Have an old mixed fruit orchard that needs pruning help

beesneeds(zone 6)June 2, 2013

So a couple years ago we moved out into the country. When we were looking, we were planning on planting in several fruit trees in the first couple years, have a small orchard.
Well, the property we ended up choosing already had a small orchard- one that hadn't been pruned in probably 4 or more years. We were pretty unprepared for how to manage this, and with a lot of other things that needed more attention, this is our third summer here, and I haven't touched the orchard yet.

So I need some guidance. I've read a lot of stuff about how to keep up fruit trees, but haven't really found a lot on how to take an old orchard and trim them up well. All the trees seem so different.. I'm not even positive when I should be trimming them.

We have 3 cherries that are really tall and bushy- can I prune them down shorter a bit, and how?
We have a pear and something we aren't sure what it is yet because this is the first year we have seen it bloom- they are growing really upright with their branches, sort of like when a tree is bundled- but they aren't bundled. Some branches are starting to cross each other. Is that a problem, if so, how do I fix that?
We have a rather old peach tree that is about a third dead. About a third is just leafing, and the fruiting third does not have a lot of fruit on it- can this tree be saved with good pruning, or no?
We have three apple trees that have some branch tangling because they were originally planted a little close together. How do I figure out which branches to choose to prune out?
The trees are kind of planted in an oval, and really all around, the trees are touching each other quite a bit, but only the apples are kind of tangled.

And what is the healthiest way to treat a pruning spot? Right now this orchard has not been treated with anything in at least 5 years, I'd like to keep it chemical free if possible.
If anyone could tell me if this is true or not I'd appreciate it. One of the older locals told me if I took the pitch off my pines while it was soft and boiled it in water to make a heavy wash, that made the best sealant for any tree trimming.
And is it true that you can trim suckers at any time? I mean those little shoots at the base of the tree or around branches that grow straight up. I've been told yes you can and no you shouldn't.

I know it's a lot of questions. Any advice would be appreciated.

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Hi- there is a short section on rejuvenating old apple and pear trees in the Cornell publication. It is not a 1-year process to rejuvenate, and it starts during the dormant season for the big cuts. I would remove anything at the base immediately. You should be able to cut all watersprouts in July/August still this year. Even after a couple winters of pruning you can expect heavy vegetative growth in following years. I have not done it, but you may not expect much fruit for 4+? years.

If you start over again you can have fruit on apple and peach in a few years. I did not even try to rejuvenate, but cut down an old apple and instead planted 2 years ago and have good apple set this year. It gives you a chance to chose a site with the right sun, layout enough room, prepare the ground, amend per a soil test with phosphorus etc in the soil. Plus you can chose cultivars and rootstock size you want to work with.

Peaches useful life is shorter (maybe 15 years in zone 5?), and Cornell does not have a section on rejuvenating peaches. Yours is part dead already and you may be better off cutting down the peach and replanting.

Do not seal any pruning sites- just make sure you know how to thin out the entire branch by cutting cleanly right at the outside of the collar so it can heal.

If you do not want to spray you may want to reconsider orcharding. Even if you get scab immune apples, you should know how much insect pressure you will need to control from your few years there. Other may comment if pears would be better to rejuvenate (since trees take longer to come into bearing) and not spray since pests are more manageable. The other sections in the Cornell pub may answer your questions too- good luck.

Another pub on rejuvenating:

Good general discussion on pruning if you follow through the pages:

Here is a link that might be useful: Cornell Guide to Growing Fruit at Home

    Bookmark   June 3, 2013 at 9:23AM
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There are a lot of older threads here addressing exactly this same subject. The latest is linked below.

Every tree has its own particular issues. Pears have that upright growth habit. Your peach may have special issues.

In general, yes, you can start cutting. Start with the watersprouts, the crossed branches, the encroaching branches. But before you do major work on the limbs, read up on the principles of pruning fruit trees, which are different from pruning shade trees. Identify the tree's main scaffolds.

The trees may never have been properly pruned or trained. Many people plant orchards thinking that they can have fruit without chemicals. When they realize this won't work, they abandon the project.

Here is a link that might be useful: older discussion

    Bookmark   June 3, 2013 at 9:29AM
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beesneeds(zone 6)

Thank you so much for the advice! I just wasn't even sure where to start.
And I know I will need to start spraying, and I'm good with that. I'd rather do it as organically as possible since I know it hasn't been sprayed in many years. I figured if there was something preferable to use for sealing I wanted to stick with something organic if I could. Knowing that I shouldn't use any sealer is about as organic as it gets :)
Knowing that I can do some small pruning now is good too.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2013 at 12:50PM
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Very good advice by Midlin. Just about what I would have said. For an orchardist or that is a commercial grower it is more expedient to remove and plant a new tree in terms of return value. It is a three years process to rehabilitate, at least. You should read a little bit about the difference between winter and summer pruning. I think even with pears this is true, but a huge old pear tree that yields well might be worth the effort. A good friend has a very old (100 years maybe) pear tree that is said to be a Barlett but it is unlike any other. It has amazing fruit. Always wins the trophy at our small local fall farm fair. A tree like that would definitely be worth taking effort to save. So, heritage value aside plant new. If you like the look of big old trees give them a year or two and see what you can do. I would also suggest that you try to identify the variety, you may have something special. There is probably a pro in your area that could help or at least advise. If you are not depending on the trees for an income it could be a fun project if you have the patience.
Good luck
Yeah, the Cornell stuff is excellent.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2013 at 6:41PM
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beesneeds(zone 6)

No, I'm not planning on using our trees commercially. It's just 9 trees. Just for home eating, fresh, canned, dried, maybe press a batch of cider or wine if we are lucky and get enough fruit for it.

I have no idea what any of the varieties are. I hadn't even considered that we might have something special growing. I know our pear tree is something special to me- I usually don't like pears because of the texture, but this one has a really crisp and fine flesh, and I love them.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 11:29AM
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