What exactly are water sprouts / shoots?

drfugawe(z8 OR)July 8, 2008

Yes, IÂve searched here for an answer to this question, but IÂm not finding much  so here it is: IÂm not really sure, after much reading of many docs on pruning fruit trees, what exactly water sprouts/shoots are? A little background  IÂve been growing fruit trees here for about 5/7 years, but most of them only date to 3 or 4 years ago. Last year, I realized that IÂd missed the prime pruning opportunities on those trees most recently planted, and I did a significant summer pruning on them (these are all apples and pears).

Now, of course, their new growth is vigorous, and mostly all that growth is going straight up! My problem is in determining how one identifies a true water sprout in the midst of all this upward growth -? Are there any differences in the looks of a true water sprout and a regular branch that just happens to have turned upward to grow? And I guess I need also to know once IÂve learned how to tell the difference, is there anything I should be doing to all those "regular" branches that are growing straight up? There are way too many to be tying each one down! Will they eventually level off once they have fruit on them? Should they be left alone?

Yes, IÂm a little manic about this  mostly because I have a history of being wrong if I just let nature take its course, and IÂve been wrong when I stepped in and took action! So, for once, IÂd like to be able to say I did the right thing.

Thanks for any help you can give.


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Water sprouts or shoots are the things you see growing out of the top of some tree's rootballs; which people often refer to as suckers.

Water Sprouts also will grow out of the trunks and especially around the branch collars of various Trees which have been pruned in a manner where the canopy is no longer full enough to feed all the tree's roots.

The sudden growth of branches you described in your tree began as water sprouts; if they are not removed they will harden off into branches and modified leader trunks.

From now on whenever you prune your tree, then simply remove any new growth that begins to grow in directions you do not like. Try to prune out and remove the new growth that you do not want when it is still in a swollen bud or just emerged sprout condition.

If you are removing buds, then just pay attention to the directions the buds are pointing, and take out only the ones growing in the direction you do not want. If you see too many growing even the direction you want then take out all the extras, Just plan the removal in a manner which retains the strongest and healthies appearing buds pointing in the direction you want the new branch or branches to develop.

Any young branches growing on the side of the tree's trunk which are developing to tight of a crotch angle, need to be spread to widen the angle. Lots of people use wooden cloths pins to accomplish that.

For training a good branch structure in your fruit trees, get better instructions by doing a google search for; fruit tree pruning techniques.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2008 at 5:35PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX


Short answer: there is no difference. Train or retain the upright growth that you need where you need it. Remove all the upright growth you don't need.

The Fruitnut

    Bookmark   July 8, 2008 at 6:43PM
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afss(5b ?? Nova Scotia)

Its my understanding that if its upright groth on the central leader or one of the leaders depending on what system you are after then it is wanted growth and acceptable but if its just coming out of branches it is unwanted growth as, again from my limited understanding of pruining, you don't want any growth coming off straight up from the top of branches or straight down from the bottoms. If i understand it properly you only want growth coming off the branches, Imagining the branch as the center of a dial clock and 12 being straight up, between 1 to 3 and 9 to 11 ... again just my understanding, please correct me if i am wrong.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2008 at 8:51PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

Any branch no matter where it arises can be a fruiting branch. So the question is: is this branch in a position where I need fruiting wood or can I train it to a position where I need fruiting wood? If so it is potential fruiting wood. But any branch growing vigorously straight up is not ideal fruiting wood. If it can be trained below a 45 angle to a position in the canopy where there is an open space, then you can turn that watersprout into fruiting wood.

So train the sprouts you need and remove the rest.

The Fruitnut

    Bookmark   July 8, 2008 at 10:48PM
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drfugawe(z8 OR)

Thanks to all for your responses - I feel a bit more comfortable about this task. I'm going to nip off any new growth coming stright up from the top of a branch or limb -will the remaining new branches, which are bending upward currently, continue that upward growth, and if yes, is that OK, or will I need to tie them down to train them out of their upward tendencies?

    Bookmark   July 10, 2008 at 4:37PM
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myk1(5 IL)

Bend them down to train the crotch to a good angle. Once the crotch is willing to stay at a good angle you don't have to worry, the apples will do the rest.
If you only rely on the weight of apples they will train the branches down but you'll have a weak crotch that may give out under their weight.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2008 at 6:25PM
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bozemeier(6 (Southern IL))

I have a lot of sprouts that grow from underground close to certain trees. My question is, can these sprouts turn into a tree similar to the tree it is growing from? The reason I ask is because I have a very old Crabapple tree that is dying. Several feet away from the base are some suckers/sprouts that would be an ideal spot for another tree. Can I let these perfectly positioned suckers/sprouts continue to grow as a replacement tree? I have other instances in my yard I would like to do the same thing if plausible.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2013 at 1:16PM
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If the tree was not grafted, then yes, you could train one of those sprouts that is growing in a good location. You could experiment by picking the best sprout, cut all the others (to give all the energy to the best sprout), and start to train it as it matures. You will know when it flowers the same as the original tree it came from. You cant lose for trying. The original tree is dying anyway.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2013 at 3:23PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

Graft or bud the old tree onto the sprout and you will be assured you have the same cultivar. Now is a good time to T bud. Put the bud onto the sprout now and force it next spring.

I'm sure you could find a T budding tutorial on U tube. It's not that hard. All you need is a sharp knife and some rubber bands.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2013 at 3:50PM
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bozemeier(6 (Southern IL))

Thanks. I wish I knew if these trees were grafted but there is no way of knowing because the person who planted the trees is not around. The Crabapple is 45 years old so I may take the chance. Could you guess at what the chances are that my 15 year old Bradford Pears are grafted?

    Bookmark   August 5, 2013 at 5:10PM
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I think Bradford pears, like most named 'fruit tree' cultivars, are grafted.

I know some berries are propagated by tissue culture and grown on their own roots, but not the usual named fruit trees

    Bookmark   August 5, 2013 at 10:39PM
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