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 Water Shoot pruning 
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Joined: Tue Jul 24, 2007 9:11 am
Posts: 2
Location: Montana
Post Water Shoot pruning
My home orchard consisting of apple, pear, plum, and cherry trees is plagued with water shoots. I prune each winter and each year there seem to be more shoots creating a dense canopy that I'm sure is stifling the development of the fruit. The soil is not great (granitic w/ little organic matter) but the trees appear healthy. An underlying problem may be that the orchard is treated as a lawn and sprinkled thoroughly once weekly.

I started pruning these shoots at this time, but am wondering if this is the proper solution. And if it is, is there a proper method. I've noticed the base of the shoots generally have a cluster of several leaves and sometimes buds. Are these potential sites to provide future fruiting or should everything be pruned back flush?

And most of all, is there a way to ever get ahead of this situation, or am I condemned to a life of multiseasonal pruning :?


Tue Jul 24, 2007 9:51 am
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Joined: Thu Jan 27, 2005 11:27 pm
Posts: 1154
Location: Yamhill County, Oregon
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Don, good question; and I'm afraid some of what you've asked is still up for debate. Here's my feelings and understanding, without searching the net:

The 'Water-shoots' are solar energy collectors; they do serve a purpose -- they actually feed both tree and fruit. They may shade the fruit somewhat, but can be thinned to allow more sunlight to ‘color’ anything you feel needs it. When pruning you should always cut them flush with the branch they're growing off (generally straight up).

I've watched people simply tear, snap, or peel them off - leaving a small hole... I'll occasionally do that, generally in early summer, when they're still fairly small and that 'hole' quickly heals. Summer pruning works well with regard to instantly sealing such wounds. I go for a balance - removing the easy-to-reach shoots early, while leaving the highest for their energy collecting abilities and the typical ladder-work of winter pruning.

You can bring a tree into balance by Summer pruning. Whereas all the energy is stored in the root system while dormant, removing those dormant water-shoots does nothing to diminish that energy, and they're replaced every year... But Summer pruning limits that energy store. Of course you don't want to weaken the tree, which is why there seems no ‘set amount’ or suggested pattern of water-shoot removal. You simply Wing-it!

If the tree’s extremely vigorous, (I’d) remove a half to two thirds of them; if not - take off only a third. Now I'm envisioning apple and pear trees; plum trees (Japanese at least), like peach trees naturally put out a lot of 'extra growth,' and you want to be more careful about pruning them hard in the summer. And Cherry trees seem to extend their terminal buds / branches more than send up ‘shoots’... In other words, they just get bigger! -- And are likely best pruned in winter.

Again, this is simply my experience and what I've last heard / read. Do keep in mind you can damage the bark (I have) by exposing it to the summer sun when removing such shoots. "Sunscald" also can affect the fruit... It's a balancing act -- but worth the effort if you'd like to keep down the multitude of sucker shoots while winter pruning.

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Tue Jul 24, 2007 11:36 am
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Joined: Tue Jul 24, 2007 9:11 am
Posts: 2
Location: Montana
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Thanks for the advice. I came across this article THE ROLE OF WATER SHOOTS IN MODIFYING LIGHT CLIMATE WITHIN THE APPLE TREE CANOPY AND IN NUTRITION OF FRUITS and the conclusion was that shoots hog sunlight and only nourish the tree in general with no benefit in the way of localized nutritional assistance to the fruit. http://www.actahort.org/books/114/114_7.htm

Nevertheless, thanks to your advice, I will approach the project with less vigor than I intended, even though some of my apple trees have a shrub-like canopy.

According to that index, I'm in Zone 3 although such cold is extremely rare. Local nurseries consider this a Zone 5 area.


Tue Jul 24, 2007 1:54 pm
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Joined: Fri Feb 09, 2007 1:21 pm
Posts: 417
Location: SW Washington
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Viron,

I know I asked something about this before in a previous post, but I can't find any source to corroborate your assertion that water shoots feed both tree and fruit as solar collectors.

I think you said it was in an older edition of Pomme News or something, but surely any article in there must be based on something. Whether it be research or simply anecdotes or observation of an experienced orchardist, I'd like to know. Perhaps I can scrounge a copy of that edition of the news from the HOS library.

I'm not contesting the point, since I don't have the background or experience to know any better. I've mostly learned what I know from reading and when I encounter something that contradicts all of the other sources I'm curious to know more of the basis.


Tue Jul 24, 2007 4:53 pm
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Joined: Thu Jan 27, 2005 11:27 pm
Posts: 1154
Location: Yamhill County, Oregon
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Let's see, are eggs better for you than not..? Is salt a killer? Is red wine better than 'white?' Will coffee cause pancreatic cancer or is it a health food..? ...That's where I'm at in the water-shoot debate! And yes, the last info I seen was as described: the shoots feed the tree and the fruit (from a Pome News article – I think?). And the last I remember about eggs was that they were laden with cholesterol ... until a neighbor 'informed me' (three days ago) that's no longer true! But the following is hard to argue with:

"It was found that radioactive assimilates are not translocated directly from the water shoots to fruitlets situated on neighbouring spurs. These assimilates are taken up by growing water shoot tips and incorporated in the bark and wood of main limbs near the place of their production. Removing tips of water shoots or the leaves adjacent to fruitlets did not change the pattern of assimilate distribution."

What I've now learned: apple trees are wild. They'll simply grow if given the chance, and like many other plants will only produce fruit/seed when stressed. So, the water-shoots are simply feeding themselves and their connective tissue. They’re producing 'Tree' - and nothing else. They are intercepting light that would simply feed the 'prior tree' as they compete with the forest for light. It's up to us to stress them! …To bend their shoots and make them feel its time to reproduce - or die!

So we contort them and limit their expansive growth by training and pruning (thinking out loud). So, all water-shoots may be snipped off at will, the faster the better -- thus allowing all available light to color and feed fruit and spurs. No water-sucker 'energy' is stored in the root system..? They send nothing to the existing tree thus it’s beneficial to remove them immediately..?

In the long history of apple growing it seems a very easy experiment to plant two 'identical' trees side by side; immediately remove any/all water-suckers from one and let the other grow wild. Who fruits, who thrives, or who just plain survives..? Maybe it's out there? For me, moderation in all things ~ But keep me posted, I'm learning too :wink:

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Tue Jul 24, 2007 8:28 pm
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