trending towards less pruning pommes

thomis(7)March 12, 2013

I have pruned so heavily in recent years that I think I have overstimulated some of my apples into responding by putting out new growth and not producing fruit. I decided to take a different approach this Spring. I pruned very little, only cutting out a few pieces of diseased wood and branches growing toward the center. It'll be interesting to see how they respond.
Anyone else noticed this result of too much pruning?

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dmtaylor(5a (WI))

I've pruned my young trees very hard every year, removing 1/4 to 1/3 of all the wood on each tree every year. My Honeycrisp tree is about 6 years old and has not produced a single apple yet. That being said, it also has the most beautiful pyramidal form that anyone has ever seen, AND it has a buttload of fruit buds on it this year. So it appears that even with overpruning, patience will eventually be rewarded, at least on a spur-bearing tree.

Meanwhile, once I finally discovered last winter that my 4-year old Cortland tree is a tip-bearer, and I left alone the tips of most branches, this allowed me 4 apples last season. This year I will thin a couple of branches out in their entirety, but will leave most branches alone, not tipping them anymore.

All in all, I have learned a few lessons these past few years. FIrst of all, don't tip your tip-bearers! Secondly, there really IS such a thing as overpruning, and if you want fruit, you are better off not touching the tree much at all for the first few years. But if your desire is a shapely tree as well as quality fruit, then you can prune as you will but just realize that fruiting will be delayed. So it really all depends what you want out of your trees. I am young and in general I don't mind waiting a little longer for fruit in order to obtain a more shapely tree that will be easier to manage for years to come. But I do hate to lose out on the Cortlands so now I've learned to go a little easier on that one.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 5:37PM
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alan haigh

Cutting back branches always delays maturity and should be avoided as much as reasonable. Branches can always be cut back later after fruiting begins to encourage secondary and tertiary wood.

As I've stated here on several occasions, a standard method of pruning commercial free standing (M7 and up) apple and pear orchards is not to prune anything except branches more than a third the diameter of the trunk at point they are attached to trunk until tree bears a full crop. Then worry about shading, crowding and choosing permanent scaffolds.

Admittedly it doesn't work great for all varieties for various reasons but if you are not sure what you're doing it's a great default method while you learn the specific habits of various species and varieties.

In answer to the question, I've certainly been guilty of overpruning- especially with uncooperative varieties- such as ones that refuse to produce anything but oversized scaffolds. There's no perfect formula.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 5:57PM
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What about pruning a three year apple tree (my Pristine) that produced 64 apples its first crop, last summer. The tree has established spurs. How do you then decide how the branches are pruned once they have spurs? Do the rules of pruning change? Thanks, Mrs. G

    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 6:24PM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

I have been guilty of overpruning in recent years, and before that guilty of under-pruning. This year I have decided to do a lot more limb bending and spreading which will hopefully convince the trees to grow out of those limbs and not try to reach to the sky with a bunch of shoots. I bought 2000' of twine this winter thinking that would last me forever but I'm over halfway through my spool already...

Mrs G, as Hman says every tree is unique. I have a few apples that I hardly pruned at all this winter since they bore a huge load and put on little growth. For most of the heavy bearers they may need some shoots removed or bent/spread, and then general thinning of shoots for a good density and thats often all you need.


    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 10:42PM
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blackrag(6A East PA)

I just finished doing exactly what you described. I pruned hard again and regret it. My focus has been on forming and training the perfect tree more than fruit production and it is all due to blindly studying the process instead of understanding the theory. This whole learning curve thing makes me feel "dumb as a stump". "Here lies Chad, had nice looking trees, but no fruit. Didn't know a spur from a water sprout...."

    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 11:12PM
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alan haigh

Blackrag, don't feel bad, this stuff is complicated and no matter how much you research it very, bad mistakes are pretty much unavoidable. No one is better at reading and understanding research here than Scott and see what he just wrote. Of course, he's planting with very close spacing at a site he can't control irrigation, so he's charting new territory.

I've been working fruit trees my whole long life and full time for almost a quarter a century and yet I'm baffled and challenged by terrible decisions I made only 8 years ago that I have to work around when I prune today. Some days I still feel pretty inept.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2013 at 7:47AM
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Thanks Scott an H-man. Pruning is the hardest chore for us beginners. Pruning a maiden is not easier than pruning a three year old. I will go to youtube and look up branch spreading and limb bending. Mrs. G

    Bookmark   March 13, 2013 at 1:12PM
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"Here lies Chad, had nice looking trees, but no fruit. Didn't know a spur from a water sprout...." That's hilarious. I share your sentiment (except for my trees are not quite nice looking).

At first, when I read that we should prune fruit trees when they are young, I felt bad because my trees were not pruned for 3-4 yrs.

Then, I started pruning and found out that dormant pruning could stimulate more growth (I want to shape the trees, not create more water sprouts). I've also learned that there is a things called summer pruning, too.

Moving on, I've just learned (after I just have a gut to hard prune) that pruning hard before a tree starts producing fruit will likely delay fruit production, ooph!!

I have a lot of catching up to do. My poor trees!!!

    Bookmark   March 13, 2013 at 5:58PM
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