I bought a multi-grafted apple tree. Does it need pruning?

OmniMarch 27, 2013

Hello again!
A few days ago, I bought a 5-grafted apple tree from Home Depot. I believe the apple tree itself is 4 or 5 years old. When I was picking out the tree, I was looking to buy one in which each of the grafts were well distanced and spaced from the others. I think this tree was the best out of the lot.

Anyways, here are the pictures:

12 O Clock view

3 O Clock View

6 O Clock View

9 O Clock View

Top view

If I were to prune this tree, I would prune the branches that are criss-crossing each other and the ones that are growing inwards towards the center of the tree. I'd then cut off about 10 CM from the tip of the main scaffold branches.

Should I prune this tree or leave it as is?

Thank you.

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I thought this might be some helpful literature on the general maintenance of multiple budded varieties, from the Dave Wilson site:

In comparison to a single fruit tree, multi-budded trees require special consideration.
When selecting a multi-budded tree, look for one that has an even distribution of limbs around the tree. If the different fruit varieties (the limbs) are not well-spread on your trees, use a spreader to separate them.
Multi-budded fruit trees are grown close together in the nursery rows and this can result in some of the budded selections receiving less-than-optimum sunlight during their development.
Always plant the smallest limb (the "weakest" bud) to the south/southwest to insure that it gets plenty of sun..
Cut back the strongest growing varieties by 2/3rds.
Cut back the weakest variety by 1/2 " or not at all.
During the summer, watch the growth-rate of the smaller limbs to determine if pruning is necessary at that time. If the weakest variety is 1/2 the size of the others, it's best not to cut it back.
Do Not! let one variety take over - or one or more of the the others may fail. Prune back the more aggressive limbs. Summer-prune when necessary in order to let sunlight get to all the developing varieties. The primary reason for the failure of multi-budded fruit trees is letting one variety take over which can cause the others to fail. This is most often due to lack of summer pruning when needed. remember to keep even sunlight available to all the developing selections.
After the third season, maintain the multi-budded tree so that each fruit-type grows in balance with the others.

Hope it helps!


    Bookmark   March 27, 2013 at 1:58PM
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Thanks a lot for your input, Jay. That was very helpful! I'll keep that in mind when I'm pruning this apple tree. However, my question is whether or not I should prune this. I just planted it in my yard a few days ago. Should I just let it grow as is and prune it next season, or should I do it immediately now?

    Bookmark   March 28, 2013 at 1:56AM
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dmtaylor(5a (WI))

On a newly planted tree, you should always prune it pretty severely right away at planting (NOW) because the roots are always damaged somewhat as the result of the transplanting, so you need to maintain balance between the roots and the upper wood of the tree. Most experts will suggest removing at least 1/3 of the wood on the entire tree at planting.

For a multi-grafted 5-in-1 tree like this, you will want to prune all the different varieties in such a way that you have approximately the same amount of wood for each variety, as they will compete with one another for space and light -- and not just this season, but for the entire life of the tree. You will need to repeat the pruning process every mid-summer and late winter (twice per year) to maintain balance between the different varieties. Prune the most vigorous varieties the most, and prune the least vigorous ones barely at all or not at all, as Jay explained above.

But yeah. Do it NOW. I always prune in mid to late March here in WI, a few weeks before the buds start to break. If you're a little late, don't worry. The only bad time to prune is autumn. The whole rest of the year is okay.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2013 at 9:29AM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance

We inherited one with our new property, and since the property had been neglected for years, one whole variety branch had to be removed due to fire blight. The tree is 3 sided now, but it's bloomed (except for Fuji), and tiny apples are forming. Maybe Fuji will come later.


    Bookmark   March 28, 2013 at 9:56AM
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I often see the advice to cut back a new planting hard..."balancing with the roots" is always the rational.

I am not sure I really buy it. Roots grow very fast, and it doesn't take all that much root to keep a plant adequately hydrated if the soil moisture is decent.

There is significant stored energy and potential energy (leaves to be) in the materail cut away. that can help a plant establish quickly.

I prune at planting to direct vigor. But I rarely cut back 1/3 of a tree. I have also planted some pretty sizable bareroot trees with marginal root sytems and none has ever shown water stress.

I believe Harvestman has referenced a canadian commercial planting technique where the roots system is essential "pencil sharpened" so they can be planted into small diameter hole...
and I am pretty sure I have read several studies debunking the old idea of "balancing" top to roots at planting. But I would want to check on that before I made any stronger claims.

perhaps it is a regional thing, and we in the north with cooler weather can get away with things others can't?

    Bookmark   March 28, 2013 at 11:12AM
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bob_z6(6b/7a SW CT)

I agree with Windfall_rob. One of the tenants of tall spindle (and several other high-density techniques) is to get trees with the most branches possible and minimally prune at planting. This gives you your best shot at early fruiting. The published advices is to remove branches which are too large- more than 1/2 the diameter of the leader (I think it was 1/2, but it could be 2/3). Spreading the branches at planting or soon after, does seem like a good idea.

I suppose if you don't like the overall shape and want more control (say to move the tree lower), you could want to do more severe pruning. But, I wouldn't think that this would apply here.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2013 at 12:50PM
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Necessarily, you'll have an open center tree. Each variety will have its own growing zone. Constant pruning is necessary to keep it that way. I'd prune away any branch that's heading toward the zone of another variety. Prune to a bud heading in the direction of that variety's zone.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2013 at 7:44PM
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Thank you everyone! I ended up just cutting off a few of the branches and as for the rest, I cut off about 10 cm down to an outward facing bud. I wanted to cut some branches that were right in the center of the tree but i was a bit hesitant since that would have cut off about 1/3 of the branches of that variety. I'll upload some before and after pictures of the tree once I get home.

I guess after the tree really gets to grow and puts on some branches, I will be able to shape it further next season.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2013 at 9:52PM
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