The kind­est cut

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - HOME - Peter Cundall

IMADE the mis­take of leav­ing a Euro­pean plum tree un­pruned for the past three years and dis­as­ter has now struck. It is a heavy- bear­ing Pur­ple Splen­dour prune, a par­tic­u­larly de­li­cious, ex­tra- sweet type of pur­ple plum with golden, juicy flesh and a tiny stone.

When an enor­mous crop be­gan to de­velop on long, slen­der branches this sea­son, greed re­placed com­mon sense. I took a chance in the hope of gath­er­ing a huge har­vest.

Last week all the ma­jor branches gave way and cracked un­der the mas­sive weight. Now al­most the en­tire tree has col­lapsed be­fore the fruit had a chance to ripen.

It’s my fault en­tirely, be­cause I should have cut back all weak or slen­der branches and sac­ri­ficed about a third of the prunes a month ago. It would have been no loss be­cause those left on the tree would have grown big­ger and tasted even sweeter.

The only so­lu­tion now is to cut off all the bro­ken branches at the near­est junc­tion and be con­tent with a tiny frac­tion of the an­tic­i­pated yield.

When branches are partly bro­ken by crop weight or wind gusts they can­not be re­paired. All must be cut com­pletely free, if pos­si­ble with­out leav­ing a stub.

It is still a com­mon mis­con­cep­tion that most de­cid­u­ous fruit trees are pruned while dor­mant dur­ing win­ter.

In fact, the safest time is al­ways in sum­mer when they are in full ac­tive growth – even if still car­ry­ing fruit.

The ad­van­tages are enor­mous. For a start, all prun­ing wounds heal rapidly at this time of the year. That means they soon form heal­ing cal­luses so dis­eases have less time to gain ac­cess.

Sum­mer prun­ing is eas­ily car­ried out. Most de­cid­u­ous fruit trees in­clud­ing ap­ples, pears, plums, apri­cots, peaches and nec­tarines are best trained to a sim­ple open- cen­tre sys­tem.

In short they are shaped like old- fash­ioned wine- glasses – with branches ra­di­at­ing out­wards from an open cen­tre.

This al­lows bet­ter air cir­cu­la­tion to re­duce fun­gal and other dis­eases while al­low­ing in ex­tra light for more even ripen­ing of the fruit. Open cen­tres also pro­vide ac­cess for birds to help con­trol pests.

Most of the cur­rent sea­son’s in­ter­nal branches don’t carry fruit any­way so can be cut out flush from where they spring, usu­ally a lower limb. This is the treat­ment I am now giv­ing our plum and peach trees, even those still in fruit.

Ex­tra- long branches can be cut back by as much as a quar­ter, although if the fruit is al­most ripen­ing, wait un­til it has been har­vested be­fore get­ting stuck in.

Some ap­ple va­ri­eties, es­pe­cially Pink Lady, Lady in the Snow and Spar­tan, carry huge num­bers of fruit in tightly packed clus­ters. Even now it is not too late to thin them by evenly re­mov­ing up to half the small ap­ples.

Those left be­hind not only grow larger but also be­come much sweeter and more aro­matic. Other ap­ple va­ri­eties, es­pe­cially Cox’s Or­ange Pip­pin and Bram­ley’s Seedling, usu­ally fail to carry de­cent crops in sub­se­quent years if over­crowded fruit are not kept se­verely thinned.

All over- vig­or­ous ap­ple trees can be hard pruned this month. This in­volves cut­ting out all con­gested branches grow­ing into canopy cen­tres and then re­duc­ing all cur­rent sea­son’s new growth by about half.

Apart from re­duc­ing waste­ful vigour this has a won­der­ful ef­fect on tree health and pro­duc­tiv­ity.

Pear trees are no­to­ri­ously ag­gres­sive and if ig­nored over sev­eral sea­sons will grow to an enor­mous size. Th­ese ne­glected trees carry mas­sive num­bers of tiny, taste­less pears in huge, heavy but use­less clus­ters and be­come a waste of space.

Such trees can be heav­ily pruned back.

CROWDED CROP: Pink Lady ap­ples al­ways need thin­ning ( main); and ( in­set) branches that have snapped due to the weight of too much fruit must be com­pletely cut free.

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