Training young fruit trees with summer pruning only

alan haighJanuary 25, 2013

As we enter traditional pruning season I thought some of you would find this article interesting. I have not found his assertion that winter training creates a permanent imbalance in trees no matter how subsequent pruning is done but the author has taught me a lot about pruning over the years. His credentials are impressive.

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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

Thanks hman, there are some very good points in that article. I learned by my own trial and error that indescriminate cutting shoots in half in summer was not the best way to prune; that is the way I started based on the DWN Backyard Orchard philosophy. As this author states, like winter pruning it will produce growth over fruit. The key is to do lots of shoot thinning/rubbing in the summer, and resort to heading only when that will not work.

I also agree with his point that summer pruning is generally better than winter pruning, because winter pruning produces huge flushes of unwanted growth. The problem I have however is I am too busy in the summer to get the needed pruning done. Re: permanent imbalance, for most trees I think you can get trees into a good balance with winter pruning, but I have a few trees that I just cannot get balanced. Hopefully with a big commitment to limb bending I will finally be able to get some of these guys in line.


PS FYI you need to register to read the article, but its free and painless.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2013 at 8:39AM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

I do nearly zero winter pruning except when I'm removing a tree over several years or removing a variety from a multigraft. On a tree that's remaining the same size it's all via summer pruning. And I don't have any overly vigorous trees at least didn't last summer. This year I've got about four trees that were cut back by about 1/2 to 3/4. They are on their way out. We'll see how they go this summer. But if I keep them in 2014 it will all be done by pruning this summer not next winter.

Even my big cuts like removing a limb or half a tree are done after that part of the tree fruits. So it seems like all pruning is before winter. I do have the advantage that most of my trees are in a greenhouse. So there are no restrictions on pruning due to disease or cold. It can all be done in summer with good results from my perspective.

This post was edited by fruitnut on Fri, Jan 25, 13 at 9:03

    Bookmark   January 25, 2013 at 8:50AM
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Harvestman, what an excellent article. I never focused on the word' balance' before in regard to pruning, except for the shape of the tree. I agree that winter pruning forces tremendous new growth on my trees but not of fruit producing wood. (Eventually it would be fruit producing wood but I want trees that are no taller than 10'.) This is most obvious on my apples and plums. The other tree varieties tend to behave themselves a bit better. My winter pruning allows new shoots to grow up to five feet tall each summer. I always thought this was a waste of the tree's energy. I will winter prune next month, but now do selective summer pruning as well, for water spouts and new growth that just takes off! Thank again, Mrs. G

    Bookmark   January 25, 2013 at 9:02AM
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alan haigh

On mature trees winter pruning doesn't necessarily stimulate growth more than summer pruning and an American researcher whose name I forget has shown that annual shoots on apples return with as much vigor whether removed in summer as winter.

There is so much variability from variety to variety in apples in pruning response I wouldn't take any advice as absolute.

Also, how and what kind of wood you prune makes a huge difference.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2013 at 10:58AM
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I'll never learn it all, trying, but there is more to remembering in the world of fruit trees than there are conventions in duplicate bridge! Mrs. G

    Bookmark   January 25, 2013 at 11:02AM
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Nice article, thanks for sharing. I probably tend to over prune my blueberry plants and Im wondering if the same principles in the article apply to blueberries? Here on the gulf coast wet springs and lots of humidity are the norm. With high humidity leaf fungus can be a real problem so I tend to do a light prune in winter to thin fruit buds and open the centers for light and air circulation. After fruiting I will top the plants to control height and grow new fruiting wood for next spring. By the article it sounds like Im doing it all wrong.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2013 at 12:13PM
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alan haigh

Incidentally, this article is about training very young trees more than maintenance of established trees. For bearing age trees entire limbs must often be removed after harvest- not during the growing season- especially apple trees trained to a central leader.

Top tiers of central leader trees must always be cycled with oldest limbs removed when they begin to dominate the canopy (usually when diameter exceeds one third of trunk at point of that branches attachment). Obviously this is done after harvest, and whether it's done in fall, winter or early spring makes little difference.

Also, when trees first come into bearing there is often an excess of scaffold branches at every tier which fall into same procedure as above- removal after harvest.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2013 at 8:43AM
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Noogy(6 sw mi)

This approach is based on Louis Lorrette's methods of pruning ca. 1900's Wagonville, Versailles, France. I have the old musty Lorette's System of Pruning book c.1925, 1946 ed I rescued from a library pile.
Rodale press,G. Britain. no isbn
In a 1919 photo I see his Double U cordons spaced about 5'apart and 8'high very similar to high density plantings.
Interesting article. Thanks for sharing

    Bookmark   February 2, 2013 at 2:34PM
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alan haigh

It doesn't really make sense for large free standing apple trees that bear late in the season where branch removal is standard procedure, although some summer pruning with them is very helpful- mostly just taking off water sprouts.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2013 at 3:42PM
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Noogy(6 sw mi)

Yup. Grow fruit, not tree. Prune in 4" gradual succession on vertical vigor and get the structures that lead to flower buds to begin to differentiate. And better to prune a little later as to not induce more vegetative growth. Tie down vigor/branches and let the light in! Still learning...

    Bookmark   February 2, 2013 at 8:01PM
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alan haigh

It is not usually necessary to turn water sprouts into fruiting units as many apple varieties bear best flower buds on undisturbed second year wood (the moderately vigorous annual shoots). Unless you are talking about espaliers.

There are also varieties that bear their best apples on the tips of last years wood. I never need to create bud wood by heading back water sprouts- never. Not with any species.

It is probably something I could use with super vigorous and vertical growers like N. Spy but I don't have time to keep coming back and prefer just to festoon uprights in the winter. The following winter they've sent up more uprights from the bent wood which I remove all but least vigorous and next harvest season the lower part of bent shoots usually have fruit. After a couple years of doing this overexcited growth usually calms down.

There are many ways to skin a cat. Some take more time.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2013 at 10:24AM
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Noogy(6 sw mi)

Interesting. Apples do grow different. I've been applying this to bartlett and ayers on seedling and have got them to flower the last 2 years. Flowering at the 3rd year in ground aint too bad for a bartlett, and 4 for ayers from bare root. So maybe this pruning water sprouts is specially good for inducing early bearing as a result of/ with branch bending/tying down.

Now Harrow Sweet I noticed as horizontal in growth leading to precocity on OHF84. My trees are small and need this year to work on scaffolding as branching @18" appears too low.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2013 at 11:05AM
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alan haigh

Yeah, Harrow Sweet is precocious and produces a beautiful tree without much effort. I could see the method helping with many other types of pears which sometimes produce almost nothing but overly vigorous uprights when left to their own device. I find myself pruning to two year wood with pears quite frequently, which has similar affect.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2013 at 5:47AM
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