13 February 2008

The Sap is Rising

The other day I had the privilege to acquaint myself with a new blog on the blogosphere called Life at Dogfight Cove. They started the site this month, so this is a great opportunity to read it from the start. The writing is great; it's got a good home grown feel.

Polarbear's (she's the blogger) last post mentioned, amongst many other projects, pruning her fruit trees. This has been another reminder that the sap will be rising soon and the season for growing will soon be upon us. One of the projects that we really need to focus on in the coming weeks, like Polarbear, is the pruning of our adopted apple tree.

To be quite honest, we're feeling like our resources for this project may be a bit slim. Probably the most useful source I've found is a section on fruit tree pruning in the American Horticultural Society Encyclopedia of Gardening. I think we have a pretty good idea of how to do the cuttings, but which ones to cut is still a bit foggy.

Let's remember now that this tree hasn't been pruned in at least seven years. If we were to cut all of the branches suggested by the books we've read, we'd be left with nothing more than a stump. I know we should take it slow, so what branches should we look for to absolutely remove? I think we're leaning towards cutting all the branches that are rubbing and maybe just a spike or two from the middle. If you have any experience with this, please send it our way.



Patrick said...

You and I are kind of in the same boat, I don't know much about pruning fruit trees but I had to do it this year too with some trees left behind in my new garden. I've read guides on the Internet, and a local gardener talked me through the process, but I'm still a little confused by it all.

I think in many ways pruning fruit trees is about what you want to do as much as what needs to be done. For example if any part of the tree is in the way of something else, don't be afraid to cut this part off. Also if there are any diseased, damaged or difficult to harvest from sections, these can be removed. If you want a smaller tree, don't be afraid to remove a lot.

Otherwise, I think it's like you said. Try to get rid of branches that are touching, and create some space in the middle of the tree by taking out a couple of spikes. You may also want to remove any branches with lots of forks in them.

I think almost anything you do will be an improvement. I think we will both be learning from experience.

Ali said...

I've always read no more than 1/3 of the leaf bearing branches at a time.

Water sprouts are the suckers that grow straight up (he spikes in the middle?) and those should be pruned off. They will grow in response to pruning, so be prepared for more water sprouts to grow during this summer after pruning.

I would concentrate on pruning the sprouts first, including even 1-2 of the big spikes but keeping within the 1/3 guideline.

I've also read that green pruning, i.e. pruning done when the tree is in leaf, will reduce the number of water sprouts which grow in response.

I'm also working on rejuvenation pruning of our old pear tree. We had been debating about total removal but now have decided to keep it and are hence in the middle of the pruning process. I'll have to do a post when our next pruning happens (soon!). Good luck,

El said...

Hi Kelly: My advice is don't overthink it. An older tree has enough root growth to ensure that even if you really went nuts with the pruning it would sail through just fine. Be judicious, and most importantly, stand back and look at your work A LOT to make sure you're doing it both evenly and as required. My experience with pruning is the results aren't best seen the first year but the second. And even the trees I haven't pruned still put out quite a harvest!

steven said...

I'm in the "don't know much" boat, but I seem to be doing okay with my apple trees.

I cut out anything dead or spindly, crossing branches and anything that is damaged from the wind.

Every couple of years I level the tops of the trees for aesthetics. My main problem is an apple tree in a neighbor's yard that has some sort of blight and it finds it's way into my trees. The branches that get this blight die back pretty quickly and I cut them as soon as I detect it and burn the branches.

Kelly said...

Patrick, You've seen the photos; this tree is in need of help in any form. We should make a deal with one another to post the trials and tribulations of our fruit tree experiences. If you're in I'm down.

Ali, I've heard of the 1/3 rule. I think that may be a good start as far as volume is concerned.

I'm glad you told me about green pruning. I think that will be just as much help as the initial cutting. Thanks.

El, Your suggestions certainly fit with our gardening philosophy, which is be mindful of the facts but listen to your gut. I never even thought to consider the root system. If they look anything like the branches, they're probably crawling under half our yard.

Steven, From the comments we've received, it seems that taking the science out of pruning seems to work just as well.

Disease is something we have to worry about. There are a lot of neglected fruit trees on our property, which has led to some bad cases of black knot and other diseases.