make the tree focus more on fruiting than growth, keeping them smaller. Once you have bent the branches and secured them where you want, you can decide what is actually in the wrong place, and what doesn't fit your pruning method.

 

Methods - two principle approaches, one is spur and the other renewal. Spur pruning builds up a permanent structure of main branches, sub-branches and laterals, filling the space but keeping them a good 3' apart vertically so on a small tree like this you would probably aim for a single layer. There is an excellent photograph showing this in The Fruit Garden Displayed. The approach relies on cutting all new growth back each winter to the fruiting spurs, leaving only 3 buds, and then taking back some of the spur system itself every winter to keep it from becoming overcrowded. Spur pruning is very formulaic, using a lot of very small cuts. Renewal pruning by contrast starts from the premise that nothing other than the trunk and probably those first branches from it is necessarily to be regarded as permanent. Everything else can be taken out when a new branch starts to form which could replace it. In theory, you would pick fairly evenly placed growth along the main branches and leave it alone for three years, then cut it back to the lowest side-branch on that piece but in practice you always end up with more of a mix of cuts coming out - some three-year old material gets an extra year, some younger material gets too crowded and a comes out a year early, some side branches can be replaced with something better if you bend it into place, sometimes by anchoring it to something else (temporarily crossing branch) and cut that other piece out the following year. This makes renewal pruning far less formulaic and reliant on judgement. Typically, renewal pruned trees look more natural as the new growth is not tipped off, so they are more straggly. They are pruned with far fewer, bigger cuts. You can of course switch between these two methods at some point, but not flip-flop between them annually. A couple of things to bear in mind - firstly, some varieties are tip-bearing so if you try to spur prune them you will take all the fruit buds off. Secondly, spur pruning drains the tree more as all new growth is constantly being cut off, so it will gradually slow down whereas renewal pruning can be used pretty much indefinitely (the trees in Kent are now 103 years old, which is pretty good for dwarf stock). The yield is better from spur pruned trees and they are easier to harvest.

 

I would look at the centres of your trees first and see what the branch angles are like, and then think about what will best achieve the formative pruning. You can afford to cut a reasonable amount off without the tree going mad and they aren't that dense anyway, but if you do get water shoots forming (vigorous, vertical growth near the middle) then pulling them off next summer is easier for dealing with them than cutting them out the following winter.

 

Alec

Edited by agg221
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That's brilliant Alec, thank you.

The third pruning strategy which I see in gardens is what I call "hedge" pruning. The method is to keep cutting off any growth outside the desired size of tree, which results in sprouting at the edge of the tree that gets denser and denser and gradually shades out the growth inside the tree. The end result is a strange hollow ball shaped tree which has no fruit.

This is to me the danger of making just the red cuts.

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I've got 3 acres of 45 year old Bramley on 106 and you don't need a ladder to pick them. You can let them grow tall so you do need a ladder, no question about that but it isn't difficult to keep them at a sensible height. 

My top tip for pruning is that if you are going to cut a branch off cut it all off. Don't fart about cutting the tips  (so do not cut any of them where the red lines are) although the low hanging branches can be shortened to stop them drooping right down to the floor.

I think I would remove the strongest of those top/central branches right back to the trunk and hope the rest come down with the weight of fruit. Not a bad idea to tie some branches down a bit. Anything above 45 degrees will continue to go up without fruiting so tying them down to below 45 degrees will encourage them to fruit. The more they fruit the less they grow, it is all about getting that balance right.

Referring to the smaller trees, it isn't good practice to have two branches growing up like you have, nearly always results in the tree splitting down the joint when they have fruit on them.

 

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Many thanks for that folks, especially Alec for that veritable essay! I will read through it all again and inwardly digest.

 

The trees are actually growing through plastic weed membrane, but the grass is fighting back and overwhelming the plastic. I will mulch with cardboard and wood chip / manure again.

The trees are mainly apple, and I won't prune the plum, cherry etc. until summer. (If at all - the apples are bigger).

I will try bending some branches (interesting to know about the grow / fruit branch angle relationship), and a few larger cuts to the main branches rather than tip pruning too much and see how it goes. I've also looked up Stephen Hayes and that looks useful, easier to follow a video than try and replicate text / articles here in my paddock without internet signal! I have one semi tip bearing tree (Lord Lambourne IIRC) but mostly spur bearing. I'm also looking for a not too intensive management regime, so renewal pruning with occasional spur pruning might work.

 

Several of my other trees also have twin main leaders, so I will cut back one or both of them and aim for a manageable goblet shape. Interesting times!

 

Thanks again for taking the time.

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