Wednesday, March 7, 2012

When to Prune Apple Trees

Even though it is mid-winter there really is no time you can forget about your apple trees.  This is the perfect time of year to get outside and get pruning.

Last year we did our first pruning in the orchard.  Once again this year we decided to prune off lower limbs from the trees to make it easier to cut the grass beneath them.  There are a lot of weeds in and around our orchard and if we don't get in to trim what's on the ground it can sometimes threaten to take over.

This is what the orchard looked like when we first bought the property
Climbing nightshade is a problem for us and we need to keep those vines from growing and climbing up into the apple trees.  We also like to keep things trim for apple picking season in the fall.  It can become quite a headache trying to find apples in amongst the weeds on the ground.

Despite our best efforts the wind always takes down fruit for us.
So more low hanging branches were removed this year but we also did a little spacing of branches.  In some places the branches are so thick that it's hard for air and sun to reach inside and get to the leaves and fruit that need it.  

This waterfall of blooms was gorgeous in spring but the
branches needed to be thinned so fruit has more breathing room.
At this time of year it is easy to view the branches themselves without their green cloak and see any irregularities that might otherwise be missed. 

Numerous lower branches were removed right at
the trunk (*can you spot the mistake?*)
Before removing any branches it is important to follow the branch along its length.  Start where the branch grows out from the trunk and follow along to see where it crosses other branches or perhaps parallels them.  Some branches might appear dead toward the interior of the tree but sport lush growth at their tips.  You can see if the branch is thick or thin.  Does it look like a strong branch that would support a load of fruit or is it small and weak?  The number of buds will also be apparent giving you an idea of the branches health.  By viewing the branches as a whole you also get a sense of the structure of the tree.  

We cut back a number of branches as you can see from the debris littering the ground of the orchard.



Our main goal this year was creating some breathing room on trees that were overly crowded.  While last year we used a chainsaw and removed some major branches this year we used only a handsaw and loppers as we were working on smaller limbs in the interior of the trees.  



* When cutting branches back to the trunk you should make sure to cut them just outside the branch collar where the branch connects to the trunk.  It takes more time for a tree to seal the wound on a long stub than one that is flush with the collar.  In the picture above you can see where that wasn't done.  I'll obviously need to go back and check our work!



17 comments:

  1. I'm very impressed that you pruned in the snow! The last time I pruned an apple tree (with one of those "reaching" loppers you pull with a rope), my back didn't forgive me for a week! Oh, I'm also impressed with your ocean of apples. Do you have a lot of apple recipes? Pie, bread, cobbler, apple butter, canning....

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    1. I'm beginning to think I need to do a post on all the things to do with apples as this sounds like something everyone is wondering about! Unfortunately I'm not that adept at using them up. We have dried them, made pies and muffins, cider and used them in stuffing. I really need to learn how to do more though as so much is wasted.

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  2. I absolutely love that picture of the apples strewn about in the sunny grass. Such a summery peaceful sight!

    This was a good primer on taking care of old apple trees. I wish you had come to advise me on pruning my willows, I think I botched that job. Your apples will thank you for all your careful attention.

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    1. I wish I knew more about pruning and could get up higher in the trees. Most of our pruning is lower down where it's safe. I still haven't gotten up the courage to go up into the canopy to prune.

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  3. Your trees will love you for all that attention and care. Look at the reward...big juicy PEI grown apples. Wonder how old the orchard is?

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    1. Brenda, nobody seems to be sure about the age of the orchard, just like the house, it's a bit of a mystery. The orchard seems to have always been here though so my feeling is it was likely planted around the time the house was built. By looking at the architecture the house appears to be 1880 - 1890.

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  4. Excellent advice, Marguerite. My husband severely pruned our one remaining apple tree early in the winter. We had some low-hanging branches, too, that made it difficult to mow around. I can imagine how much harded it would be with a whole orchard to keep trimmed. All those big, beautiful apples on the ground--you're making me crave a piece of fresh apple pie:)

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    1. Rose, I had no idea how hard it was getting around those trees until last summer my husband went away for 6 weeks and I had to mow the lawn myself. I was so tired of being whacked in the head by the end of it that I insisted more branches be cut down this year.

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  5. Um, that was supposed to be "harder," not "harded":)

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  6. What a nice winter activity! And great to know that all the hard work you're putting into the orchard now will pay off next fall - with lots of yummy apples.

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    1. I never would have thought I would be gardening in winter but this has turned into an annual activity and it is kind of fun to get out there and do some work. Each branch that comes off I feel like these trees get a little bit healthier and our job gets a little easier.

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  7. Cool, sadly no snow here and virtually no dormancy. I will be trimming the cherimoya at our local field station next week and that should be fun.

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    1. I hadn't thought of it but apples would have a hard time in your climate wouldn't they with no dormant period. I believe most apples require a chilling period somewhere in the vicinity of 1200 hours each year. Something we easily achieve here with our cold winters.

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  8. Our workers don't come until the last week in March, so the pruning begins then for the nursery trees. It is good to show the pruning like you did. Many find this helpful. Seeing all those apples on the ground makes me think you get some hungry deer.

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  9. Marguerite girl ! You have quite a good little orchard there .. it must be apple heaven come the Autumn ? LOL
    I don't have as many trees as you do of course but almost all the same rules apply for the odds and ends I have here. I finally have an arborist company coming to take out the poor Mountain Ash .. I feel guilty for already thinking it is a perfect spot for another Japanese Maple !! My meditation corner with my Buddha and Japanese forest grasses and bamboo ... I am so hoping we will have a decent Spring for all of us girl : )
    Joy

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  10. you have both done well, pruning is something I would like to know more about, I don't have an orchard but each shrub and fruit bush seems to have different requirements, Frances

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  11. Some day I hope to have such an overabundance of apples in our orchard. I love your orchard photos, and find them quite inspirational. I'm also glad I'm not the only one with an orchard whose weeds threaten to swallow dogs and small children whole ;) This time of year it seems like a constant chore keeping the weeds in check, especially after a soaking spring rain!

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