I want to understand about spring growth in fruit trees

ginjjJune 7, 2014

As I walk by my 4 year old fuji apple, brushing the branches away, I look at it and try to understand what is happening and how to prune it.

The branches (probably all) that were pruned last year by my master gardener friend, have now pushed out 3 new branches ranging from 13" to 32"!!

I KNOW I don't want all 3 of these branches, I probably only want one. The tree is very full now, no way a bird could fly between the branches as I've heard is your goal.

I really have two questions:
Where can I learn about why apple branches grow as they do and what to do about them during each season of the year and why.

Secondly I'd like to know if I should prune in the spring or just summer if I'm trying to keep them at 7" or so. I know the philosophy of keeping trees low and Dave Wilson used to promote spring and summer pruning. I'm wondering which is best and why or do I really need to do both?

I know if I prune according to the list (crossing, dead, diseased, bending down etc.) it will open up the tree a lot, but that will still leave the remaining branches with the 3 new ones as a result of last year's cuts......

Once I understand something, it's much easier for me to do it. I really do want to understand this!

Thanks so much,

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valgor(4b, WI)

Our local UW-extension office has several publications dealing with these issues. I would suggest checking for these from your local office. The internet has loads of information, but for a newbie it can be difficult to decipher what you should do to achieve the desired results. In my opinion it would be a good idea to understand the variety of fruits you are growing first, their rootstocks, their growing habits and their requirements. That will make it easier to decide which information to absorb, and which to discard. It is a good thing to want to know more about this, but beware, once you start, there is a whole new world waiting to ensnare you :)

    Bookmark   June 7, 2014 at 7:55PM
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alan haigh

Do not trust your master gardener to understand the variables of pruning fruit trees unless that person has an orchard of their own- it is unlikely fruit trees were seriously covered in courses provided in that program and even if they were, it would be only very superficial. I have given lectures as part of courses in this program, so I know of what I speak.

I assume you mean 7 feet, not inches, but can't be sure if you are talking height or width- either way you need a specific rootstock to keep a Fuji small AND fruitful. Cutting back the branches annually will keep the branches vegetative and devoid of fruit.

For a Fuji on free standing rootstock (M7 or more vigorous) the most important thing is to remove any branch more than a third the diameter of the trunk at the branches point of attachment to that trunk. This is about all you can do to keep the tree reasonably compact until it begins to fruit, besides removing branches that crowd your chosen scaffolds (main branches, of which you only need 3 on about the first 6 feet of trunk).

Branches should be spread or tied to about a 70 degree angle from the trunk if they don't spread on their own- this also encourages early fruiting.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2014 at 5:58AM
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calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

You have a lot of good questions and you will have more as you progress with your tree. I think you should consider a good reference of your own, to allow you to look up the answers. I have enjoyed my "Home Orchard" a university of California text aimed at us home growers. I have attended lectures by the authors at UC Davis and consider them especially helpful to us in California. Al

    Bookmark   June 8, 2014 at 9:14AM
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alan haigh

When I was looking for answers about home orcharding in the northeast over 25 years ago, I looked to info from Cornell. Some was good, some not so much. Expertise about commercial production is not the same as expertise in managing a home orchard. A lecture can be enjoyable and seem informative, but the proof is born out over the years of following the advice received..

Anyone who's participated in this forum for a long time is likely to come to the realization of its exceptional usefulness because of all the people here with actual experience growing fruit in home orchard conditions. It is a rare university guru that has such experience.

Of course, CA growers don't need as much advice to succeed at growing fruit and are probably less likely to be set back by bad advice.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2014 at 9:47AM
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Thanks for your feedback. I like everything I read except the thought that keeping it small will reduce the harvest :(

I think I'm wrong in saying the tree is only 4 years old, it is more like 6 years old, and yes, I meant to say it's 7' tall!

I do not know the rootstock although I must have the receipt somewhere in my piles of important stuff. Will try to find it.

I have a lot of fruit on it this year and I did thin the bunches to 1 apple.

I think you guys are right, I need to read more, and attend lectures when I can. I belong to our "Rare Fruit Growers" group but haven't been able to attend meetings; that will change now that I'm retired!!

If I may, let me ask one question again, even though I do know the answer I think.

Where cuts were made last year and now there are 3 branches in that area, one 32" in length, I need to remove 2 and shorten the 3rd, right? How short?

You guys are the best and I so appreciate you helping to educate me.


    Bookmark   June 8, 2014 at 2:31PM
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Your receipt won't tell you the rootstock used but you can be relatively sure that if you find out the rootstock used for one Fuji of the type you have (dwarf, semi-dwarf) you will find out your Fuji's root stock.

For pruning it sounds like to me you already known technically about sound pruning and now you want to learn artistically how to prune to create an attractive 'garden' tree.

If you look up pruning esplanade fruit trees you'll see that to artistically you prune away about growth not growing in the desired direction. I know a man that told me of the esplanade apples and pears his parents created as a child having many extremely long branches but not being over 5 foot tall and being absolutely loaded with fruit.

So to maximize fruit encourage branches the grow parallel to the ground and gradually go up reaching for the sky as they get farther away from the trunk. Try to envision the tree as an esplanade tree but with more branches and no support trellis.

At least that's what I'm going to try but that's also what I've been told. You see apples hanging from branches but not the trunk for a reason.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2014 at 2:50PM
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alan haigh

It depends on what you need at that point. Now that I know you have cropping it completely changes my point of reference.

Usually when you are trying to keep a bearing tree in bounds you cut the branch back to the best located subservient branch or side branch so that its growing tips can use its hormones to subdue a vegetative response. It sounds like stub cuts were made instead, which should only be done to either stiffen a branch or to encourage secondary branching.

I suggest you leave the weakest branch of the three or cut back further to another relatively weak branch if your goal is to keep the tree in bounds.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2014 at 4:05PM
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