During what many people assume are our “slow months” we are actually quite busy. The orchard may not be filled with thousands of guests at this time but we are still hard at work preparing trees for the next growing season. In December we will start pruning. This is usually a three month project to prune every tree and grape vine on the property. This will be done by two other employees and me. I will help the guys do the bigger trees until about mid-January then I will move onto our tall spindle trees. Today I will be writing about how I prune these tall spindle trees.
Pruning of Tall Spindle Apple Trees
When I start pruning our tall spindle trees I will usually start with the oldest trees then move to the younger ones. There are a few common practices to keep in mind when pruning these trees. The first practice that I always do for every tree I walk up to is, find the two biggest limbs and cut them off. On some trees you may only need to take one off and sometimes there may be none, but you want to make sure that the limbs you do take off are no smaller than ¾” of inch in diameter or about the size of a quarter. When removing these limbs you will want to perform a bevel cut. This kind of cut is required to stimulate regrowth of a new limb. This style of cut is where the bottom lip is longer than the top. You can achieve this cut by simply placing your pruners on the bottom side of the limb and making the cut. By simply making these two cuts your tree may have a completely new appearance.
From there I will make sure that there are no limbs less than 24 to 28 inches off the ground. Those limbs will be removed by just a flesh cut. Doing this won’t promote new growth on that cut. You want to remove these limbs because once they become fruit bearing the limbs will bend downward and you could potentially have fruit growing that could be touching the ground.
Next I will start to simplify the branches. What that means is we want each limb to basically be a fruiting stick. Our goal is to grow fruit not wood. So if there are any forks at the end of the branch I will simplify it down to a single stick. This is also a time where you can redirect a limb. Say you have a branch that has a “Y” at the end of it and you don’t like the direction one of the ends is going, say one is going towards the tractor and the other is parallel with the row, you can remove the one that is headed into the row, or where your tractor would be. Once I have simplified the desired branches I will just make sure that there are no shoots that are trying to outgrow the leader, and make sure the leader is at a desirable height and move to the next tree. The height that I want in these trees is about 10 feet. The rule of thumb is you want the tree height at about 90% of you row spacing. I know my math is a little off because we have 12 foot row spacing but a 10 foot tree is perfect for us.
When pruning, you are ultimately thinning your apple tree in the winter. After removal of limbs you will have removed some buds from your tree. The energy saved from removal of these buds will be put into the growing of other apples next year. Another thing you want to or have now achieved is even light distribution. It may be hard to accomplish, but the apples on the lower limbs should receive just as much light as the apples at the top of the tree.
There are some differences in how people prune and train their tall spindle apple trees and this is how I prefer to do the ones here at the orchard. We hope that pruning this way will benefit the tree and us as well. This style of pruning is extremely efficient and reduces labor inputs. As of today we have completed all the pruning of our tall spindle trees here and are now focused on the cleanup of cut limbs.