Fruit Tree Pruning – it’s easy once you know how!

I have been on a couple of excellent workshops during the past month, laid on by the Forth Valley Orchard Group and taught by the enthusiastic and knowledgable Appletree Man, Andrew Lear.

The first workshop, Planning & Planting New Orchards, covered all the gen on setting up a new orchard, large or small, with recommendations for the best rootstocks and varieties for the Scottish climate, plus the all-important preferred cultivation conditions – shelter from prevailing winds, south-facing open site, well-drained soil, warmth – many of which can be elusive in Scottish gardens.  Solutions for the less-than ideal site include: planting a shelter-belt BEFORE you plant the fruit trees, installing land drains to take away excess water or planting fruit trees on a ridge or small mound, planting close to or training trees against a south-facing wall or fence to make the most of the reflected warmth.  One year old trees establish the quickest, and protection against voles/rabbits/deer is essential. Sounds simple when you say it quickly!

The second workshop, held in a private orchard in rural Stirlingshire, entitled Pruning & Winter Management of Fruit Trees, was designed to take the fear out of wielding a sharp instrument in the vicinity of your fruit trees and, in the process, to improve fruit yields and manage tree size to facilitate harvesting.  After a warm theory session inside we trooped outside to tackle the apple trees that the orchard owner had bravely offered up to our novice skills.  It would be impossible to share the wealth of knowledge passed on to us during this extremely productive practical session, but the following photographs demonstrate some of the key pruning principles.  If you are keen to improve your own practical skills, have a hunt online for courses local to you.  A quick trawl reveals courses and orchard groups all over the UK.

The key to successful fruit production is LIGHT – all the fruiting branches should have access to as much light as possible and tree shapes should reflect this.  Here a 15 year old tree has been progressively trained into a goblet shape – with a framework of 5 main branches radiating out from the centre so that it would look like a cartwheel when viewed from above.  In a goblet-trained tree the first thing to focus on during the winter pruning process is to keep the centre of the tree open and airy.

Here is an example where the first pruning cut has been to take a large upright branch out of the middle of the tree, to let light in to the centre.

You will notice that these trees are covered in lichen – this is a sign of  good, clean air and is not detrimental to the health of the tree.

Another key principle in fruit tree pruning is to develop a framework of branches which have wide angles between them.  This is better for the flow of air between the branches and is also more stable when branches are heavily laden with fruit.  Many apple trees bear fruit on a network of small spurs coming of the main branches – that is what this photo shows – and even on this smaller scale, pruning should encourage wide angles and reduce congestion to improve the levels of light getting to the developing fruit.

Using the correct tools and avoiding cross-infection of trees is very important during the pruning process. Here you can see a selection of saws and loppers, and the all important bottle of methylated spirits for sterilising blades before and after pruning a tree.

I could go on … and on … and on … but I will just leave you with one last tip – always, always thin out the young fruits (I do this after the June drop, when excess small fruits are shed) so that the tree does not exhaust itself. This is especially important for plus trees …which also should not be pruned in winter, but in May/June…

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Just wanted to stop by and actually post about your post (ha).

This is a fantastic guide for gardeners, tree carers, and arborists that are just starting out. When asked about it, many are oblivious to the fact that you should be cleaning and purifying your blade or what have you, before you cut each different tree.

God bless, and happy gardening.

-Oscar Valencia
Tree Service Bronx