apple tree - pruning blog

Hi all,

If you read my last blog you’ll know I was talking about the different types of gardeners we all are. Since then I’ve been doing some thinking and I’ve had my performance review at work and I’m now working towards becoming a fruit loop! I’d like to learn more about fruit growing, training and harvesting right through to the products we can make with the harvest.

I bought my self a steam juicer in the summer last year to have a go at doing grape juice. I can highly recommend it to anyone! Its so easy to use and all you have to do is stand and watch then pour it into sterilised bottles. I can’t wait to do more from the vineyard this year!

So, after my performance review it just so happened that there were some formative winter pruning workshops on apples and pears that we could go on. I jumped at the chance and four of us went last weekend to a scattered orchard near Ipswich to be taught how to do things properly.

Now being a trained horticulturalist doesn’t mean you know it all, it shows you how little you do actually know. I’ve always gone along the general rule of thumb of pruning no more than a third off a well-trained fruit tree in the winter and you have to get the perfect bowl shape from a neglected tree straight away. It was really interesting to find out that the process of gaining a bowl in your tree is much better to be done over successional years and not to take off more than 10% of the tree.

This is down to the levels of Auxin hormone in the tree balanced against the Abscissic acid levels. Auxin is the growth hormone stored in roots in winter and Abscissic acid is a growth inhibitor hormone mainly in the plant tips. If you take away more than 10% on a Bramley apple tree or other vigorously growing fruit or 20% of the growth of other trees, of the over all tree the amount of Abscissic acid is reduced enough that the Auxin rushes to the cut sight in spring causing a mass of water shoots to be produced because all the embryonic cells aren’t being inhibited by the stunting hormone that is in the growth tips. By hacking loads off your tree to ‘start again will actually do more harm than good and it could end up looking like an unwoven wicker basket.

apple tree - pruning blog

It was really interesting to find this out and it is only recently that it has been explored to reduce the tree little by little over a few years actually has a better overall impact on the tree and its production that attacking it and making it how we want it straight away. With all that in mind I will now try and tell you how to prune your trees. No tree is the same so I won’t be giving you any pictures to look at. It is recommended that you do a winter prune anytime between December and the end of March.

  1. Take a good look at your tree and walk around it several times assessing what you see. Don’t decide on what to cut yet just note the shape, size any damaged or diseased branches, anything that looks hazardous and try to figure out where your bowl is. (this relates more to a neglected tree)
  2. Now think about all the bits you think you need to do to your tree to get it to the perfect shape.
  3. Make a plan of action as to where your bowl is going to be and what you are going to prune. This can be useful to keep a note of (in most cases it’s likely to be over the 10% reduction if it’s a neglected tree) and come back to the notes next and subsequent years. If you have identified pieces this year that need to come off but are going to leave till next or following years then using a piece of string or material tied to that branch to ‘flag’ it will help to remind you next year along with your notes.
  4. Figure out what is most important to come off this year and try not to leave too big of open wounds as this allows more chance of disease to enter. If you have a big limb to come off it is better to reduce it gradually over a few years rather than in one go. This will only produce loads of water shoots as I mentioned earlier.
  5. Now once you have made your mind up on what needs to come off and when you can start pruning.

Take a little time to get to know your tree, it will definitely be worth it in the end. It’s really made a difference in how I’m looking at the trees we have at work rather than going full throttle straight into getting the perfect shape first off. Thinking about it, a couple of years to us seems a long while but when trees can live for hundreds of years, a couple of years is nothing to them.

If you have any questions please ask and I will do my best to help you.



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