Despite crummy weather and the press of work, I ran up to Five Islands on Saturday to prune the trees in the main orchard. After a summer’s growth, the trees typically look like this:
There is a lot of advice available in books and online about pruning, and I took an afternoon class a few years back, put on by MOFGA and taught by a professional orchardist, located at one of his customers’ orchards in Waterboro ME. Some basic principles include:
- Start with the big picture, looking at the structure of the whole tree, so you don’t end up snipping a bunch of twigs only to remove that entire branch.
- Eliminate watersprouts (vertical branches that leap off the branches and the trunk), crossovers (i.e. conflicts between two branches vying for the same space) and anything that points back toward the center of the tree.
- Aim for an open structure that lets sunlight into all parts of the tree; the old timers say you want to be able to throw a cat through the tree. In a healthy tree that’s growing fast, you might remove half of the new wood or more in the spring.
- For standard apple trees I aim for central-leader form, with scaffolds of 3-5 branches evenly distributed around the points of the compass, at 1.5-2′ vertical intervals.
- The scaffold branches should be approximately horizontal, since that induces the tree to produce fruit.
- You want the angle between the trunk and the scaffold branches to be close to 90 degrees, since shallow angles cause inclusion of bark that leads to weakness and breakage as the tree grows. I use string (usually) and weights (occasionally) to tie branches down.
- Different varieties have different habits. Some shoot straight up and need to be tied down extensively to form a good structure; others spray out aimlessly and need all the help you can give them just to throw up an identifiable leader.
That same tree above, after I attacked it with the felcos: