Spring Pruning

mrsg47(7)March 1, 2013

Finally pulled out the clippers, loppers and saw today and pruned all of my 14 trees. I hacked back the Montmorency Cherry, as it has not had fruit to mention since it went in 6 years ago. I left all the branches on that had five bud clusters but removed the rest.

Every tree needed serious pruning, as for the first three years of owning these trees I was basically terrifed of pruning. I remember Harvestman telling us (more than once) we usually do not prune enough! Boy I hope he's right. My trees can grow new shoots that are five feet tall in a summer. Well, they're gone now. Will start spraying tomorrow. I want to keep my trees no taller than 9'. Mrs. G

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greenorchardmom(Ga Mts 7)

It takes a bit of hardcore bravery to prune when nervous let alone terrified
so I say good for you & your trees!
I prune back hard as I prefer my trees to develop strong roots
Recently I have read conflicting info I find verrrry interesting
but I still prune hard for me its quality over quantity
not to mention I need to keep the trees managable
and hey if I had your Montmorency that has you so understandably frustrated
I might do a bit more with the saw than those clippers

    Bookmark   March 1, 2013 at 7:15PM
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GreenOrchard, I used the saw on the Montmorency and took off more branches and clipped off twigs that were at least 1/8th inch in diam. All branches looked to spindly and weak, (brooms) so they are gone! I took four feet off of my apple trees and plums. The shapes of the trees are far better now. Started looking at all of the weeding waiting for me. I think I just might hire a 'helper', as I've created a small monster. There always seem to be debates about pruning: summer/vs/fall, etc. You have such a great attitude! Mrs. G

    Bookmark   March 1, 2013 at 8:07PM
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alan haigh

Mrs. G, I tried to post a note last night, but it seems I failed to submit it. I actually wouldn't want to leave the impression that the biggest danger is underpruning- although once trees are producing decent crops, underpruning is more common than actually butchering fruit trees when performed by lovers of their trees.

Actually, it can be hard to leave well enough alone for immature trees where excessive pruning out of impatience for perfect form can severely delay the establishment of a young apple or pear tree. Stone fruit can usually establish rapidly as long as some branches are left on the tree. Stubbing back branches delays maturity and removing too many branches greatly delays the establishment of decent size- especially for apples and pears.

It is branches of excessive diameter that are often left on young trees to great disadvantage, not only to early fruiting, but also to a balanced shape and pruning ease later on. Even this issue is a bit complicated by the fact that there are many variables, however, for the beginner, knowing to remove all branches more than half the diameter of the trunk at its point of attachment is a useful guideline. Leave a slight stub if a smaller branch is needed at that point. For vigorous apple varieties like N. Spy, Baldwin, Fuji, etc branches should not be more than a third the diameter of the trunk.

As the trees mature and produce secondary branching the same 2-1 principle should be applied to branches coming off a scaffold's "central leader".

When apples, plums (especially Euros), and pears begin producing fruit whole branches can be removed to open the tree up and provide good sun to all fruiting wood.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2013 at 6:39AM
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I can attest to being nervous when pruning. Im well aware of how well plants can handle mistakes when pruning or trimming, but Ive never dealt with fruit trees, and the part that made me nervous is that I didnt want to cut off the wrong branch, and delay fruiting.

I was extremely nervous, also because I only had one tree at the start of last year (honeygold apple). I would walk outside and stare the tree down for a good hour visualizing what i need to do. My neighbor confirmed that I didnt butcher the tree.

I got a Toka plum and my neighbor again helped me with that, but by the end of trimming and discussing, I felt much more confident.

By the time i got my John pear, I felt much more confident and within 15 minutes, the tree was pruned. I still have a lot to learn and this year I have much more pruning to do then last year but im way more confident now.

Im waiting till monday or tuesday to prune, since we still have one more night below -15C. After that its free game! Then grafting season 2 weeks after!

    Bookmark   March 2, 2013 at 7:34AM
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Hi H-man,

I have a 7 yrs old Honey Crisp apple. I bought it potted. I don't know the rootstock, only that is semi-dwarf. It's about 10 ft tall.

Last year, I attempted to prune. I cut off a competing leader that had a very narrow angle and a similar size. I'm not sure if I keep the right leader!!

My problem is at the first level of scaffolds. There are 4 branches going out in 4 directions. The tree looks balanced. Unfortunately, the biggest branch is at least 1/2 the size of the trunk size. It's actually the largest branch of the tree.

I should remove this branch, right? Aside from making the tree looks lopesided (I can live with that), what a removal of such a big branch will do to fruit production and the overall growth, please?

Thank you for your advice.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2013 at 8:26AM
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Harvestman, not to worry, I took your 'guide-line' sheet to the orchard with me. The apples, pears and plums, are excellent. It is only the cherry that really got the clip! Because of your guidleline for pruning apples, my apple trees look so much better pruned. I had spindly branches (three feet long) that only had leaves at the tip last year, because I was nervous about pruning. That in itself, held back the development of a perfectly good potential scaffold. All of my apples have a strong central leader. The branches are covered with fruiting spurs. Our wind here is so strong, that I have learned that pruning will also build a stronger root system, which the trees need. I appreciate all of your help and advice. You haven't been wrong yet. Whew! Mrs. G

    Bookmark   March 2, 2013 at 9:41AM
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greenorchardmom(Ga Mts 7)

MrsG47 so smart to follow Hm's advice bet your trees look so good
almost took notes too but "fat xmas tree" pruned my apples a while back
your Mont gave you 88 yum cherries its 2nd year
only enough for the birds ever since, right?
I hope this pruning livens it up

    Bookmark   March 2, 2013 at 7:51PM
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greenorchardmom(Ga Mts 7)


This post was edited by GreenOrchardMom on Sat, Mar 2, 13 at 19:54

    Bookmark   March 2, 2013 at 7:52PM
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We'll see. Mrs. G

    Bookmark   March 2, 2013 at 8:29PM
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alan haigh

Thank you Mrs. G. To tell you the truth I still find pruning full of puzzles and must often work around past mistakes- as much as I've tried to break it all down to a logical system certain varieties defy order! No set of guidelines can completely lead you through the tree. Experience does make it easier and quicker.

Mamaug, if the big branch is bearing fruit and useful, simply reduce it's secondary branches when they crowd wood from other branches. You can follow up on this in the summer and you will probably be able to remove the branch completely in a year or 2 without wasting usable space in the tree or even reduce its vigor enough to reduce its' ratio. Honeycrisp is a relatively easy tree to manage, pruning wise, and is not excessively vigorous.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2013 at 9:26PM
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Thank you very much, H-man.

I went out and checked on it again. That big branch and its several smaller branches off it, has a lot of spurs on them. I'd hope they are fruit spurs. If so, this would be the first year the tree will flower.

Thank you very much for your advice. I've found pruning to open vase or a goblet shape is easier than a modified central lead. (I don't have any tree with a true central lead. I don't like them tall).

    Bookmark   March 3, 2013 at 10:18AM
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alan haigh

I believe establishing and maintaining an open center is easier to understand than a central leader where eventually upper tiers must be cycled in and out.. The down side is that it encourages an awful lot of excessively vigorous vertical growth which can be countered with judicious summer pruning.

The simplest form to maintain is to start with a central leader and, when the tree is high enough, change it over to a weeping shape with three scaffolds weeping downward. Than you only have to cut out most vigorous uprights and cycle new shoots to replace old spurs and crowding wood where each scaffold gets a third of the territory.

I manage a lot of very old and fairly tall trees in this manner. Decisions are easily made and pruning is relatively quick and brainless.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2013 at 10:47AM
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greenorchardmom(Ga Mts 7)

HM thats interesting to encourage downward growth
Ive read it produces low quality fruit... but I guess thats not true?
I don't take much off my slower apples particularly my low vigor Honeycrisp
It has a coupla weeping branches that I would usually take off
I was going to leave on this summer then prune them off next winter
I have pruned the daylights out of 2 very old apple trees
with odd results

    Bookmark   March 3, 2013 at 11:47AM
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I'll keep that in mind. 4-5 trees of mine are a bit older 4-7 yrs old. They were pruned (if I could call it that) incorrectly. I will try to reshape them.

I've tried to understand pruning fruit trees. Reading and watching many pruning videos . Your advice is also very helpful. I always appreciate it. I hope to do a better job with my newer/younger trees.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2013 at 11:52AM
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alan haigh

I thought I knew a lot about pruning and training 20 years ago but I'm paying the price of mistakes I made then as I go through many of the orchards I've planted over the years. I used to leave many too large branches on trees so they would look fuller sooner- not realizing the problems those branches would create later.

Most trees in my nursery are on vigorous roootstock- plums on myro- apples on 111- apricots and peaches on seedling- pears on seedling, bet or 97. The mistakes I've made and the advice I give is based mostly on growing trees on these root stocks, although from reading the trades is seems even fully dwarf trees are managed by the same principle. I do manage a couple dozen espaliers here and there. Even with espaliers, top branches eventually get over sized and need to be cycled in and out over time.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2013 at 1:16PM
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