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Winter and Spring are the time to prune the apple trees in your orchard or garden. Proper care of your trees in their dormant season is an important part of maintaining tree health and potentially producing good-sized fruit. Opening up a tree to air and light will greatly reduce the incidence of disease and the crop of fruit is more likely to ripen. There’s an old Somerset Levels saying that good pruning should allow “a man to throw his cap from one side of the tree to the other without hitting a branch” or a pigeon fly through the tree without crashing!
By considering the size and shape of a tree and pruning sensitively, you can make it more stable in windy weather as well as allowing easier access to the fruit at harvesting time. Young trees can be helped to develop a strong framework and desirable shape; whilst an old tree can be rejuvenated - this is best achieved over 2 to 3 years rather than in one season. We have pruned this year using the Wolf Pruning Saw with Telescopic Handle aided by a Tripod Ladder.
Think fruit buds!
Take a careful look at your tree and you will notice that some buds are fat round and stick out from the branch – these are the fruit buds whereas leaf buds are smaller and flatter. It is important to carefully thin out branches to ensure that the tree is not overloaded with fruit buds.
Remove damage & disease
Dead, dying and diseased branches should be removed and then burned; this reduces the spread of fungal disease. Take out any branches that are damaged, crossed or badly placed, for example, in the centre of the tree to prevent abrasive damage to the bark of the tree and encourage the development of stronger, better positioned branches.
Take your time
It is important to take your time over pruning - it is more of an art than a haircut! Even old trees that have been badly neglected can be made productive again by progressive pruning over several years.
Be stable on uneven ground!
Standard trees can prove hard to access and orchards on uneven ground pose big problems. However, our well-tried and recommended lightweight Tripod Ladders give stable access to the top of large trees – they have adjustable legs that can balance on very uneven or sloping ground so that pruning is not just made more easy but, more importantly, much safer. Use the 40 litre Flexi Tub for collecting prunings.
The Natural England website has invaluable downloads on all aspects of orchard management including, An Introduction to Pruning, Formative Pruning of Young Trees and Maintenance Pruning.
The RHS run several pruning courses and a juice and cidermaking course at Pershore College and other venues throughout the year. Pershore College has great experience of orchard maintenance and indeed makes its own juice.
Orchard Groundcare in Somerset run Pruning & Planting Workshops in January and February.
Orchards Live, the North Devon organisation that since 1991 has been reversing the decline of orchards in the area, runs many courses throughout the year including pruning, grafting, planning, planting and cider & juice making.
Many other community groups will be organising similar courses in different regions of the country. Check Orchard Network for information about courses and activities close to you.
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