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Winter pruning at Bolton

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Winter pruning at Bolton

Postby MarkEvens » Sun Feb 08, 2015 2:25 pm

Introduction to pruning

Saturday February 8th 1400-1600, Bolton near Appleby

The event commenced at Bolton Village Hall, which had been kindly set up by Hilary Wilson & friends. Cakes, flapjacks, cheese scones and apple crisps had been kindly made and donated by Hilary, Ros Nichol and Jane Orgee and tea and coffee was provided by Hilary. Mark and Alison Evens brought a selection of about 20 varieties of Mark’s stored apples (together with details of the dates of how long they kept for), for the group to try. Chris Braithwaite kindly set up direction signs to the orchard and brought a selection of pruning equipment for the group to see and use.

Around 20 people came, including novices and experts – and two newcomers, Julie Jackson and Bill Little.

Hilary welcomed everyone to the workshop and provided some very informative leaflets off entitled ‘Introduction to Pruning’ for the group, before handing over to Chris Braithwaite.

Chris demonstrated how to initially prune a new apple tree, using one of Hilary’s grafted apple trees that she had brought to the village hall as an example, explaining that one allowed the tree to grow to the desired tree trunk height (+4-6”), before pruning out the top 4-6”, above a bud, to allow the lower buds to grow into branches. In subsequent years, unwanted lower branches could progressively be reduced in length and subsequently completely pruned back to their collars, whilst higher branches could be pruned back to outward facing buds to promote new growth and flower buds.

He then went on to explain how to trim cordoned apples, there being 2 ways of doing this, the simplest being to allow the cordon to grow to the desired height, when the top was to be pruned out, with subsequent prunings being undertaken in a similar way to pruning a branch on a tree, the difference being that cordon pruning was usually undertaken in the summer.

The group then departed in convoy to Hilary’s orchard to witness some hands on pruning in the field.

In the orchard

Pruning equipment

Chris started off by explaining the different tools that are required for pruning:

1. Secateurs:
Apple tree pruning requires effective secateurs that are sharp and clean.
Good secateurs (such as Felco) although expensive, have the advantage of longevity. One of the members highlighted that a further advantage of Felco, is that it is possible to get replacement parts in the unlikely event of them breaking; Chris agreed and said that Felco offered a mending service in that event.
Chris otherwise recommended Japanese secateurs (Tobisho from “Niwaki”) as another reliable (but even more expensive) brand.
Otherwise, for those with limited funds, (or by choice) Okatsune are also good. An increasingly popular option, is to buy a pair of cheaper secateurs (from Wilko for example), that can be used for a season or so, with the anticipation of replacing them thereafter.

Secateurs need to be sharp (Mark Evens recommended a diamond sharpener from Felco for this as it was very easy and effective to use).

2. Pruning saws
Pruning saws are the best tools for pruning larger branches.
Chris explained that Japanese saws are particularly good for this purpose, as they are extremely sharp and thin (and have narrower serrations distally to enable you to start making a cut more easily); it was highlighted that Japanese saws have a cutting blade only on the pull however (and not on the push as UK saws do); this is important to know, as if a bi-directional action is used, they are likely to snap.
Bow saws can also be used although they may not be able to position well in tight spaces. A narrower ended bow saw would better suit this job.

3. Tripod ladder
A Niwaki tripod ladder was available at the site. This was noted to be expensive but a very useful and safe design for a ladder. We have in the past been able to negogiate a reduction in price for members who wished to purchase one - some interest was expressed by some of the newer members in doing likewise if there was another opportunity. Obviously depending on the orchard and height of the apple trees, a ladder is not always required.

4. Loppers
Loppers were highlighted as being good for disposing of branches after pruning, but not for pruning per se, as they were likely to bruise and damage trees; also as it is important to prune with a good view of the site of the cut, loppers would unsuitable in this regard.

5. Cleanliness
Cleanliness was highlighted as being a vital component of pruning – both before commencement, and also when moving from one tree to another (and most especially if one was diseased).
Garden disinfectants, hospital antibacterial sprays and diluted Jeyes fluid were proposed as suitable alternatives.

Apple tree diseases

Chris explained that there are 2 main types of disease that affect apples:
Scab (black/brown spots on apples – reduces storage life, unsightly) – more likely to occur if the tree doesn’t receive enough air circulating between its branches.
Canker (brown/swollen areas visible on branches due to a fungal disease - difficult to control) – more likely if the tree is damaged; can be reduced if large pruning sites are treated with tree wound paint (RHS recommends Medo, Prune and Seal or Arbrex Seal and Heal); Hilary said that cooking oil can also be used to help seal the pruning site.

Basics of pruning

Hilary had printed out some basic guides to introduce the theory of pruning. The main aim was to try to give each apple, and each branch of the tree, space so that the tree could produce apples free of disease and to a good size.

The idea is to produce a tree into a goblet shape, i.e., a trunk with radiating branches and an open centre – unless one wants to grow apples as cordons (a great idea for smaller gardens as it allows one to grow a greater variety of apples in a smaller space), in which case one would try to prune the cordons into single branches at 450.

Pruning is undertaken in 2 stages, namely winter and summer.
Winter pruning is primarily formative – i.e. it helps shape the tree. Summer pruning helps the tree to form flower / fruiting buds for the following year.

Tree bud anatomy is important to understand to help guide where to prune.

Chris explained that flower buds are fatter, whilst leaf buds are smaller and more streamlined. Flower buds generally grow on spurs and towards the lower end of two-year old wood. (Many of the newer members had to be shown the differences on the tree.)

Basically, when you are pruning established spur bearing apple trees, the idea is to encourage the tree to produce more fruiting spurs. This is done by shortening the leader shoots by half the growth that they produced in the previous year, shortening lateral shoots to 3-4 buds from their bases. (Note that some apples also bear fruit on the tips of laterals and need to be pruned slightly differently – but these were not covered in the session).

When pruning, we try to aim for a goblet shape with an open airy centre ‘that you can throw your hat through’.

We are aiming for apples that are easy to pick, that have space to grow (allowing 4” for an eating apple and 6” for a cooking apple) – being mindful that not all flower buds will fertilize / set fruit – so we don’t thin buds out to this level in winter pruning - ‘thinning’ young fruit can be done later in the year if required.

Hilary’s handout explains that horizontal branches produce more fruit than vertical ones, hence another reason why we aim to choose to keep branches that spread outwards from the tree and to remove those that grow vertically and why we aim for a goblet shape.

Chris demonstrated how to prune several branches of one of the apple trees in the orchard (that had not been pruned the previous summer):
- choosing a strong outward growing shoot for each branch from the previous year’s growth, to form a ‘leader’ (which he cut by about a half to a third with secateurs, just in front of an outward facing bud)
- cutting lateral shoots behind it to 3-4 buds
- keeping flowering spurs that were positioned on the top and sides of the branches (unless they were overcrowded in which case he reduced them somewhat)
- removing crossing over and crowded branches with his pruning saw
- removing dead and diseased shoots / branches wherever they were (or cutting them back to live wood, just in front of an appropriately facing bud
to leave a tree with a lovely open centre, a beautiful goblet shape, and its remaining branches with plenty of air.

Hilary otherwise removed spurs on the underside of branches, as she explained that these would not receive sufficient light to ripen fruit at these sites.

Apple Canker

We discussed the first tree in the orchard as it had evidence of widespread canker. This is a fungal disease that causes dark, sunken, dead areas in the bark of the tree (which if left, causes the branch to die). As it was so widespread, Hilary had planned to remove it, however there was some discussion as to whether the tree could be saved, by cutting it back to just below the graft, letting it regrow, removing all but the strongest shoots and re-grafting an alternative more canker resistant variety to such shoots in later years.

Cordoned apples

The group then went down to see Hilary’s cordoned apples. Chris explained that triploid trees could be difficult for cordon growing as they were vigorous, but that their growth being controlled somewhat by using a more dwarfing root stock.

End of session

As the weather was getting cold and damp by this stage, the session in the orchard was brought to a close and the group returned to the village hall for tea, coffee, cake and apple tasting. The workshop was a very
sociable affair. It enabled members to catch up, to meet new people, and provided opportunities for everyone to to discuss and learn from each other over the course of the afternoon.
Thank you to all who participated.
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