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Time to Prune!
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Author:  Viron [ Mon Dec 11, 2006 1:35 pm ]
Post subject:  Time to Prune!

Please note: this thread has expanded to 5 pages, so you may want to use the go to page feature on the upper right side, Viron

The following might best have been submitted to the HOS Pome News ... but you'd likely not see it until the middle of next Summer, and the time to prune is now ... and, I've got to write when inspired!

I've just climbed out of some apple trees; I haven't begun pruning my own yet - but have been doing some 'favors' for friends. One friend has around 20 apple & pear trees, I’d say 12 years old; she hasn't been getting much fruit. The trees look wonderful, growing along a dead-end city street, they're pruned to within 6 feet high, with no deer problems... Last winter I worked with her to show what I'd do 'different,' mainly - leave the fruit spurs! For years she'd been removing the 'small twigs' down to the larger scaffold branches. What little fruit she’d get appeared to be from the spurs she’d miss - no fruit spurs - no fruit! (Her "tip-bearers" weren't doing much better.)

This year, I pruned the trees for her. Beginning at my leisure early this fall I was pruning in a T-shirt and sunglasses, on fully leafed trees 8) I finished last week in long-underwear, an insulated helmet liner hat, inside fully dormant trees :shock: But if it's not raining - I love to prune fruit trees! I feel like an artist, circling my work, sculpting as I go. I'd received a valued compliment from our HOS Arboretum manager a couple years ago as she described my ability to, “Make the big cuts." Yup, big cuts save a lot of work! One of the few times I'm irritated when pruning is having worked a tree over, then finally deciding to remove a large limb ... a limb I'd already made umpteen 'heading' cuts on... But working inside those perfectly structured trees of my friend (a real Artist), it was down-right fun! Lesson: Stay on your trees yearly, keeping their growth balanced, structure strong, and size & shape manageable.

Up the street there was a different story... I'd decided to do some rejuvenation work on a well shaped, approximately 30 year old, duel-grafted apple tree (two varieties on one tree). Another friendly gesture on my part, not only do I appreciate the owners, it was a 'treat' to be turned loose in the yard of one of this small town’s oldest and most magnificent homes: "The Laughlin House." Unfortunately, this tree’s condition was the antithesis of those little gnomes I'd just climbed out of ... this apple tree was so 'congested' I could barely climb into it!

I 'circled,' planning my strategy... And for the next couple hours bounced between my stiff-bladed Corona pruning saw and my largest loppers - with little care as to where I'd laid my hand pruners. One set of upward growing 'limbs' were so tight they'd naturally grafted themselves together! After sawing one, I had to pound it away from its 'neighbor.' And it nearly became work removing a dozen or so 2-inch straight up (trees unto themselves) limbs from the canopy. Now I've learned to prune for access, both for picking, spraying, and future pruning; so I did - and used that corridor to drag these onetime 'water sprouts' out. The satisfaction came as it magically began to look like an apple tree again.

There was evidence throughout that 'someone' had been there before; later that was confirmed, "I didn't know where to start" confessed the owner. Once the bulk of upward unnecessary growth was removed, I began circling again... With strategically placed cuts, I lopped off more and more. My mental method is to remove anything growing straight up - straight down - or back toward the center of the tree. And though the owners had trusted me there alone, I could imagine them cringing while I continued to remove fairly large hunks of their tree. I must often give bystanders my: "A Robin can fly through a well pruned tree" lecture. But this wasn't one of those situations, the only 'arguments' were inside my head - and I didn't lose time 'talking anyone through the process' ... though I actually enjoy that, to a point ~

As I removed a multitude of stubs from the previous pruning attempts, I also did a service to whoever mows the lawn... I'll never forget a brother-in-law, not really thanking me for the beautiful structure of his fruit trees, but for his new found ability to mow under them! Usually the lowest branches don't amount to much fruit-production wise, they seem more inclined to harbor decay and are rarely missed... I could already 'feel' the apple tree thanking me as I followed its original lines, gradually bringing it back to a thing of beauty. Twasn't as fun out there in full winter garb, or wading among its entire crop of apples under my feet; but I knew what I'd done would bring a more positive focus on this lone apple tree and encourage its owners to take off from there.

I removed a couple small dead stumps from the yard (W/ chainsaw), stuffed the second load of debris into my truck, fed the dogs the last treats I'd brought them, (and thanked them for being so patient - or quiet), and finally warmed up my hand pruners by making those all-important heading cuts on the newest wood - aiming the buds toward another 30 years...

A quick search brought up the following sites on Pruning / Training. I hate to admit it's taken me over 25 years to learn what I have ... but a grasp of the basics, while making an educated guess is better than nothing.

Training & Pruning Fruit Trees

FRUIT TREE PRUNING by Phil Mathewson

Author:  stevehoyt [ Sat Dec 30, 2006 11:15 am ]
Post subject:  re: Time to Prune

Viron, thanks for a very enjoyable read. One of the articles whose link you posted recommends pruning "as late in the winter as possible" and yet you were pruning in the fall. I have some peach and cherry trees that I'd like to prune during this cold but DRY spell. Would you recommend waiting?



Author:  Viron [ Mon Jan 01, 2007 6:32 pm ]
Post subject: 

You're welcome Steve; it's fun to share something I occasionally consider borderline insanity ... and find a few others that appreciate the same.

Your question regarding the advice to wait "as late in the winter as possible" to prune is an excellent one!

For years, living in the relatively mild Willamette Valley, I read and followed that same advice. It's based on the possibility that the reader / pruner may experience weather so cold that bud dieback will occur nearest the pruned ends. Therefore, the buds you left 'aimed' would become dead stubs, with unaffected buds further back now aiming the direction of new growth. And, all those frozen stubs could become disease portholes. I'd be way 'behind' on my yearly pruning - waiting for the December / January weather to pass.

During a special invite to the onetime schoolhouse (Jessie’s) home of Byron and Jessie Webster {Home Orchard Society and its Luelling Memorial Chapter founding members}, my wife and I watched them make apple juice. This was of course Fall, and Jessie described her process of harvesting apples. She’d take up her hand pruners to prune first -- then pick and haul down the apples. They had many full-sized apple trees on their old place, and didn't see any reason to climb them twice. I asked if she had freezing dieback on the stems? Much higher in the Coast Range than we, she answered, "Never." ...And, that 'never' went back quite a few years...

I’m also hearing more about the beneficial affects of Summer Pruning. I’d known of its ability to balance a trees vigor by removing water sprouts - or that seasons solar collectors. An additional benefit: with the sap still flowing & tree growing, these cuts are quickly sealed from within to disease. I now figure the Fall pruning I do benefits by balancing the growth and sealing those cuts.

So, that warning is for people in colder regions than mine - I wish they'd specify that -- as I've missed the equivalent of years waiting for the Spring-pruning (grafting) crunch :roll:

Author:  gkowen [ Wed Jan 03, 2007 8:26 pm ]
Post subject:  Thanks for the reminder Viron

I have been doing too much astronomy and photography lately. I think its time to get out and prune the trees. Time to get ready to graft but will wait longer this year.

Author:  Ted [ Thu Jan 04, 2007 10:35 pm ]
Post subject: 

Viron and Steve:
The wait until warmer weather is adviable.
With peaches wait until they are blooming, this seems to increase fruit set.


Author:  reisjdmd [ Tue Feb 20, 2007 3:39 pm ]
Post subject: 

i need to ask a beginner's followup question: i live in wisconsoin, zone 5, and i have a neglected apple and pear orchard. my preference would be to prune when i feel like it, except while the blossoms are donig their thing. this means summer and fall and winter pruning. am i way off base on this?? ought i to wait until late winter? does it make any difference?

Author:  Viron [ Wed Feb 21, 2007 12:14 pm ]
Post subject: 

reisjdmd; I suspect there's an optimal time to prune, like when things are completely dormant, prior to Spring... But we can't always work like that. "Summer Pruning's" been recommended to me for years, I'm told it balances the trees vigor by removing some of the solar collecting leaves / vegetation before they store an abundance of energy that generally results in hundreds of unwanted "water-sprouts." ...Then again, we're told those "water-sprouts" are what feed the fruit development... Confused? Me too! So I continue to rely on my gut instinct -- and 25 years of experience...

Spring works -- other than you'll be 'rubbing off' a lot of emerging buds as you drag material from the tree. And, you'll have to carefully tip-snip (using your hand pruners) to avoid clipping off the emerging leaves as you make your heading cuts at the end of each branch. I've pruned a few trees 'late' like that, it's more work, and damage, disregarding any flowers...

Summer, it's hot and cluttered in those trees! And by removing large 'shading shoots,' you can allow the main scaffold limbs to be sunburned ... I have. And it's always best (for me) to view the structure of the tree as you prune; this is nearly impossible when it's fully leafed out. And, as you'd drag anything big from the tree, you'd definitely tear up some remaining leaves, and snap off some fruit spurs in the process... If you're simply trying to head off those pesky 'water-sprouts,' like I said, it's been discovered that they're what's feeding the fruit development.

Fall: That's working better for me all the time. There's still enough 'juice' in the tree to seal the cuts; it lowers the trees wind profile and snow/ice-load surface area; the fruits been harvested, and you can somewhat 'regulate' how much energy gets transferred to the roots from the still green leaves; and - the trees look great all winter! - did I mention it's still warm 8) ? And if you can't see 'next years buds,' they're at the base of every leaf -- just run your fingers down the shoots to knock them off. Then you can rake up excess fruit, leaves, and prunings all at once. ...then you can spray them (with lime sulfur) and not smell like rotten eggs after climbing in and out of them -- or waste coating material you'd cut off anyway.

Winter: Classic pruning; there stands you - and your specimen -- it's 38 degrees and raining... Its form's fully visible, and the faster you work - the warmer you stay; less problems navigating the leafless framework, and the water sprouts nearly beg to be snipped off. I've read that if there's extremely cold weather after you make your heading cuts (end cuts on a branch 'aiming' the bud the direction you'd like to see it grow) the end bud can dieback leaving stubs that harbor disease, and 'aim' your limbs differently as growth would begin from the next live bud... I've never seen such damage, thus have learned to start earlier than later 'around here.'

But you "have a neglected apple and pear orchard." I'd have been cutting very hard most of this winter... You no doubt have the 'trees within a tree' look..? Where water-sprouts were allowed to grow for years, each heading straight up, then branching... Those need to be removed. But remember, doing so will expose the "Branch" they're growing from to intense sunlight -- so don't remove every 'little' twig or shoot on those horizontal main branches, leave a few to leaf-out and shade them. I've been in trees so overgrown with those big upright shoots that I'd cut em, grab on, and dive off the limb! I'd be lucky to get the first 3 or 4 ripped down through the tangled canopy. But it got easier ... and more dangerous! They're a lot of work to remove, but after you do, what remains looks more like a 'fruit tree.'

I'd ignore any moss, the sun might take care of that, and it'll keep down the sunburn (for now). Next you thin, and thin. While circling the tree, remove anything growing straight up, or off the bottom of a main branch. You'll be cutting 'fruiting wood' for sure, but re-establishing a framework that will support far more than you 'remove.' It ain't Rocket-science... What you'll be left with are the lengthy tips of limbs; either shorten them back to a nicely aimed branch, or snip the tip, with the bud generally aimed down. It's about that simple - but an aluminum 3-leged "orchard ladder," sharp "bypass" hand pruners and loppers, and a small handheld pruning saw should be all you need. I've taken a small chainsaw into some trees with me -- but that's extremely dangerous ... you're on a ladder, and generally working in close proximity to your neck, surrounded by a thicket of knurly limbs - so saw that stuff out by hand - you'll stay even warmer!

Enough? It's not too late by any means, just get some help to pile the debris so you can burn it (if you can legally burn); stay supported by both an arm and a leg if you free climb inside a tree; but try to stay out of wet (slick) trees, you can prune from a good ladder. And make it fun! Chickadees, Juncos and Nuthatches will often land while I'm in a tree -- and you know you've done a good job if a Robin can fly through it - and you'll likely find its nest next year!

Author:  mo1martin [ Sat Feb 24, 2007 5:10 pm ]
Post subject: 

Thanks for the article and thanks for the good discussion this morning at the class.
Miles Martin

Author:  Viron [ Mon Feb 26, 2007 1:08 am ]
Post subject: 

8) You're welcome, Neighbor!

Author:  mo1martin [ Mon Feb 26, 2007 12:40 pm ]
Post subject: 

Interesting web page. I think it needs to be taken with a grain of salt. The zip code requests shows I am in 6 also which is one zone warmer than where I lived in Alabama, but the zones are based on temps extremes not length of growing season, in my opinion. I could grow a lot of things in ALA that I can't here because of length of season. Likewise many hardy things here dry up in the heat in Ala even thou here is a warmer zone. Miles

Author:  jafarj [ Tue Feb 27, 2007 3:51 pm ]
Post subject:  ...Then again, we're told those "water-sprouts" ar

Let me echo I also enjoyed the post as well as your advice and teaching from last weekend's class.

I am confused by one of your statements:

...Then again, we're told those "water-sprouts" are what feed the fruit development...

Is that documented somewhere? In my limited experience I had never heard that before.

Author:  Viron [ Tue Feb 27, 2007 4:13 pm ]
Post subject: 

jafarj; thanks. I'd have to dig through my Pome News publications to find that ... but not all that far. To remain "politically correct" on this site, I thought I'd better mention that research -- as I'd found it in our publication.

What I can remember actually made sense; the "water-sprouts" serve a purpose, as you'd assume they would - being the tree's giving up so much to produce them. The "find" seemed to be the energy they transferred to the developing fruit. They're to be viewed as 'solar collectors,' and to remove them, during the growing season, lessens fruit size and development... At least that's what I took away from the article.

There's been banter about posting our Pome News publication online... and I believe it's still being held out as a "benefit of membership." I haven't formally voted one way or the other -- I just keep paying my dues...

Author:  Viron [ Tue Feb 27, 2007 11:21 pm ]
Post subject: 

mo1martin wrote:
Interesting web page. I think it needs to be taken with a grain of salt. The zip code requests shows I am in 6 also which is one zone warmer than where I lived in Alabama, but the zones are based on temps extremes not length of growing season, in my opinion. I could grow a lot of things in ALA that I can't here because of length of season. Likewise many hardy things here dry up in the heat in Ala even thou here is a warmer zone. Miles

Miles, I agree... We've had more participation from across the nation, and someone suggested we give our "USDA climatic zones" as a reference. Sounded like a good idea, till we began coming up with highly conflicting zone numbers :roll: ? I searched around, and liked the ease of use and consistency with the one tacked onto the end of my posts. "Zone 6" is pretty much where the best of gardening books had pegged me. ...Speaking of which, if you'd really like to pin down your new location - check out the Sunset Western Garden Book / Encyclopedia … we could argue for days over that one!

Anyway, here's the 'disclaimer' from the site I link to:

"The widely recognized USDA climatic zones on the map below, although not absolute, give a good indication of plant hardiness. Simply put, this means what kind of temperature extremes can a plant survive. Generally a plant can survive in zones warmer than its own, but will perform best within the zone specified. It is the minimum temperature which is most important."

I guess we're basically talking "Extremes?" ...while seeking the ultimate micro-climate 8)

Author:  Viron [ Sun Mar 18, 2007 9:21 am ]
Post subject: 

While finishing up some pruning on an out-of-the-way apple tree yesterday, it struck me - there's a bit more to pruning than simply removing "anything growing straight up, straight down, toward the center, then 'heading' the tips." Granted, you'll likely have 85% of your work done with those cuts, but that leaves 15% of some trickier work - Thinning.

After years of watching me work over my trees, family members still ask, "But what do you do there?" -- pointing to a dense area of growth further out a limb. "Pay attention" I answer; most of what I take off now comes fairly automatic, but proper thinning takes some thought. Actually, the method of removing "anything growing straight up or down" works pretty well, and it's a good start. Granted, you're into your 'fruiting wood' out there, and will likely be removing fruit spurs with most cuts - but think of it as 'pre-thinning' your fruit set; what's left will have more space, better air circulation, more sunlight and less competition.

I'm likely to repeat myself around here - but I often think of my friend Helen Webb of Yamhill when thinning. Helen was well into her eighties, yet still pruning her large orchard alone. Walking it with her, she attempted to size up my abilities; "What would you do there?" she'd ask, pointing to a knurly old prune tree. "I'd take off that, that, and" "That's enough" she'd announce! - "You'd remove most of my crop!" "I'd thin that tree out so it could hold a crop," I responded. As it happened, the following season was a "good one," everything was loaded ... as Helen sheepishly pointed out the very tree we'd discussed - two massive limbs had broken off its trunk from the fruit load. She assured me they'd, "Still ripen" - as the tree was basically destroyed. - Lesson: lose some fruit spurs - save your tree! {though that went unspoken among friends}

Back up the ladder: Follow the branches back to their main limb, if you've a decision between two cuts, make the one that shortens the longest branch; balancing the length and strength among branches. Follow every cut back to a 'logical' intersection, or fork; try not to leave stubs. The more you remove - the more obvious the remaining cuts! Your crop is more dependant on pollination and frost-free spring nights than 'what you leave' on the tree. And remember the saying, "A Robin can fly through a well pruned tree."

So, after you've made all the big (easy) cuts, pay close attention to the thinning. As I've given demonstrations of this, I have to remind people that everyone will make a slightly different decision on what to remove. And don't become paralyzed pondering which cut somebody else would make - just do it! But remember, this isn't an exercise in fruit spur removal - they simply leave with that excess wood. And you'll have to 'tolerate' the weird directions your spurs are aimed; that's difficult some times for me, but I can still hear Helen ... and she had a valid point.

Author:  Viron [ Sun Mar 18, 2007 6:30 pm ]
Post subject: 

Replying to myself ... is this getting bad or what? Maybe I've just got Spring Fever :lol: Or maybe it's simply time to celebrate -- I just finished pruning the last of my 27 fruit trees for this season! And I suppose it's getting bad when you find yourself drifting into the underbrush to prune Ocean Spray, Hazel (brush), and Thimbleberries - but what-the-heck, the principle’s the same, and they look better to boot!

Actually, I'm done a bit early this year, and, I must admit, some years I don't finish. And if I can dodge the tender emerging leaves, I'm doing good. While cleaning up around a Golden Delicious tree this afternoon I couldn't help but notice a perfect, tight-budded stick of (you guessed it) scion wood... As it was off one my 4 "Deer apple" trees - west, I realized I hadn't any Golden's on my "Deer apples" - east. OK, what are Deer apples..? They are two sets of 4 trees planted as far from the house as possible, left strictly for the deer, raccoons, Varied Thrushes & Flickers ... so they'll leave my orchard alone! Did it work? No way... So at some point in their 13 years I decided to utilize the apples myself; mainly grinding and pressing them into juice.

Well, as I packaged up some of that infamous Gravenstein apple today, I had a short fat piece left; hating to waste any of the precious scions from our Exchange, I headed down early to graft that piece to the Deer apples - east. Found a matching candidate limb, and did a slick tongue & groove graft; labeling it as I'd noticed others doing at the Exchange: "Herinckx Gravenstein." Well, that had felt so good; I figured I'd do the same with that Golden Del. stick.

Finding no candidates (cause I'd pruned them all off) for a whip & tongue graft, I hiked back to the house for my pruning saw ... to make two cleft grafts instead. The neighbor kids found it fascinating; though my daughter didn't... I think she's grafted out. But what a blast -- grafting in the afternoon sun 8) And as the moves felt automatic, I secretly wondered how I'd do getting on in Hood River (@ $50 per hour) top-working their apple orchards? Grafting and getting paid... is there such a thing? Anyway, I painted em up with the bright yellow stuff, tagged & flagged and washed out the brush while having only one of my first batch of large grafting bands left before breaking into my new shipment!

Burnt my "Agricultural" tree debris yesterday; while chucking today's snippings into the woods. It's a fun time of year, especially for a grafter... and as I await the bark to "slip" on a prune tree (before it gets a couple inverted L bark grafts of "Seneca,") I'm going to have to find something else to do... Like mow the lawn, till the gardens, drag & dice 10 windfall firs, and keep the home fire burning.

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