I have been asked by Pomona Fruits, ‘the Garden Fruit Specialists’ to write a series of posts about promoting the growing of fruit trees. I thought I should start with talking about some basics of tree maintenance.
Fruit frees are a great addition to any garden. They come in many different shapes and sizes to suit any garden. Fruit trees are very easy to grow but they do need maintenance to keep them healthy and productive. When I started developing this garden it already had an oldBramley cooking apple tree and an eating apple tree (variety unknown). I have subsequently planted a medlar tree and two quince trees all of which need to be occasionally pruned. If, like the trees I planted, you keep them in shape from an early age then it is a straight forward task to give them a bit of a tidy up every year.
Most apple trees are ‘spur-bearing’, which means that the flower/fruit bearing buds develop from two year old branches on the spurs, which are short shoots from the branches. The growth buds that will create more branches can be identified as they are more slender than the fruit bud. My preferred time to prune is in the depth of winter. Autumn should be avoided as it can lead to what are called ‘water shoots’ or ‘water sprouts’. You will easily recognise when this happens as these are fast growing, usually straight upright shoots coming up from growth buds on the branches. They grow fast but will not bear fruit. They will not add to the harvest from your tree and they will restrict air flow through the branches which could eventually help promote disease. If you are growing plum trees or other fruit trees with stones then winter is not the time to prune them as it can lead to disease. Spring and early Summer are the pruning time for these trees.
A good pruning saw will quickly become your favourite tool for the job. It needs to be kept clean and always cleaned and dried when the day’s work is done. Telescopic loppers are also useful to quickly remove some of the thinner branches.
Photograph c/o Pomona Fruits
Winter pruning is good as you can clearly see the structure of the tree. The aim is to increase air flow through the tree and so increase productivity and, as mentioned above, reduce the chance for infection. Firstly remove the dead and diseased branches. Then start to create an open framework, a sort of goblet shape. If the tree has been neglected for a while it might need quite a hard prune, but try not to remove more than 25% in any one year. The tree will be around for many years so you do not have to do it all in one go.
You can also prune an apple tree in the summer. This is particularly important for stepover, cordon and espalier applies as pruning at this time reduces the vigor of the tree which helps it keep its shape. You can also prune any apply tree in the summer for the same reason, though for larger unrestricted forms this is not so easy as it will be in full leaf and apples and you will of course lose some fruit. .
Photograph c/o Pomona Fruits
I need to stress that health and safety really is important. You need to ensure that if you are using a ladder that it is stable and not going to slip. Climbing into the tree itself I would personally not do. I am not expert enough to tell how strong a branch is by looking at it and it is just too much of a risk. You should make sure that you are wearing safety goggles, sawdust in the eye is no joke. Also wear pruning gloves to protect your hands. If in doubt or not feeling confident then paying an expert to do the job is always a good idea. They know what they are doing and they will take away all the prunings. Plus, if you wish, you can sit and drink tea whilst you watch.