Grow: Primers & Projects
Fruit Tree Pruning
Although it's a chore that has daunted many a gardener, it's actually quite simple if you bear in mind a few key concepts. Be brave, and your apple tree will bear delicious fruit in no time ... or in just a few years, at any rate.
Master pruner Ed Palmer joined Michael Weishan at the Victory Garden for a demonstration on effective fruit-tree pruning - on one of Michael's own heirloom apple trees.
Prune Before Spring
First, Ed emphasizes that the best time to prune is before warm weather sets in. Pruning is really a process of directing growth, that is, energy, in the ways you want it to go. So it's important to get it done in the winter, when all the tree's energy is still stored in the roots and the stems, waiting to be set loose by the coming of spring.
This also ensures that your tree gets a healthy head start: The pruning cuts you make will have a chance to begin healing before the arrival of the bugs and disease common in warm weather.
Next, Ed says when working with fruit trees, you should remember to think of yourself. You don't want to have to haul out a 20-foot ladder to pick your apples. So he recommends pruning your tree to a height of about 12 feet. This will also enable the use of a homeowner-grade — rather than commercial-grade — equipment for any spraying you may need to do.
Layered, Horizontal Branches
Within your 12 feet of fruit tree, Ed says you should prune with an eye for nice, layered branches. Remember, it's the horizontal branches that bear fruit, not the upright wood. Thus, as Michael saw first-hand on the show, effective fruit pruning will often entail some fairly dramatic cuts, especially to some of the larger vertical growth.
On Michael's apple tree Ed worked toward creating three horizontal layers of branches — bottom, middle and top, each separated by about 30 to 36 inches. Also, each layer needs only about three or four branches, especially the lower layers, since more branches will tend to stunt the growth above them. And a final bit of common sense: Prune so that the tree is wider at the bottom layer than the top, which will prevent the top from shading out the bottom.
A Good Cut
Ed says a really good pruning cut starts at the collar of the branch. Cut out from there at a slight angle so it can shed water. After three or four days, your final step will be to paint the pruning cuts to protect the exposed wood from fungus and insects. The delay in painting will give the cambium layer — the layer of living cells between the wood and the bark — time to heal, adding protection.
Follow Ed Palmer's simple steps for proper pruning and you'll enjoy both the beauty and bounty of your fruit tree for many years to come.
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This segment appears in show #2804.