In the last article I started looking at pruning your freestanding apple trees. This month I return to pruning, looking at pruning both those stubby, spur systems that can produce many apples as well as creating a framework for developing new growth and fruit. Just to remind ourselves – we want to encourage lots of fruit buds on our apple trees. Fruit buds are generated on 2 year old wood and older. In other words, they will not appear on new wood as it grows. However, if you leave that new wood unpruned fruiting buds will appear on that wood. From these buds short, stubby spur systems develop. Let's look at pruning our tree. After the initial work set out in last month's article it is time to take out the secateurs to the new growth generated last year. Before we look at the spurs we need to look at vigorous new shoots growing towards the outside of the tree. These might be coming from spurs or at the end of branches. In order to increase the number of fruiting buds or to extend the shape and size of your tree you can start a 3 year cycle of pruning with these shoots. Working on a branch at a time, in this first year you will leave these shoots unpruned. Next summer they will grow further from the terminal bud (the mark indicating the start of last year's new growth). In a year's time you will prune that summer's growth back to the terminal bud, noticing that the older wood on the shoot has developed fruiting buds (as it is 2 year old wood). After a further year's growth you will prune this wood back to 1 bud above the very starting point of the 3 year system. This highly effective method of pruning is called renewal pruning. After working round the tree we will look next at the existing spur systems. Any new short spurs growing from the branch should be left. If you want to maintain the spur systems prune new growth coming from an existing spur with a slanting cut above the first bud above the terminal bud. Trees vary in the amount of vigour they put into new shoots. If your existing spur systems look rather cluttered remove some of the spurs. If they are too close to each other on the branch (12 to 18” apart as a rule of thumb) you could remove the entire system by pruning flush with the branch. You may see a number of short, weak shoots – perhaps less than 9” long. Unless these are in the way I suggest that you leave them unpruned. An added advantage is that there is often a fruit bud at the tip of the shoot. Pruning your spurs in this way will take out quite a lot of new shoots. Remember that we should not be taking out more than a quarter of new growth. A final word of encouragement. Pruning can seem a complicated and daunting task. It requires a little knowledge, but many of the choices are more art than science. You choose how much to prune and what shape you want your tree. The Apple of Your Isle is a local organisation which encourages the growth and use of apples and pears. If you would like more information about our activities or would like to talk about your trees and fruit, please contact Peter Barnard on 01427 873937.
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