With the official start of spring only a week away, we got to work this week giving the apple orchards their annual pruning. Ramon has been hard at work and has all the trees surrounding the nectar garden, stage, and back side of the winery road all done…on to the back orchard!
We always get a few calls every year with all kinds of questions about care and pruning of apple. Many inherit an old tree on their property that has been neglected, so here’s a brief guide to keep you on track. Remember that apples will grow on wood produced the previous year, so always leave around 50% of the previous year’s growth–you can always go back and trim more off if necessary, but you can’t put a branch back on. Wise words right?
Prune newly planted young trees immediately after planting. Cut off any side shoots and trim the tree to 24 to 30 inches tall in order to promote low-growing branches. Do most of the pruning for apple trees during the dormant season when the leaves have fallen off for the winter. We prune every mid to late March after the coldest winter days and before and new foliage begins to show.
In order to get fruit to grow abundantly on the lower branches, focus thinning out branches towards the top of the tree. Trimming towards the top of the tree allows sunlight to reach the lower branches, helping fruit production. It is also important to thin out the center, or scaffold, branches so that they are not overly crowded so sunlight and air penetrates the center of the tree. This allows foliage to dry and helps reduce disease pressure. It is also important to prune branches that cross and rub on each other.
Making Cuts and Removing Larger Branches
To prevent apple tree diseases, use sterilized tools to trim trees. A diluted bleach or alcohol solution will kill harmful fungal spores or bacteria. Make trimming cuts just above buds without leaving stubs behind, this will encourage the correct kind of future new growth. It is also important to avoid flesh cuts on remaining branches. When removing a branch or twig, leave the collar around the base of the branch rather than cutting into the branch or trunk from which it grows. Roughly a 1/4″ collar left where the branch connections to trunk will allow for a new branch to form.
Branches to Remove
Apple trees produce abundant fruit on new branches for several years, and they produce less fruit on old branches. Therefore, it is helpful to trim old branches once their fruit growth slows down. It is also helpful to remove diseased, damaged or dead branches. Ideally, branches grow at an upward 60-degree angle from the trunk. Prune branches that grow dramatically upwards or that hang down too much. These types of branches are often prone to splitting or breaking later on, especially in bad weather when laden with fruit.