Monday, December 19, 2011

Trimming The Fruit Trees!

This pear tree was the first to get pruned.  I planted it as a bare root start 2 springs ago, and we actually harvested about 3 pears from the 8 or 10 pears I saw on the tree this year.  They were so frigging tasty!!  I don't know what kind of pear it is, unfortunately I didn't keep track.  None the less, on to trimming.

Notes on pruning fruit trees:
Trim fruit trees every winter, after leaves fall, especially the first 5 seasons.  This creates a strong foundation and shape to the tree.

Terminology:  Trim means cut all the way back to the base of the branch.  Head means lop off the head of the branch.  Typical is anywhere from 1/3 to 2/3rds of the branch depending on the type of tree.  As it turns out, pears produce fruit on the 'old' wood, so you can trim more of the new wood without eliminating next year's harvest.

What happens if you don't?
I learned from several of my trees, what happens if you don't trim.  The pear was a good example.  It came in the first year, and looked great.  The next year it looked even better.  Very healthy, albeit all pretty narrowly grouped branches.  As it turns out, a huge branch broke from the trunk.  I don't know if it was Ellie, wind or a human or fruit that broke it.  I found it like that one day, and tried tying it back in, which seemed to work.  The leaves grew, and I thought it may have re-grafted itself.   The string I wrapped it with embedded in the bark, disfiguring the trunk (oops!) and when I pulled the string out, I could see the branch had not healed, at least not completely.  I am sure I am supposed to trim it off, but I want expert advise.  Other than the damage, it's one of my largest branches in a good position to give the tree shape.

First year:  Trim everything off the trunk, except 3 evenly distributed base branches.  You can see at the base of this tree, I now have 4-6, depending on which branches you count.  I might take one more off, you'll see why later.

Second year:  First, remove all dead or deformed branches.  Next, trim branches to give the best shape to the tree, while eliminating crossing or crowding branches.  This seems really hard to do at first!  Who wants to cut any of what looks like healthy growth in your new tree?  Let alone selecting which branches don't make the cut!

From reading, my strategy is, keep the inside of the tree open and select branches that give the best distribution around the tree.  The books say, go for 3 main branches, 120 degrees apart.  Once you've narrowed it down to these main branches, head 1/3 to 1/2 of branches with new growth.  (Head means prune the newest part of the branch in tree trimming lingo.)
Here's my trimmings.  Stacking them made me realize, yes, I did remove quite a bit of wood.  The ones on the ground are from the rose.  He's another success story.  We moved him exactly when you aren't supposed to in Spring.  That season he looked like he was going to die.  Then, mid summer a part of the bush grew again!  Yes, a big part of it died off, but it flowered again in all it's glory.

This is the upper cherry tree, before I trimmed it.  Notice the string up top, left over from the branches drooping so much with just a few cherries.  Again, this is what happens when you don't trim.  Weak droopy branches.
 The upper cherry looks much cleaner and healthy post trim.  I've got it down to 4 main branches, and all of them are headed. 

Here, above you can see the first cherry tree after pruning.  In front of Ellie is the lower cherry before trim.  You can see there are way too many branches at the base, and the longer branches are spindly.

 Here you can see the lower cherry has a much more defined structure.  I could probably take out a couple more branches at the base.  Below the cherry, is the apricot.

When I look at this view of the apricot, I can see why the guy at the nursery went to overload when I showed him photos of all these trees and asked him what to do.  This tree has been through two harvests, the last one producing a huge amount of fruit, which was mostly eaten by squirrels.  It's also way overgrown.  Right above the soccer ball, you can see two major branches crossing, a no-no.  Most of the branches are spindly, and you can see shoots going long distances.  I even have branches going out, getting redirected and coming straight back.

I agree.  Looking at this view, I could still take more out around the right side.  The tradeoff is, with an apricot, the fruit produces on last year's shoots, so you don't want to trim them all off.  It looks a lot better, but I am likely going to take out a few more. 

This is my final cut on the apricot.  It's much more cleared out, with a few of the new branches left to produce fruit, while much of the inner branches have been removed to give it shape and structure.

The Apricot trimmings.  Quite a bit of branches when you see it.

Jib Jab with Tim
I feel like a real tree farmer now!  I've got more work to do, but doing the pruning was a big step.  I used my Christmas present pruners, the famous Felco #8 hand pruners from Wegman's.

Amazon v Indies
I struggled with the age-old Amazon versus local merchant battle again - $83/pair from Wegman's or $52 from Amazon.  I love a bargain and I love Wegman's.  Wegman's wins today.  I also got the book you can see on the concrete bench.  Best book ever, on pruning fruit trees.  I'll give you the details on it later.

What's next?
Sarah and Moira made 10 batches of Christmas cookies, so likely we'll need to post some new recipes.  I can also trim the fig.  As it turns out, figs fruit on the new wood, so much can be trimmed.  I am still waiting for the leaves to drop on the apples and nectarine and peach, so we'll get into those later.

Tree care:
I've got the trimming started.  Next is moving the drip system to circle the tree drip line.  What I learned is, the roots up near the trunk are just that, trunk roots that pass water and nutrients from the feeder roots, which are all out at the 'drip line' of the tree, which is this imaginary ring at the perimeter of the tree branches.  So, I need to create a 'well' or a raised edge around the drip line to hold the water.  I should be watering the trees more each time, and less often.  The cycle between waterings gets longer and longer as the trees grow.  I think at this stage I will still water about 1/week during the heat of the summer.  As well as the water ridge, I need to get mulch in there to hold the water.

1 comment:

  1. LOVE this post T! The whole process and your sharing are cool! Thanks for keeping us in the garden ox