Newly planted apple trees - which leaves to pinch?

jmg123May 24, 2013

We just planted 4 apple trees at our new house. They were all purchased mail-order - 3 from Stark Brothers, 1 from Miller's nursery. All arrived pretty much as non-branched whips.

I live in Cenral PA, and followed the instructions in the Penn State extension guide for pruning newly-planted apple trees. Essentially I cut the tree back so I had about 4 buds radiating in different directions at the top of the whip, with the buds about 24" to 30" above the ground (I know this seems really low, but the "Pruning & Training" book I have said to do the same thing!).

Now that the weather has warmed, I have leaves bursting out all over. The problem is that it seems *all* the buds along the entire length of the tree have burst out with leaves.

My question is - do I pinch off all the leaves below the 4 sets at the top that I want to become branches? Or do I leave them for this season to give the tree a chance to develop good roots or something, then cut off those lower leaves/branches later?

Thanks for your help!

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I'm definitely not an expert but I am leaving the leaves on my newly planted trees. I will start cutting off the unwanted limbs next year. I figure the extra leaves this year will give it a little extra growth to produce more roots. Maybe Fruitnut, Harvestman, or any of the experienced people on here can tell you for sure what is recommended.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2013 at 11:57PM
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on new trees I would pinch off any leaves 4 inches below your bud that you want to be your leader. so you would have your leader bud then nothing for 4 inches then leave all leafs below that and train any of those with clothes pins that try to form branches

    Bookmark   May 25, 2013 at 7:28AM
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alan haigh

Are you planning to train trees open center or central leader? I agree with the second response, although i don't use clothespins but I assume it's a fine method of training shoots to wide angle branches.

I happen to like the added control of using spreaders second season if spreading is needed. Some varieties naturally produce branches with the desired angle.

For me, the most important part of training a productive, early fruiting tree is to only remove branches more than a half or a third the diameter of trunk at point of attachment and doing this as soon as possible. More vigorous varieties you use the 1/3rd rule. Remove very little else until tree begins to bear fruit.

Pinching competing buds, as mentioned, to maintain the dominance of the leader, is something I also do when trees are at your stage.

I rarely cut back the height of bare root trees as is often suggested. I really fail to see the point- especially if you are in deer country and want to get the tree above the browse line as soon as possible. The exception is when you need to develop low branches.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2013 at 11:23AM
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Thanks for the help so far. I am planning to train these as "apple bushes" - I think that means with an open center versus having a central leader. This choice was more because I wanted the trees to "look nice" since they are right in the middle of our suburban backyard.

We don't really have deer issues, so I'm not concerned about that. My goal is more to keep the trees relatively short, so I can prune and pick them without too much trouble. There is a large fruit orchard about 1/4 mile from our house, and they seem to have all of their apple trees with a very short trunk (although trained with a central leader, not the open center I'm planning on).

I have attached a photo of one of the trees. Given my situation, should I prune/pinch off everything below my 3-4 uppermost branches? Some of the lower branches are already getting long!

BTW - these trees arrived as single trunks, with no branches. So all I did was cut them back to the height I wanted.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2013 at 8:48PM
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That tree may disagree with your plans. It sure looks like it wants to make a central leader and scaffolds.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2013 at 5:41AM
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alan haigh

Let it go central leader until it exceeds your desired height then you can use the leader to help you spread your permanent branches if it is needed, although it looks like the lower branches are forming at the best possible angle on their own.

Keeping a dominant central leader for another couple of years will encourage this form of relatively horizontal lower branches. Keeping surplus branches until the tree begins bearing fruit will help it establish more quickly, IMO.

You can choose your permanent scaffolds ahead of time and pinch out any competing shoots from temporary branches, finally removing them as your permanents fill in and tree begins to bear fruit. I prefer a three branch open center for most varieties of apple.

The exceptions are varieties that are are poor producers of secondary wood (side branches). For them you might want four permanent scaffold branches and also to keep temporary branches on for longer so the tree is harvesting as much light as possible without creating too much shade on your chosen keeper branches.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2013 at 6:36AM
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