PRUNING APPLE TREES

A guide to healthier, more productive trees.

©1991, 1996, 1997 Lofthouse Publishing

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TITLE PAGE OVERVIEW

TABLE OF CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION Advantages of proper pruning More and better fruit. Stronger Tree. Easier to picking and Maintenance. General Guidelines of Pruning Practice Moderation Make the Cut Right. Remove Unproductive Wood. WHEN TO PRUNEWHENTOPRUNE TOOLS AND SUPPLIESTOOLSANDSUPPLIES Loppers. Saw. Ladder. Tree Paint. PRUNE WITH A PURPOSE Stop the Spread of Disease Blights. Rots. Animal Spread diseases Dead Wood. Improve the Yield and Quality of the Fruit Growing straight up. Growing straight down. Growing towards the center of the tree. Growing close to another branch. Rubbing against another branch. Minimize Damage From The Elements Storms and Gravity Sunburn. Facilitate Picking Simplify Maintenance Create a Good Looking Tree Avoid Common Mistakes Leaving Stubs. The Haircut. The Butcher Job. PRUNING YOUNG TREESPRUNINGYOUNGTREES PRUNING NEGLECTED TREESPRUNINGNEGLECTEDTREES Remove dead, diseased, and dying wood

Lower the height of the tree Reduce overcrowding SUMMARYSUMMARY GLOSSARYGLOSSARY A Parting WordApartingWord About Lofthouse Publishing

OVERVIEW Prune apple trees yearly to increase the quality, dependability, and yield of fruit, and to simplify maintenance, spraying. Prune to open up the tree, and to keep the tree from growing too tall or brushy. Cut out dead, diseased and misplaced branches. In general, remove any branch that grows straight up, straight down, towards the center of the tree, or close below another branch. Remove any branches that rub against one another, or that grow with a narrow crotch. Prune moderately in early spring making cuts nearly flush with the trunk or branch, without leaving stubs, thus increasing the longevity and vigor of the tree. Use proper tools and supplies in the right way, to simplify pruning and increase safety. Paint any wound larger than two inches in diameter. Prune young trees lightly, with the aim of training them to give high yields of attractive fruit, on a tree that is easy to pick and maintain. Prune older neglected trees somewhat heavily, with the goal of reducing the height and brushiness of the tree, while avoiding a severe butcher job.

INTRODUCTION This section briefly discusses some of the advantages of proper pruning, and recommends some general principles to follow while pruning. Advantages of proper pruning Proper pruning creates a healthier, stronger tree, giving better fruit, while minimizing the effort required to care for the tree. More and better fruit. A properly pruned apple tree usually gives a bigger crop of apples, over the course of several years, than an unpruned tree, and is more likely to produce apples every year. There are many factors that influence the size of the apple crop, but a regularly pruned tree tends to produce a regular crop of apples. The apples from a properly pruned tree are generally larger and have better color. They are more likely to be free of spots and blemishes. While proper pruning might slightly decrease the total pounds of fruit produced by a tree in a good year, the fruit is of superior quality. Stronger Tree. A properly pruned tree is more resistant to disease and damage by the elements. It will recover more quickly from any damage or affliction. Proper pruning techniques help eliminate blights, rots, animal carried diseases, sunburn, and storm damage. Easier to picking and Maintenance. A properly pruned tree, not too tall or brushy, has space opened up to allow a place for a ladder, making it easier to pick, spray, and prune. The apples on a properly pruned tree are easy to reach so they do not get left on the tree after harvest. It is easier to mow around a tree which has been pruned with the lawnmower in mind. General Guidelines of Pruning Moderation, the most fundamental guideline of good pruning, is vital to getting good results. Other items of importance are pruning without leaving stubs, and cutting out unproductive wood. Practice Moderation. Apple trees should be pruned moderately in order to improve the yield and quality of the fruit. The practice of letting a tree grow wild for many years and then butchering it back to a stump is a good way to guarantee poor fruit production. An apple tree that is pruned severely spends much of its energy building back the tree and devotes little energy towards fruit production. For this reason prune apple trees moderately.

Making a quick healing cut.
Make the Cut Right. Apple trees should be pruned without leaving stubs on the tree. Where a branch grows from a limb, there is a small rough line in the bark at the junction. Large branches should be cut off slightly to the outside of this line. The resulting wound heals faster than if the cut were flush with the trunk, and much faster than if a stub were left. If the line cannot be seen, it is better to cut the branch off too close than to leave a stub. Remove Unproductive Wood. Remove any wood that is unproductive, whether dead, diseased, or growing in a counterproductive manner. Dead and diseased wood should always be removed, to protect the healthy parts of the tree from contamination. Removing unfruitful branches encourages the remaining branches to produce better. Properly pruning apple trees generally causes them to produce a larger quantity of high quality fruit. The tree will be stronger and easier to care for. In general, prune apple trees moderately, with the aim of removing unproductive wood.

WHEN TO PRUNE Prune in the spring, just before leafs appear. Pruning at this time allows the tree to heal quicker and causes less stress on the tree. A light pruning, during early summer, is helpful in directing the growth of the tree in the desired direction. Nipping the growth of a twig will redirect the growth of the branch. Cut the twig to a bud that is facing in the direction of the desired growth. Pruning the trees lightly, all summer, by removing a bud here or there, is a good practice to follow. Most early spring pruning could be eliminated if the trees were carefully watched and pruned lightly during the summer. Pruning in late summer or fall is discouraged, because the tree does not get a chance to heal properly before the arrival of winter. Pruning during the winter is not recommended because cold weather damages the newly exposed cambium.

TOOLS AND SUPPLIES The customary tools to use while pruning apple trees are a saw and a pair of loppers. A three legged ladder, designed for use in the orchard, is the safest ladder to use. A paint, designed specifically to be used on trees, should be used to paint large wounds.

Loppers. Loppers are used to remove twigs and branches smaller than about an inch in diameter. In making any cut, do not leave stubs, because a stub creates a weak spot in the tree that cannot easily heal over. A small cut, nearly flush with the branch, will heal over in a year or two, while a stub might take five to seven years to rot away and heal over. Therefore, cut off small branches as close to the limb as possible, thus making it easier for the cut to heal.

While making a cut, orient the loppers with the hook on the side of the twig farthest from the main trunk as illustrated. Orienting the hook in this manner leaves less of a stub and makes it harder to accidentally damage the bark of the branch while making a cut. The task of pruning can be greatly simplified if good quality loppers are used. The varieties that have a thin sheet metal cutting blade are aggravating to use. A brand similar in construction to the “Corona” brand is highly recommended. They are characterized by a thick cutting blade that can be easily sharpened with a file. Even though they are expensive to purchase, the ease of use more than makes up for the extra cost. Saw. Use a saw to remove branches that are too big to remove with loppers. Use care to avoid leaving stubs. Even though the proper cut leaves a larger wound, it is easier for that wound to heal.

Use special care, when making large cuts, that you do not damage the bark around the cut. If proper care is not practiced, the bark can be ripped off the trunk or branch as the limb breaks loose. To prevent this, make a small back cut about an inch deep on the bottom part of the limb flush with the trunk. Make a

second cut from the crotch downward along the trunk or limb. Using a small back cut will usually allow the branch to fall off without harming the rest of the tree. Ladder. Climbing in apple trees should be forbidden. Climbing breaks off small branches, twigs and occasionally larger limbs. Shoes damage the bark of the tree making it less healthy. Therefore to avoid damage to the tree, pruning and picking should be done from a ladder. The safest ladder to use while pruning is a three legged ladder, designed to be used on unlevel rough ground, like that found in the orchard. Four legged step ladders are dangerous. Tree Paint. Any paint formulated for use on trees is acceptable to use for painting the wounds. The easiest to use comes in a spray can, and for small jobs, this may be the best alternative. For larger jobs, use a paint that is thin enough it can be applied with a paint brush. Putties are undesirable because they are hard to apply. Apply the paint to any cut or damaged area larger than two inches in diameter.

PRUNE WITH A PURPOSE There are several reasons for pruning, most of them deal with increasing the yield of fruit and the vigor and health of the tree. The main purposes discussed in this section are: Stop the Spread of Disease Improve the Yield and Quality of the Fruit Minimize Damage From The Elements Facilitate Picking Simplify Maintenance Create a Good Looking Tree Avoid Common Mistakes Stop the Spread of Disease There are whole books dedicated to the control of apple tree diseases. This manual gives brief remarks about avoiding and/or preventing some general classes of diseases by using proper pruning techniques. In general, a limb that receives plentiful sunshine is healthier than one that is shaded most of the time. Blights. Blight, a fungal infection that generally kills the infected parts of the tree, takes many forms, but is characterized by dehydrated dead bark. The blight often starts in the young vigorous branches of a tree and moves towards the trunk, killing the branch along the way. Remove blighted limbs a foot or more below where the infection is visible. It is generally better to remove too much blighted wood, than to remove too little, and leave infected wood on the tree. Rots. Rots are initiated by water seeping into the wood of a tree through a wound in the bark. The wet wood then harbors bugs and microorganisms which cause the tree to rot. Rot is undesirable because it weakens the tree causing the branches to break more readily. Because rots often begin where a stub has been left on the limb, do not leave stubs while pruning. Paint all wounds larger than two inches in diameter to help prevent rot until the limb heals. Animal Spread diseases. Animals chewing on the bark of trees can spread diseases from tree to tree, or from one part of the tree to another. Chewed twigs should be cut back to healthy wood. Chewed trunks, branches, and limbs should be painted to prevent the spread of disease, and to keep the limb from dehydrating. The sooner the tree is painted after the damage is done the better. Dead Wood. A dead branch is more likely to damage the bark of other branches during a wind storm than a healthy branch. Dead wood also harbors insects and microorganisms that can damage the tree. Moreover, a tree looks healthier if there are no dead branches in it. Because disease organisms can spread from dead wood to healthy, prune to remove dead wood from the tree. To minimize the spread of disease, promptly burn or dispose of dead wood rather than cutting it up and storing it as firewood. Improve the Yield and Quality of the Fruit The color and size of an apple depends on both the genetic character of the tree it is grown on and the amount of sunlight the apple receives. Apples grown in full sunlight are larger and have more color than

apples from the same tree grown in the shade. To improve the color and size of the fruit, prune to open up the tree so more sunlight can reach the central and lower branches. Do this by removing branches that might create dense shading in other parts of the tree. An open tree grows better and produces better fruit. The center of the tree should be clear of brush and limbs enabling light and air to easily penetrate to all parts of the tree. Prune to open up the tree and to remove unproductive and misplaced branches. Remove branches that are: Crowing straight up Growing straight down Growing towards the center of the tree Growing close to another branch Rubbing against another branch Growing straight up. Remove branches that grow straight up. They make the tree too tall if allowed to continue growing that way. A branch that grows straight up saps vigor from the tree and doesn't produce a good crop of apples. It also excessively shades other parts of the tree. Remove all water-shoots, unless one is needed to form a new limb. Train the shoot to become a fruitful bough by heading back. Growing straight down. Remove limbs that grow straight down because they are not fruitful. A limb that grows straight down is shaded by the limb it hangs from and shades other parts of the tree, keeping them from producing at their full potential. Growing towards the center of the tree. Remove strong limbs that grow towards the center of the tree so the tree remains open and so light and air can reach the center of the tree. Leave twigs and small weak branches that grow towards the center of the tree as shade for the trunk. Growing close to another branch. Remove branches that grow close to one another so the remaining branch doesn't have to fight for light. Remove the least vigorous of the branches. Generally take out the lower member except in the top of the tree where the upper member may be taken out to keep the tree closer to the ground. Rubbing against another branch. Remove branches that rub against another part of the tree. If the bark of the tree is damaged by rubbing against something it is easier for disease and pests to enter the tree. It is also more likely for a limb with damaged bark to become dehydrated and die. Minimize Damage From The Elements Proper pruning can strengthen a tree against damage by the natural elements such as storms, gravity, and sunlight. Storms and Gravity. A storm is more likely to break branches from a tree than any ether natural phenomena. The weight of things on a limb; snow, ice, apples, people, etc.; will also break a limb from time to time. Narrow crotches are the weakest point in a tree's structural ability to withstand physical stress. Therefore remove one member of a narrow crotch.

A branch can be further strengthened by heading back, or in other words, by removing about one third of last year's growth. Sunburn. Trees, like us, can be burnt by excessive amounts of sun. Just as we develop a tan to protect us from sunburn, a tree has ways of protecting itself from the sun. Small branches and twigs shade the trunk and limbs from excessive exposure to the sun. A limb leaning towards the north-east is especially vulnerable to sunburn. While opening up and thinning the tree don't take away all the shading from the trunk. Small weak twigs shading the trunk and major limbs should be left on the tree. Facilitate Picking An apple that is growing in a hard to reach place will often be left on the tree instead of being picked. There are two things that make an apple hard to reach: It is either too high, or else it is surrounded by branches that block access to it. Do not let the tree get so tall that it is unsafe or impossible to reach the fruit. Do not allow limbs and branches that are growing straight up to continue to grow that way. Either remove the limb entirely, or train it to grow at an angle by cutting back to a lateral. The most fruitful branches grow at about 45 degrees from the vertical. Apples in a properly pruned tree grow in all sections of the tree. Each apple should be easily accessible from either the ground or a ladder. A handy way to do this is called the clover leaf method of pruning. Think of your tree as if you were looking at it from above and pruning it into the shape of a clover leaf. Then cut channels from the edges of the tree into the center that are kept free of branches. If starting with a young tree, don’t let more than four branches grow from the trunk. For older trees, leave three to five branches growing from the trunk depending on how the tree is shaped.

Each space around the tree is called a ladder station. Trees with ladder stations are a joy to pick, since there is little fighting with branches for a place to put a ladder or your body. The apples are within easy reach and so are not left on the tree.

Simplify Maintenance It is often desirable to be able to mow the grass or till the soil under an apple tree. Branches that interfere with these operations can be removed. It simplifies maintenance to prune the tree yearly or even twice yearly. A tree that is pruned yearly soon becomes easy to prune. While it might take an hour to prune a neglected tree, a regularly pruned tree can be pruned in ten to fifteen minutes. Create a Good Looking Tree Because your trees are likely to be growing in your yard or garden, you like them to look nice so you can feel proud about showing them to your neighbors, friends and relatives.

Prune to make the tree look nice, for example, if a branch mars the symmetry of the tree, head it back to make it look better. Avoid Common Mistakes Common mistakes made by beginning pruners include leaving stubs, giving the tree a haircut, and butchering the tree. Leaving Stubs. By far the most common mistake of inexperienced pruners is leaving a stub. The remaining stub often varies anywhere from a half inch to many feet in length. The haircut and the butcher job would not occur if all stubs were removed from the tree. The Haircut. This results from cutting the tree to a certain height year after year as if a hedge were being pruned. The haircut is undesirable because it causes the tree to become very brushy, thus reducing the fruiting capacity of the tree. The Butcher Job. The butcher job is the most damaging type of pruning because it upsets the balance of the tree and causes it to produce vegetative growth at the expense of fruit. All of these mistakes could be avoided if pruners would cut all branches, twigs, and limbs off close to where they originate. Section Summary

Common Pruning Mistakes Prune to stop the spread of disease by removing dead and dying branches. Open up the tree to improve the quality of fruit by removing branches that grow straight up, straight down, towards the center of the tree, or close to or rubbing against another branch. Minimize damage from the elements by removing narrow crotches, by leaving small weak branches as shade, and by heading back as needed. Prune to simplify the tasks associated with caring for the tree. Create a tree that is pleasant to look on. Finally avoid the most common mistakes of amateur pruners which are leaving stubs, giving the tree a haircut, or a butcher job.

PRUNING YOUNG TREES Young trees should be pruned very lightly. The purpose of the pruning is to direct the growth of the tree in desirable directions so the tree will bear well in later years on a tree that is easy to manage. Select four shoots to become the scaffold branches of the mature tree. Train these shoots to maturity without letting other shoots take over. The shoots selected should be spaced 8-12" apart along the trunk. These shoots should be selected the second year the tree is in the orchard. They should be trained to grow in the proper direction, using spacers or ropes if necessary. The shoots should grow at a wide angle from the trunk and all other shoots growing from the trunk should be removed. During the second and succeeding years, maintain a balance of growth between the four shoots by pinching back any shoot that is out growing the others. Do not let other shoots grow from the trunk. Prune young trees lightly, just enough to shape them properly, and no more. Heavy pruning of young trees slows down fruit production.

PRUNING NEGLECTED TREES In pruning a neglected tree, it is better to prune moderately for two or three years, than to prune heavily one year and neglect the trees again for years. Neglected trees are often too tall and bushy. Prune to open up and shorten the tree. The process of pruning a neglected tree can be broken down into the following three steps. Remove dead, diseased, and dying wood Lower the height of the tree Reduce overcrowding Remove dead, diseased, and dying wood Remove all limbs that are dead, diseased, or dying. A badly neglected tree will have many dead limbs to be removed. Cutting them out will do a lot to open up the tree and make it look better. Remove any stubs that were left from previous prunings of the tree. Lower the height of the tree Lower the height of the tree by no more than 5-10 feet in one year. Cut the branch off to a major lateral. If there are no large laterals cut the branch back to where it joins a limb. Reduce overcrowding If you have not removed much wood while topping the tree, then prune the rest A good rule of thumb to follow while pruning a neglected tree is that you should not remove more than one third of the wood on the tree. Don't be afraid to cut out a major limb or two, but if you do, then prune the rest of the tree less severely than normal. After being pruned, a neglected tree will often send out many water-shoots. Prune most of these water-shoots off during early summer while they are still young and tender. They will then not need to be cut off the following spring when they are large and tough.

Pruning Neglected Trees

SUMMARY Proper pruning helps create a strong airy tree, giving good yields of high quality fruit, in an easily maintainable tree. Through moderate pruning in early spring, unproductive wood, such as that growing straight up, straight down, towards the center of the tree, or close below or rubbing against another branch, is removed, using appropriate tools, without leaving stubs. Unhealthy wood, that is diseased or dead, is cut out to protect the rest of the tree. Small weak branches are left on the tree as shade for the trunk and larger limbs, but one member of a narrow crotch is removed to strengthen the tree against damage by storms or gravity. Young trees are pruned lightly and older trees more heavily in order to train the tree to produce well.

GLOSSARY Blight Heading Back Lateral Loppers Rot A fungal disease that often starts in young vigorously growing shoots. Removing about one third of the previous years growth from the end of a branch. A side branch. Bypass shears commonly used to prune small branches from apple trees. Decay of a limb from the inside, often beginning where a stub has been left. Reduce the chance of rot formation by making close cuts. A thick rapidly growing branch. Thick strongly growing shoots growing nearly straight up that often originate from where a major cut has been made. A spindly, slow growing branch

Strong Branch Water Shoots

Weak Branch

A Parting Word If you take any message out of this guide, it should be:

PRUNE MODERATELY
and

DON’T LEAVE STUBS

This electronic book was produced by: Lofthouse Publishing P.O. Box 220 Amlin, OH 43002-0220

Copyright Notice
You are welcome to read, search, download, copy, print, or give away this work. Just don't try to sell the whole thing. You're certainly free to incorporate portions of this work in what you create, and sell that. That's the nature of the creative process. There's no need to ask for permission. We ask that if you give away the book, that you give it away just as you received it, complete with the copyright notice. Thank you

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