realenglishfruit

Top fruit tree growing advice and information from Real English Fruit

Tag Archives: pruning

How to keep a fruit tree in check and maintain its fruitfulness

This is a fundamental question for anyone growing fruit in the garden: how do you keep the trees in check, while at the same time keeping them fruitful?

The first thing is to protect the trees from spring frosts. As soon as the first flowers are open, it is very important that whenever a spring frost is forecast, the trees are covered before you go to bed with a double layer of garden fleece or the equivalent. By 9 o’clock in the morning, when the temperature has risen above 0 degrees Celsius, the fleece will have to be removed for pollination purposes. The point of all this is that temperatures below 0°C kill the flowers, which in turn prevents fruit from being formed.

This may sound like quite a lot of work to incorporate into your busy daily schedule. In actual fact it doesn’t take long and it can be quite easily done, on one condition: as long the trees are of a size not much taller than say approximately 8 feet. THIS CAN ONLY BE ACHIEVED IF SUMMER PRUNING IS CARRIED OUT. Winter pruning increases tree size, summer pruning maintains tree size to the height and width you like it to be, without the tree losing its ability to crop the following year.

The important point to remember is that timing is of critical importance. As a general guide, summer pruning should be done as soon as the tree has been picked. Definitely no later than the end of September. Once leaf quality is starting to deteriorate, it is too late. Remove the older wood. Retain the fruiting spurs and the younger wood, and the two-year-old short darts. Always seal the wounds with “Heal and Seal”, obtainable from garden centres.

Not all varieties can be summer pruned in this way. Considering pear trees, the variety range suitable for this treatment is Concorde, Conference, Onward, Williams and Beth.

Quite a lot of apple varieties are suitable, but only diploid varieties. such as James Grieve, Red Windsor, Egremont Russet, Katy and Sunset. Triploids are usually too vigorous to be kept in control in this way. With tip bearers such as Worcester Pearmain, keeping size under control by summer pruning is possible but tricky, and with shy-bearing varieties such as Cox Orange Pippin, it is an uphill struggle. Therefore always seek advice. After all, fruit trees, all being well, should be a satisfying long-term investment. Similarly seek advice when you are considering cherries and plum varieties.

A dwarf stock is a help in controlling tree size, on good soils. On shallow soils, this is often not the case. A raised bed is a better alternative than planting in a poor soil.

Lastly, never let your trees dry out. Water weekly during the growing season. Do not flood the trees; one full watering can per week for each tree is enough. Do not starve your trees by planting in a bed of grass and weeds. The trees will dry out in no time!!

Watch a video on the subject of summer pruning:

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Weekly update for cherry trees – first week of August

Now that the cherry crops have been picked, that is if spring frosts and birds did not do any major damage to your crop prospects, it is a good time to consider the size of the trees. This is the right time now to summer prune your tree(s), bringing them back to a size you can cope with. DO NOT LEAVE IT TO THE WINTER TIME. Summer pruning means cutting out surplus older wood and creating more sun and room for younger 1 to 3-year-old wood.

Renovating old fruit trees

An old apple tree, photo courtesy of Chris Moore/flickr.com

An old apple tree, photo courtesy of Chris Moore/flickr.com

Fruit trees are a wonderful investment. If looked after well, trees will continue to crop year after year, even when the trees are 30 to 40 years old.

But what about a situation in which you have just moved house and you’ve found a totally neglected fruit tree in the new garden? What should be done?

If it turns out that the tree is cropping well, restrict the pruning to cutting out dead wood and crossing branches in the first year. The next year do a little more and improve the light entrance into the centre of the tree. Without good light the fruit tree is unable to make good fruit bud.

On no account try to remodel the tree all in one year. Old fruit trees do best when you bring on improvements gradually. In my experience an old tree reacts very favourably if 4 or 5 large branches are taken out rather than lots of little snips here and there.

Neglected trees usually will show lots of dense drooping fruiting wood totally overgrown by younger wood, which makes it all very dark and overcrowded. Over a number of years, gradually take out all wood which creates layer upon layer, in and around the canopy. The timing to do this job is also important. In order to reduce fungal infections to a minimum, choose a nice warm day in the July/August period rather than a period when the tree is without leaves and the healing of the wounds takes a long time.

You can bring the height of the tree down, provided this is done gradually over a number of years. This operation should be carried out any time in August towards the end of the summer. NEVER during the winter months. Always seal large wounds with either Arbrex or Heal and Seal or similar wood healing compounds.

If after 3 or 4 years you can throw your hat through the trees without the hat getting hooked up any where you will have done a great job. The old fruit tree will start a new lease in life and will thank you for it by producing wonderful fruits.

October fruit tree tips – pruning and light

This is the right time to cut out any broken branches. Seal the wounds with “Heal and Seal”.
If the top of the trees has extended beyond your reach, causing you problems during picking time, cut the top out now and seal the wound. It is best to do it now and not during the winter time.
If lots of new shoots and branches have darkened the centre of the tree, cut these shoots and branches out. You can do this now, while the tree is semi-dormant.

If you are interested in ordering trees ready to plant this winter, please visit our main website.

Top ten fruit tree tips for September

1. Start preparing the ground where you are intending to plant your new orchard, cordons, fans or espalier-trained fruit trees. Check the pH of the soil which needs to be between 6.3 and 6.8. If the pH of the soil is below 6.3, apply some lime and work into the soil.
2. Make sure the site and position is right; not in a frost pocket or on the northerly and shady sites of buildings, walls or hedges.
3. Apply plenty of well-rotted farmyard manure and work into the soil up to a depth of 15 inches.
4. Remove and kill perennial weeds such as bramble, stinging nettle and couch grass.
5. Eliminate wasps nests and remove rotting fruits, which will hide the wasps, from the orchard floor.
6. Remove any rotting or damaged fruits from the trees. Pick the fruit that is ready to eat. Do not store early-maturing fruits such as Discovery and Grenadier apples. Fruit for storage needs to be slightly immature. Fruit that is too ripe will not store.
7. Finish the summer pruning programmes as mentioned in the August tips.
8. Check the storage space for your fruit; it needs to be clean, cool and free from vermin such as flies and mice.
9. Check that the thermometer in the store is in good working order.
10. Start discussing which varieties would be suitable for your location with a knowledgeable and experienced fruit specialist. All types of fruit are site sensitive!

A good crop on a well-tended apple tree

A good crop on a well-tended apple tree

Top ten fruit growing tips for July

Bumble bee

Bumble bee

1. It is very important for the health and welfare of bees to grow the right type of flowering plants favoured by bees for pollen and honey gathering, throughout the summer months. I t doesn’t need to be complicated. At this time of the year Angelica and red clover are definite favourites. Bumble bees are always on the look out for disused mice tracks in the soil. That’s where it likes to build its nest for the queen.

2. Red currants, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries are now beginning to ripen. Late-picked gooseberries are sweeter than the ones picked in June.

3. Support heavily cropping branches of plums, apples and pears. However, overcropping will greatly reduce next year’s crop. To reduce the threat of the silver leaf fungus entering via broken branches of too heavy-cropping plum trees , drastically reduce the number of fruits now and space the fruits 6 inches apart, leaving the best sized fruits.

4. Space the apples six inches apart, after the middle of July.

5. Check weeds around trees and bushes. Tie in the newly-forming shoots of loganberries, blackberries and tayberries.

6. Tie in the replacement shoots of peaches. Check the fruit cage for holes in the netting. Birds are good at finding the holes and eating your cherries, redcurrants, blueberries and raspberries.

7. Check tree ties. Too many trees are severely damaged due to ingrowing ties.

8. Place the pheromone traps to reduce the damage caused by caterpillars of the codling moth and plum sawfly now.

9. All fruits need a steady supply of moisture. Check the soil. If too dry, apply water at 10 day intervals.

10. If apple and pear shoots are growing too strongly, remove the growing tips of the new growth. Carry out summer pruning where trees are becoming too dense and light is excluded.

Click here for more growing tips

How to prune a fruit tree

In the video below, Dan Neuteboom provides an overview of pruning theory and practice. Apologies for the not optimal sound quality, there was quite a breeze blowing in Suffolk, mid January 2013.

On pruning

Pruning a young tree

Pruning a young tree. Photo courtesy of London Permaculture/flickr.com

There are numerous publications about pruning. All very interesting and very helpful. However my view is that we should tackle the subject of pruning in a different way. First and foremost we need to be able to distinguish clearly between the difference in appearance of a fruit bud and a wood bud. These buds all look different again, if we look for example at shoots and buds either from apple, pear, plum and cherry, or from peach, apricot, nectarine or almond. I believe if we first and foremost learn to differentiate the state of the buds on any type of fruiting tree, then pruning becomes a lot easier and more satisfying. Because the aim of pruning is not the same anywhere and any time. We can set a target, before we lift the secateur, what it is we want to achieve by pruning the tree confronting us. And there are no two people alike, nor are there anywhere two trees alike. It is the individual that is different. The same applies to trees. The only difference is that the tree is silent and passive and we are noisy and active. Therefore even more reason to think twice before you cut/prune.

The second point of importance regarding the way we prune is very much determined by the fact how the tree has been raised; is it budded, grafted or on its own roots? If it is on its own roots it is likely to be very vigorous. The purpose of grafting or budding the trees on rootstocks, is to bring the tree into production more quickly, and often at the same time finish up with a smaller tree, which is easier from the point of view of picking and tree maintenance.

Click here to read more about pruning

Special measures needed to put your fruit trees back on the right track

A Cox tree close to harvest. There has been lots of vertical growth as a result of the relatively light crop

This growing season has been of a difficult nature for most fruit trees. It was cold and predominantly wet, particularly during blossom time in the early part of the season. It was too cold for the honey bees to come out of the hives or out of the hollows of old trees such as oaks and willows. As a result of that, many fruit trees had a light to very light crop due to the lack of pollination. As a result, most fruit trees have put on too much shoot growth, which made the tree canopy too dense. If your fruit trees are as described above, then my advice is as follows;

Taste your fruits and when they taste nice and are ready to eat, then pick them carefully and make use of them the best way possible. Follow this up by sharpening your pruning saw and secateurs and prune your trees NOW and not during the winter time. Open up the trees to make plenty of room for the light to get right into the middle of the trees. Light is the most important source of energy for trees. A well thinned-out tree canopy is the best way to produce a quality crop next season. Totally remove dead wood from underneath the canopy. Take out half a dozen crossing branches as thick as your wrist, to lighten the canopy. Seal all the larger wounds with “Heal and Seal” obtainable from your garden centre. Loosen your tree ties as these may be too tight now.

Cherry trees and plums need to be treated with Bordeaux mixture, after the pruning session, to reduce the effect of bacterial canker and/or silver leaf. Follow instructions on the packaging obtained at the garden centre.

Click here to read more about pruning on the RealEnglishFruit website

Click here to see the tree varieties available from RealEnglishFruit

Summer pruning as part of the cordon training of fruit trees

1)  Trees can be contained in growth by using dwarfing rootstocks, if available. But this should be accompanied by the correct application of the summer pruning principles. Winter pruning must be omitted, except the cutting back of the leading shoot, when it has grown too long.
2) Plant the trees at a 45 degree angle. Fasten the trees to 6-foot long strong bamboo canes. These canes themselves are held in that position with the aid of three horizontal wires, which are strained between two strong end posts.
3) Maintain an adequate moisture level in the root zone of the trees during the growing season. Also make sure the union of the trees are approximately 1.5 inches above the soil level.
4) Avoid over cropping by carrying out fruit thinning by the middle of June. This applies after the trees have been 2 years in the ground.
5) The worst pest is aphids. Easy to control if done early. Once the leaves have curled up it is too late. Be on your guard over the next 3 to 4 weeks.
6) Watch out for any holes in the new leaves. Remove caterpillars as these spread out, and go on to damage more leaves
7) Because of the wet start of the season, early new growth of laterals and sub laterals may be strong. Pinch out the growing tip of these shoots by mid June. Don’t cut back the central leading shoot just yet. About the end of June is right for the central leader.

The cordon system

The cordon system