Sunday, January 8, 2012

It's Time to Prune Fruit Trees

Here's a picture of my Red Delicious Semi-Dwarf apple tree I bought from Stark Bro's, www.starkbros.com, along with three other apple trees, about two years ago.  It's healthy-looking, and gave me a some wonderful apples last summer.  I pruned it as much as I dared, although I didn't do enough pruning, and I sprayed it with lime sulfur and dormant oil to protect it from pests.  I even managed to keep it alive during last year's hot summer, and when I had 100 pine and hardwood trees cut from around it, the tree cutters carefully avoided damaging it.  I am happy with the plants I bought from Stark Bro's, and I want to buy some more trees from them to fill some of the space vacated by the 100 cut trees when I figure out what I want. 
Unfortunately, though, as experienced apple growers will note, the central leader is missing.  Apple trees produce best when they are trained to a central leader, where the main trunk continues straight up, and the other branches grow off the trunk like alternating rungs on a ladder. 
Unpruned apple tree
Last summer, my chickens panicked when I moved their house and they couldn't figure out where to sleep, and three of them tried to roost in the tree. Chickens want to go to the highest place they can reach when it's time for bed, and unfortunately for my tree, the central leader was the place all three tried to roost. I described it in detail in this post  http://www.maryannscountrygarden.blogspot.com/2011/06/how-many-roosting-chicken-does-it-take.html.   The central leader snapped, the chickens fell squawking to the ground, and I eventually got them to their beds.
Saturday, I selected the most upright branch, tied it to the stake, cut off the other one, and trimmed the rest of the tree, thinning branches and cutting back the limbs.  I am no expert in tree care, but if you are, please give me your opinion of my trimming and rejuvenation of my tree.  I try to err on the side of cutting too little, but, based on my observation of overgrown orchards, too little pruning is nearly as bad as too much pruning.  The chickens you see in the photos now know where they are supposed to sleep, and I let them into the orchard to provide a little pest control and fertilization.

Pruned apple tree
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