Sunday, February 03, 2008

Prune Time

It’s time to prune your fruit trees and many people don’t have a clue on how to prune correctly. Though there are different pruning techniques for all plants most fruit trees are about the same. This description does not go for grapes or blueberries, by the way. That’s a whole other science.

It’s actually pretty simple. Cut branches cleanly at a joint. Cut anything (suckers not main branches) that is growing upward, anything that is crossing another branch and anything pointing inward. Look at the tree and imagine it with leaves and then make sure there will be good air circulation and that there won’t be clusters that shadow other spots. Use tree spikes every four feet around the drip line unless you are trying for an organic crop.

Now to reclaim an old tree that stopped producing you have to take time and lots of it. Each year cut off a major branch and promote new growth. Use tree spikes around the drip line. Maybe get some mason bees. Pay attention to what the tree does. Does it get healthier or weaker from this action? If the tree still doesn’t produce after a couple years you may consider replacing it.

It is pretty important to prune if you want fruit. Trees that are not pruned often alternate years of production. One year pretty good and the next year little or nothing. Prune to balance the tree as well. You don't want the tree to burden all the weight on one side or you may find it uprooted one day.

Never ever, ever top a tree. That will always end in disaster. Topping, believe it or not messes up the trees roots and the open stumps in the crown to become diseased and rotten.


Blogger Lachlan said...

We have some plum and an apple tree, but don't know what kinds of either. Any additional suggestions? They are not new growth, but we don't know the age.

7:19 AM  
Blogger Bpaul said...

Thanks so much for the post.

One point of clarification please?

"Use tree spikes around the drip line."


8:56 AM  
Blogger Lachlan said...

I had the same question! Speak to us, O Fruit Tree Guru. :)

9:30 AM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

Lach, Don't sweat the age. It's often hard to tell without cutting the tree down. You will need to wait for fruit before we can determine what they are. There are several varieties of plum that will be green, red, purple, blue. Some are better for turning into prunes... Apples, same thing, we will determine what they are by size, color, what month they are ripe, which can run from July to November in your climate, shape of their bottom and taste. I'll be happy to make pruning suggestions if you send me some photos or let me know if you have any on your flickr account.

BPaul & Lach, Tree spikes are fertilizer spikes that are about the length of tent spikes and are as fat as a banana. They come with a plastic top and you hammer them into the ground around the drip line. The drip line is directly beneath the outer limit of the branches. So if your branches radiate eight feet out from the trunk, the roots radiate that far as well. It is natures way of balancing the tree. The tips of the roots gather most of the nutrients and water so this is the best place to feed them. I'm sure you can find them at any good nursery that sells fruit trees. BPaul, I know Portland Nursery has them.

Also there is dormant spraying, which is a blend of chemicals an sulfer. Some trees attract certain insects and a once yearly dose usually does the trick. If you want to avoid this the first year that's OK, but keep a close eye on your leafs and fruit. If the leafs curl or the tree starts looking diseased or you get no fruit you will need to spray the tree a couple times next year, but never when it is in flower. I used to spray one of my really troubled trees twice in the winter and once after the fruit set.

10:17 AM  
Blogger Bpaul said...

Thanks for the info.

I have a friend who is developing a commercial compost-tea foliar spray. It has many of the same benefits of the sulfur sprays but also fertilizes the tree topically (I know there is a better ag term for that...) I'm going to get some of his product to beta-test it. When he goes on line with his product I'll let you know if you want.

10:22 AM  
Blogger Jeff said...

We are going to plant some blueberry bushes. Advice?

12:12 PM  
Anonymous Berry Muncher said...

Jeff, while we're waiting for Guy to weigh in on blueberries. Let me offer that our neighbors with an epic blueberry patch have the bushes planted in a sunny spot, all in a long row with lots of sawdust piled around the base of each bush. Come summer they hang old CD's from the branches to flash in the sun and keep the birds away. Sometimes they throw some netting over the top of the bushes as extra protection from the blueberry loving birds.

1:31 PM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

Plant two or three varieties. Muncher is correct, full sun, sawdust or shavings are great. They love acid soil. Don't let them fruit the first year by removing their flowers. You may want to fence them because they are deer candy and use a deer net over them when fruit starts to ripen. I've lost an entire year in one day of robin predation. In the winter prune old wood and let the new growth live for a year. If the leaves turn yellow, use mir-acid unless you are going organic, then you'll need to raise the acidity of the soil with some other product, probably vinegar or something. I'm not up on all the organic methods in horticulture.

10:14 PM  
Blogger Bpaul said...

Coffee grounds are good for both acidity and nitrogen content.

10:16 PM  
Blogger nootka said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for this!
Our scant number of apple trees appreciate your tutelage.
The horses will have more apples to eat! (we do eat a few, but they don't keep well, so the horses and ravens eat most of them)


8:33 AM  

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