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 Time to Prune! 
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Joined: Tue Mar 20, 2007 6:33 pm
Posts: 7
Location: Upstate NY
Post any advice for pruning ages old apple trees?
You sound like someone who might have some experience--but maybe all of your trees have been well loved for generations... We just moved to a place with some old, badly neglected apple trees out back. Some of them still bear fruit, in fact we made some delicious apple sauce and even some pies this fall, although the little green apples did require some stewing. There are some red apples too (I will try to identify them properly this fall...) We're planning to just cut off the dead and damaged wood this year (for the fruit bearing trees at least) and assuming they survive that, do some further pruning next year, but (hopefully) nothing too radical at any one time.

If nothing else, you can reply to someone other than yourself this time (hee hee)...

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Zone 5 (arborday foundation) or 4 (mother in law and long time gardener)

"Who shall say I am not the happy genius of my household?" --William Carlos Williams


Tue Mar 27, 2007 8:00 pm
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Joined: Thu Jan 27, 2005 11:27 pm
Posts: 1166
Location: Yamhill County, Oregon
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You talkin to me :roll: Hey, this place has been in the family since 1912... Great Grandpaw was an Orchardist, followed by another (married in, so he had to know something about fruit trees!), and now me... When I got the place 27 years ago it didn't look as it does now... Most of the trees were from the earliest original planting, and since it had been nothing but Dug firs before that, they were Great Grandpaws, and nobody’d had the heart to mess with them...

The apple trees were enormous! With no 'dwarfing' in sight - they must have been planted on seedling / standard roots? Choked with moss 2 inches thick, the lichens were permanent. There wasn't a lot of physical damage, the Orchardist in-between had seen to that, but they were too high to prune, spray or harvest safely; thus the fruit basically went to the deer. Actually, production was scant; and the varieties, once 'cutting edge' (they actually dated the orchard) were has-beens... I had my favorites, but sad to say, the rest are now gone.

I gave most of them a chance; hacking off 10 inch diameter up-right "limbs," I'd ring them with crown veneer and inverted L bark grafts. Leaving the 'other half' of the tree to feed the root system, if the grafts grew fast enough to keep that limb / trunk alive, in a few years, I'd re-work the other side. I played around too, like grafting Bartlet pear onto a large branch of Winter Banana apple, one of few pear / apple combos that work. Even with their success, most of the trees were eventually removed; but for every tree removed - I'd replace them with three! And after joining the Home Orchard Society, was inspired to try more exotic fruits - like figs, persimmons, seedless grapes, mulberries, and kiwi.

...Did you actually have a question..? ...more of a situation - if much like mine. I'd suggest you identify the apples then decide if they're 'rare' enough to save for that aspect alone. If you've a favorite, it can be salvaged. My favorit’s a massive leaning Gravenstein apple tree (I've a photo with my 16 year old Grandmother sitting cross-legged in front of it - the tree looked around 8 years, already leaning!). That tree has a rotted hollow trunk resting on a concrete pier, but it's pruned to perfection; it even has a 'replacement' grafted on a root sucker at its base. Yours is a tough call -- I drive past many such orchards; trees unsafe to climb, as the fruit goes to the birds, deer, or livestock. But who wants to take one down..?

I'd pick a couple favorites and rejuvenate them; even graft new branches at a lower level. But the rest may be candidates for removal; if they’re not rare, are unproductive, or have major wounds. And there's little more exciting to an Orchardist than room for more! But that's more homework... Are there any good organizations (like ours) in your area? If not, the catalogue of a reputable local nursery is a good start for searching successful fruit producing plants (it's just too difficult for me to only mention apples..). Just remember - everything in a nursery catalog is Superior, Exceptional, or "Outstanding!" so ask around... But if you simply like that big old apple orchard look -- that - "This homestead's been here forever" impression ... scrape off their moss, prune the deadwood, remove those massive upright (trees-within-a-tree) one-time water-suckers ...and did I mention buying a 16 foot 3-leged Orchard Ladder? ...make em pretty - just don't kill yourself in the process!

And thanks for someone to talk to ... though I tend to ramble.

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Tue Mar 27, 2007 10:52 pm
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Joined: Tue Mar 20, 2007 6:33 pm
Posts: 7
Location: Upstate NY
Post Thanks!
You've given me a bit of an education... From your description, I think my trees are in better shape than your's were (at least the ones still living). We've got something like seven acres, mostly wild hillside, but a few wet areas and there is a beaver dam next door (very pretty but bad news for the trees). There are about six apple trees, not giants thank goodness but they have definitely been let go. I don't think we will tear down anything that is still living, unless it is the apple tree that has been uprooted and is now lying on the ground--but it does bear a little fruit yet. They are all on the back of the property anyway so we are just going to cut off all the dead wood and any terribly damaged limbs this year. There are some raspberry bushes trying to grow near the apple trees that I plan to encourage and some white pines that probably should be moved. They are growing too close together and too close to the water as well, but I don't know if I'll get to it. It will be nice to have a windbreak eventually. This year I'm planting sugar maples, several flowering trees (including my childhood favorite, the lilac!) and a couple of hazelnut trees. If all goes well I will plant plum, apple, pear, blueberry and possibly cranberry next year. Oh, there is also a service berry tree somewhere on the property, or so I've been told. So, lots of plans... I plan to keep planting so that if some of the trees don't make it there should be others that do. I will keep looking for a local organization... Time to go! The kids need to be put to bed!

Amy

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Zone 5 (arborday foundation) or 4 (mother in law and long time gardener)

"Who shall say I am not the happy genius of my household?" --William Carlos Williams


Fri Mar 30, 2007 5:07 pm
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Joined: Thu Jan 27, 2005 11:27 pm
Posts: 1166
Location: Yamhill County, Oregon
Post 
The age of your trees is important; mine were 70 years old giants, too giant. ...Beaver dam? Yikes! --- I watched an energetic Brother take apart one of those by hand (years ago, to save a county road from flooding). That beaver never returned... but a mile down the road, same creek - one did! It took out several beautiful ten year old apple trees, in 2 or 3 nights work. I inarched (grafted), supporting and spanning the wounds, but that only saved the trees that hadn’t been reduced to chips and stumps.

That mess gave me enough concern that I wrapped my furthest away and closest-to-the-creek apple tree trunks in galvanized poultry fencing (chicken wire). I took 6 foot high wire fencing, folded it in half and wrapped from the base up - a good four feet - encircling their lower limbs as well. From time to time it's necessary to re-wrap them, removing leaf debris and making sure it doesn’t constrict the tree. So far - so good! Now if I could only keep the neighbor kids out of them :roll:

Sooooooo, I'd recommend you do something similar with your trees. You can use any old fencing, just don't wrap it too tight, or leave any gaping holes - but go high enough up their trunks ... however high that is..?

Yours sound like 'middle aged' apple trees, therefore easily identifiable varieties... unless their planter was a collector (like us). Once you figure out what varieties they are, you can decide how much effort to expend rejuvenating, or removing / replacing them. One thing about neglected apple trees, they've usually reached equilibrium; but as soon as you start removing anything - the battle begins! They'll send up a multitude of water sprouts you'll have to snip - and snip... But that's also a sign of their vigor, and occasionally good candidates for grafting different varieties or training into new limbs.

Best of all, you mentioned 'kids.' I wasn't sure of your age... but you've got the time (if not at the moment), the energy, desire, and hopefully - some eventual help :P

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Sun Apr 01, 2007 9:29 am
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Joined: Tue Mar 20, 2007 6:33 pm
Posts: 7
Location: Upstate NY
Post time
Yes, I am thinking of the kids when it comes to planting trees, especially the sugar maples, although I do expect to enjoy some of the apples myself. The boys are still in diapers, so it will be a few years before they can start pitching in.

It's good to hear that there is such a thing as living next to a beaver dam, because we are awfully close. I am buying bypass pruning shears and a saw this weekend, as well as some chicken wire--I was planning to do something similar to what you mentioned, and I'm glad to hear that it was a good idea. I don't know how I will manage with the old trees, though. Their limbs are nearly on the ground already....

It was a beautiful day here in upstate New York--warm enough to be early summer, although there is still snow lingering on the shady side of the house. I can't wait to start planting!

So do you give seminars out where you are?

Amy

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Zone 5 (arborday foundation) or 4 (mother in law and long time gardener)

"Who shall say I am not the happy genius of my household?" --William Carlos Williams


Mon Apr 02, 2007 5:33 pm
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Joined: Thu Jan 27, 2005 11:27 pm
Posts: 1166
Location: Yamhill County, Oregon
Post 
Our society held pruning seminars in a local (Portland) park, where the HOS helped maintain an historical orchard. I never made it to any though - had my own 'park' to play in at home. I believe we (the society) now give our pruning seminars at our HOS Arboretum (at Clackamas Community College), though I've never attended those either. I've envisioned several instructors turning the 'class' over to one person (not likely me), whereas the rest of us had better stay quiet as not to second-guess their every cut... I'm sure I'd nod at some - and cringe at others. I watched a library video on Pruning (a couple times) but without stereoscopic vision, it's very difficult to see all you must for that next cut to jump out at you. And books try - but you've simply got to be there.

The only "seminars" I've done have been for family, friends & neighbors. As mentioned - I love to prune! ...and am already missing it ... has me looking foreword to Winter! (lol) I've driven by the trees I'd described pruning in a neighboring town many times now, and just love to admire their structure. I'm planning on getting a photo of that lone apple tree at full bloom (if I left any buds).

"It was a beautiful day here in upstate New York--warm enough to be early summer, although there is still snow lingering on the shady side of the house." I winced at that -- snow? I'll stop complaining about the cold right now! Our weather’s at least been dry, almost too dry. The weather-boys keep predicting rain (generally a safe bet), once describing it as a 'soaking rain,' but I’ve not seen any lately. An Oregonian, I'm making the most of this dry, if cool and overcast weather. ...and - the sun's out! I'd better do something about that 8)

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Tue Apr 03, 2007 7:58 am
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Joined: Tue Jan 10, 2006 1:49 pm
Posts: 220
Location: Rochester, WA
Post 
We had some snow and rain yesterday (Monday) in Washington and I woke to 24 degrees this morning. I doubt my trees that are in bloom like that.

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Zone 6 or 7 - Greg in Rochester, WA.


Tue Apr 03, 2007 8:15 am
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Joined: Tue Mar 20, 2007 6:33 pm
Posts: 7
Location: Upstate NY
Post cold spell
We had snow all day--it's not sticking around however, and nothing can dampen my spirits after the two days of summer weather we just had!

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Zone 5 (arborday foundation) or 4 (mother in law and long time gardener)

"Who shall say I am not the happy genius of my household?" --William Carlos Williams


Thu Apr 05, 2007 5:33 pm
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Joined: Thu Jan 27, 2005 11:27 pm
Posts: 1166
Location: Yamhill County, Oregon
Post 
lafollette8 ... You hanging in there with all that ugly weather in your neighborhood? I heard this morning that New York's Central Park got 7 inches of rain! I think that was correct..? ..Though I can hardly believe it! The most rain this native Oregonian's ever seen in one day was three and a half inches! ...followed by about the same the next day, and before we knew it - the President was landing at Portland's waterfront to visit our flood ravaged area!

We’ve just had a decent stretch of sunshine, followed by more "Spring” - which around here consists of periodic rain permeated by brilliant sunshine; though I'm still waiting for the sunshine this morning. My Gravenstein’s are just beginning to bloom; the pears have been slowly opening this last week. The plums are finished ... all but one, my favorite, Burbank's Red Ace... Sitting in a low corner of the yard, blooming late as is, by now there’s nothing left to cross with it; thus I'll get another crop of maybe 10 plums. My daughter suggested we cut a blooming bouquet from another plum to lay among its limbs. "Brilliant" - I said! “You have been paying attention!” Problem: we're behind the local bloom as is, and, who's got an extremely late blooming plum..?

I considered driving higher into our Coast Range (mountains) yesterday, watching for a late blooming Japanese plum ... then I thought again... On a drive through the valley yesterday we saw all kinds of blooming fruit trees -- just no plums. Sooo I'm gonna have to research the absolute-latest-blooming-Japanese-plum-tree (only to find out it's mine!?), find scion wood next year, and do more of that grafting stuff. I often wonder how nice it must be to live in an area where all this stuff was figured out a century ago... but I guess Luther Burbank may not yet have worked his Magic?

Hope you get your power back soon ... and that there's less damage than expected - hang on!

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Mon Apr 16, 2007 8:44 am
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Joined: Tue Mar 20, 2007 6:33 pm
Posts: 7
Location: Upstate NY
Post 
Thanks Viron, for your concerns! The power is back on, at least at our house, so I can't say that we've suffered, having missed the worst of it. But it was a wake up call--think now, could you locate one of your flashlights right now if you had to? :?: And don't forget to run the dishwasher before the next storm :lol: . Of course, you never know whether or not to believe all the hype when the storm warnings come out, when more often than not you'll get nothing more than a drisle. Just now there is about a foot of heavy slush outside and more snow predicted--not pretty! I'm still waiting to hear how the rest of the area fared.

Good luck with your plum tree. My parents' faithful old plum tree bloomed year after year and produced plenty of fruit, although as I recall, the limbs were few. The delicately sweet yet somehow dry plum juice was reserved for Thanksgiving dinners and the like. Hopefully, I will be planting plum trees of my own this year or the next....

Take care,
Amy
P.S. And I still have spring fever!

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Zone 5 (arborday foundation) or 4 (mother in law and long time gardener)

"Who shall say I am not the happy genius of my household?" --William Carlos Williams


Mon Apr 16, 2007 7:40 pm
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Joined: Thu Jan 27, 2005 11:27 pm
Posts: 1166
Location: Yamhill County, Oregon
Post 
So - you did lose power :shock: ...but yes, after 27 years in the woods - our flashlights are near & dear. We've actually a protocol for predicted storm's - but like you said, "Of course, you never know whether or not to believe all the hype when the storm warnings come out, when more often than not you'll get nothing more than a drizzle." They say the weather's extremely difficult to predict in the Pacific NW, I'll agree.

And I'm afraid my lonesome plum's in need of more than luck, I'm already betting against a heavy crop... but that means I'll be eating more figs; they're ripe at the same time. I'll have friends and neighbors thanking me endlessly for handing them an 18 count egg carton heaped with figs... as I'm secretly thinking 'enough already -- let me get over to those Burbank Red Ace’s!' Some day I hope to have enough to share, the tree just keeps getting larger.

Since this is 'officially' about Pruning (I think?), I'll mention how bullet proof my Japanese plums have been, and how easy they are to graft other (Japanese) plums to. ...But, they can really form a thicket, and require more pruning than most fruit trees. And, they apparently grow these naturally sharp spikes (sharp little branches only a couple of inches long) around their branches. Once you snip them, they're gone; but while shifting my weight in my Red Ace this year (it's finally big enough to stand in), I let my left hand down right onto one of these 'thorns.' ...There wasn't a lot of blood, but I stopped using that hand to prune for a few days.

And Spring Fever, yes - enjoy!

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Mon Apr 16, 2007 11:56 pm
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Joined: Tue Mar 20, 2007 6:33 pm
Posts: 7
Location: Upstate NY
Post japanese plums
To be honest, I hadn't given any thought to which plum tree to buy. I was just going to go to the nursery while my sister in law (and neighbor) is working and pick out the ones she says will grow well in our little corner of the world (and be tasty). But I will add the japanese plums to my list and give them some thought!

Amy

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Zone 5 (arborday foundation) or 4 (mother in law and long time gardener)

"Who shall say I am not the happy genius of my household?" --William Carlos Williams


Thu Apr 19, 2007 10:35 am
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Joined: Tue Mar 20, 2007 6:33 pm
Posts: 7
Location: Upstate NY
Post Pruning
I pruned the first of my apples trees a few weeks ago. It was much easier and more fun than I expected. I just cut off as much dead wood as I could reach and two badly damaged limbs. Now the leaves are coming out. I'm curious to find out how my interference will affect the harvest and whether or not I handled the damaged limbs in the best way. The limbs were breaking and twisting under their own weight. I cut them off at the weak point, near healthy branches, trying to leave as many healthy branches as possible. I think now that I should have cut them off a little closer to the next branch, and maybe have sacrificed a few more branches to get rid of all the damaged wood. On the other hand, I didn't want to overdo it and really shock the tree. There are a few smaller dead branches out of reach. They will just have to wait until I get an orchard ladder. I'm looking forward to watching how the tree does! I will tackle the other trees when I can, but just to remove the dead wood, since spring has finally sprung.

In other news, we planted 6 sugar maples, one red maple, four different lilacs, and several other flowering trees. I'm still hoping to get some fruit trees in the ground this year.

Amy

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Zone 5 (arborday foundation) or 4 (mother in law and long time gardener)

"Who shall say I am not the happy genius of my household?" --William Carlos Williams


Sun May 13, 2007 6:58 pm
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Joined: Thu Jan 27, 2005 11:27 pm
Posts: 1166
Location: Yamhill County, Oregon
Post 
Said I: “Heck - I haven’t pruned for weeks!” “But if I want things ship-shape for next summer - I’d best get back at it!”

Answered Greg: – “Or as I call it the time when I cut off all the possibilities for fruit this year. One day I will understand this pruning to increase production.”

In fact, it looks like a good time to bring this subject thread back! Just in time for Spring of O-8!

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Tue Jan 15, 2008 12:14 pm
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Joined: Sat Apr 07, 2007 11:28 pm
Posts: 490
Location: Willamette Valley near Scio
Post 
Didn't anyone ever mention that winter pruning produces the MOST sucker growth of any style of pruning?

August pruning of apples, pears, and plums leads to less suckerage.

All that winter-stored carbohydrate in the roots has to go somewhere!


Tue Jan 15, 2008 6:12 pm
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