Alys Fowler

Fruit tree prun­ing

The Guardian - Weekend - - Contents -

It may lean over its neigh­bours or have over­grown its spot, but you can­not treat a ne­glected ap­ple or pear (pic­tured left) – one that has not reg­u­larly been pruned – with a short back and sides. Rad­i­cal prun­ing of ap­ples is al­ways dis­as­trous, be­cause it re­sults in more vig­or­ous growth. It may look like you’ve solved your prob­lem, but next spring, the tree will sprout a mass of wa­ter­shoots. These are vig­or­ous non-fruit­ing, ver­ti­cal shoots pro­duced to re­store the bal­ance of roots to shoots. In­stead, in any one year, aim to take off no more than 25% of the canopy.

Stan­dard ap­ple and pear trees are pruned into a gob­let shape with an open mid­dle for air cir­cu­la­tion and light, and equally placed frame­work of limbs, usu­ally four to five main branches roughly 50-60cm apart. If it has not been pruned for a while, start by re­mov­ing branches in the cen­tre of the tree to open it up. You may need to take them right the way back to the main frame­work or point of ori­gin. How­ever, re­sist the temp­ta­tion to prune off large limbs – avoid cut­ting off any­thing big­ger than 20cm in di­am­e­ter. If, by thin­ning out the mid­dle, you have al­ready taken off your 25%, then stop. No more prun­ing un­til next year.

Next take out any­thing dis­eased, dead, dy­ing or dam­aged, as well as those that are cross­ing and rub­bing. This usu­ally de­con­gests the tree and re­stores a sense of bal­ance.

You may still need to re­duce the height and spread of branches that have grown too large. But don’t just trim off the top of the tree, be­cause that will re­sult in a thicket of new growth where you’ve cut with lit­tle of this growth fruit­ing – par­tic­u­larly if you have a tip- or par­tial tip-bear­ing tree such as a bram­ley or dis­cov­ery (fruit pro­duced at the tip of the pre­vi­ous year’s fruit) – and you’ll have re­moved the ma­jor­ity of the fruit­ing wood.

To re­duce the size of a branch, cut back to an out­ward- and up­ward-fac­ing, vig­or­ous lower side branch. There’s a rule about ra­tio: you shouldn’t cut a big fat branch back to a wimpy twig of a side branch; and the lower branch has to be at least one-third the di­am­e­ter of the branch be­ing re­moved. Next, re­move any lower branches that re­ceive lit­tle light and get in the way of mov­ing around the tree.

Fi­nally, in spur bear­ers (trees that pro­duce fruit on short branched shoots), re­move or thin out any spur sys­tems that have be­come con­gested: spurs need to be 10-15cm apart along the branch. Re­move the spurs on the un­der­side of the branches, be­cause these will pro­duce fruit that won’t re­ceive enough light and will be in­fe­rior

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