Dormant Apple Tree Branches
Open Center Grafted Apple Tree (three different types of apples)
My Little Orchard
3 apples, 2 peach, 2 pear, 1 apricot, 1 cherry, 6 blueberry
I know, you can't see much with the brown against the brown -- but spring will be here soon!
Yesterday, in the 50+ degree weather (yea!) I pruned my fruit trees for the first time. Last year, when they were planted, they had already flowered so I didn't prune them. After reading up on pruning I discovered that you can prune in the summertime -- although what you do is different. In any case, I pruned. It was nerve-wracking! First of all, I was afraid of cutting the wrong way, the wrong branches, pruning too much -- eeek! There are a lot of decisions to make when pruning. You have to decide whether your tree is pruned (if it's 2-3 years old) with a center leader or an open center. Then you prune accordingly. For the center leader (which I found more difficult) you have to decide which branches will be your scaffold branches -- which are the branches that are evenly distributed around the center leader and spaced 6-10 inches north and south of each other along the center leader. You don't want to take off too much of your "twig" growth, as this will effect how much fruit you get, but you want to make sure you take off enough so that all of the "effort" of growing fruit will be concentrated. For the open center method you are mainly making sure branches aren't crossing over top of one another (or into one another's "space"), and that any branches that start aren't at too narrow of an angle to the main branches. Anyway, all of this probably sounds confusing. It was. And scary! But I did it.
If you are considering buying fruit trees, after my pruning experiences I have some (albeit, novice) tips for you. First, you may want to consider purchasing your trees through a high quality catalog like Seeds of Change (www.seedsofchange.com) where they take good care of their trees. Seeds of Change sells their trees bare root, so your land has to be ready to go when they are delivered -- or you can dig a temporary trench for them. Seeds of Change has very thorough instructions and all kinds of fun varieties to choose from. If you are purchasing a tree from a nursery, if it's a nice one, you may be able to find some more unique varieties than at your local Home Depot. Plus, it's possible that the trees have been better cared for in their infancy. When you select your tree -- pay close attention to the structure of the tree. (Read up on pruning.) If the tree is pruned in the center leader style, make sure that the tree you choose has a strong, well defined, straight center leader with well aligned scaffold branches distributed around it -- or at least see how they could be selected -- and others pruned. If the tree is pruned in an open center style, look to see that the branches that fan out from the trunk of the tree are well distributed and strong. And, with both styles check that any past pruning hasn't resulted in major damage to the tree itself.
Two of the trees in my little orchard I selected myself from a very nice nursery that specializes in selling (not growing) all different kinds of fruit trees. I am embarrassed to admit that the way I selected my Chinese Apricot tree was that it was fluffy with a lot of blossoms on it. "More Fruit!" I thought. Blush.
The remaining trees I had planted by a local guy who has a nursery and does landscaping etc. He had purchased the trees from someone else (come to find out) and selected them himself and brought them over to plant. The guy is great, and I think his work is terrific -- so this is not a reflection on him, he just doesn't specialize in fruit trees. In any case, the more I looked at my trees as I went to prune them, the more I realized they were a mess! One of my apple trees (a Cortland) had very droopy branches that literally touched the ground with fruit on them last fall. All of these branches had to be pruned at the point before they start turning towards the ground. Needless to say, this poor tree got a major hair cut. Another tree, pruned in the center leader style had a very poor - wobbly leader. Another tree had two leaders! EEeekk! Well, lesson learned, and hopefully the pruning does them good, rather than sending them to their death beds.