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I need no-prune fruit tree training techniques

 
pollinator
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I thought I had everything ironed out in regards to my fruit and nut trees--which I'm growing from seed, on their own roots. It'll be a few years before they need any pruning, so I have time to learn and make decisions.

I figured a combination of pollarding, bonsai techniques and summer pruning would keep the trees under the eight foot arbitrary limit. Preferably six, but eight is the max. I don't want grafted trees and "varieties" are boring, so dwarf is out. Apples and pears take well to pollarding, but I was doing some additional research and it appears that pollarding creates a great deal of additional growth. Which makes sense, but it basically cuts out pollarding as a way of keeping a tree small. I'm encouraging a bush shape for the trees that grow that way (primarily apricots and peaches) but I'm now leaning toward as little work as possible. Pruning isn't intensive, but it is work, and there may come a time when I won't be able to maintain my "orchard." So it has to maintain itself. Early training would be absolutely necessary, but what kind of training would keep apple, apricot, cherry and pear trees small without additional pruning required every year? Peaches I'm not too concerned about, we've always just trained the main branches toward the ground. They never grew above six feet. Maybe that would work for the other fruit trees as well, I'm not sure.

Any ideas, or techniques I should research?
 
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Hi Lauren,

The simplest and only answer to your questions is grafting to a dwarf rootstock, though you say you don't want that.

You're asking for low maintenance, to keep a full size tree in the dwarf size range, with a standard seed rootstock, and the simple answer is it won't be low maintenance. It will be the highest possible maintenence, requiring constant pruning like a hedge. As the trees age the maintenance will increase exponentially, and their health will decreases form over prunning. That won't be good for fruit production either. Bonsai is quite high maintenance, requiring almost constant maintenance, and it can be very hard on the health of the tree, requiring expert care and devotion, to keep them healthy in the long term.

When you add disease and pest pressures, to the already over stressed and disease susceptible trees, frankly, it will be a waisted effort. Thats advice coming from a professional source who understands permaculture, arboriculture and fruit production very well. You'll be trying to fight against the trees very nature, which is also against permaculture principles.

My advice, let go of the desire to seed sow your own trees, or at least graft them to the appropriate dwarfing rootstocks, to keep your venture low maintenance. If you still want to fight against the satistical odds, with potentially susceptible varieties lacking diseases resistance, at least use varieties known to produce good fruit, which means you can try the dwarf columner tree varieties. They will at least be low maintenance on the pruning end, and if you get around the diseases, it will be proven fruit.

I know its not what you wanted to hear, but I hope it helps.
 
Lauren Ritz
pollinator
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People have always told me "It won't work," and I usually found a way to do it. I have very little income, and probably won't have more for the foreseeable future. It's seed-grown or nothing. I can't purchase trees and I don't like the varieties that are out there anyway.

I'll find a way, and seeing someone say "The only answer" in a permaculture forum makes me chuckle. Evilly.
 
R. Steele
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Good luck...lol! Though I think if you listened to wisdom, you would find strange and mysterious things happen.
 
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Why is there an "eight foot arbitrary limit"? Is that your own decision or comes from outside?

Seed-grown trees are very likely to grow to be full-sized.

Pulling down branches is said to not promote the growth of vigorous vertical watersprouts the way that pruning does, but even so your trees might insist on growing to a lot more than 8 feet.
 
Lauren Ritz
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Rebecca Norman wrote:Why is there an "eight foot arbitrary limit"? Is that your own decision or comes from outside?



First, I will likely be on this property when I'm 102 (or whatever) and I can't maintain the pruned trees. Walnuts and almonds, even apples and pears to some extent, can just be shaken to get the fruit down. Softer fruits, no. Our trees have always stayed smaller than most (even the walnut--we got it fifteen years ago and it's still about ten feet tall) so I figured it was a workable solution. Our full-sized cherry was less than 15 feet, and our peaches have always been less than ten. All the peaches after the first were grown from seed.

Second, I'm afraid of heights. I can go a few steps up a ladder if I have a deathgrip on something else (like the tree) but picking and pruning one-handed is a pain in the neck and takes three times as long. Anything more than two or three feet off the ground is unworkable. The more I can pick and maintain from the ground, the better. I thought I could use mostly small trees/large bushes, but I haven't been able to acquire any. Seeds aren't growing. Maybe eventually that will work.

Third, I'm in a subdivision on less than 1/3 acre, and while I would personally enjoy having a full sized fruit tree forest, my neighbors make enough fuss without me adding to the problems by dropping fruit all over their yards.

Those are the primary reasons.
 
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I am planting standard trees and cutting them at waist height or lower so that I can maintain them at a height that I can reach while standing on the ground.  This will mean I'll need to prune them a few times during the summer to keep extra growth down (they tend to make extra branches in response to this kind of treatment).  I also plan to stay here into old age.  Pruning with clippers is easy work, so I don't mind having to do it, even though it is a little harder with painful hands.

I'm training my Apple branches down with cloth strips on wires anchored to the ground.

appletraining.JPG
[Thumbnail for appletraining.JPG]
 
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We too have had very limited funds but have managed to grow a nice home orchard with very little cash outlay. Rootstocks are fairly inexpensive and grafting can be free with scions from trees of friends or wild stock. Depending on the rootstock, some will sucker readiy and can be cloned to make more. If size weren't an issue and you have no $, I would grow seedlings and then graft desired varieties as life can be too short to wait for what may be a poor outcome (we planted grafted seedlings at a previous homestead). We have loads of wild apple trees nearby, probably planted by wildlife over the years, and although a few of them have good fruit, most aren't worth picking.

Even our M7 rootstock apples need a lot of work to keep them in bounds. But with a few tools, like the Barnel telescoping loppers and pruners and a "grabber" or fruit picker, a ladder isn't needed. Once the M7's reached maturity (around their 15th year) pruning has become more a restorative plan rather than fighting growth spurts.  Fruit trees are more work than berries, but then the yield makes up for it.

BTW, I'm a 63 YO female, not fond of ladders and not looking to do work unless it's needed, so hear you on the height concerns.
 
Lauren Ritz
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Tyler Ludens wrote:I am planting standard trees and cutting them at waist height or lower so that I can maintain them at a height that I can reach while standing on the ground.  This will mean I'll need to prune them a few times during the summer to keep extra growth down (they tend to make extra branches in response to this kind of treatment).  I also plan to stay here into old age.  Pruning with clippers is easy work, so I don't mind having to do it, even though it is a little harder with painful hands.

I'm training my Apple branches down with cloth strips on wires anchored to the ground.


I'm planning on working with a "bush" form for the trees that will do it. My first year apricot died back to the ground last winter and came up with three stems, so I'm hoping it will work for that. I have an apple that's in its fourth year that's also taking a bush form, and a couple of the peaches. With three or more main stems to spread the energy among, I'm hoping they'll be easier to keep small, and since they're grown on their own roots there's no concern about root suckers.

For the other trees I've been considering summer pruning. The fruit tree hedge will be simple--just cut it down to the size I need, and any fruit will be a bonus. I was doing a lot of reading (some here on this site) and it seems the consensus is that pruned trees will always need to be pruned. So if I can find other techniques to keep the trees small, that would probably be at least a good addition to my "toolkit."
 
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Lauren, one of the big things about Bonsai training is the root pruning that goes along with the branch pruning.
You can make an apple, pear, peach or any other fruit tree a Bonsai, but these would be shallow container plants that would only be able to support one or two fruits per year.

There is also pruning of trees in the ground that works very well for your needs and the two methods would be; 1. pollarding so the trunk remains short and all the branches are new growth every year. 2. espalier where you train the branches to grow in a single plane (like against a wall).
Leaving a tree in the soil and pruning back the leader will end you up with a multi leader tree, which makes trees very weak at the junctions.

For keeping a full size tree short the pollard method usually works best for those looking for maximum fruit from a tree, espalier works really well for perfect fruits but since you are limiting the number of branches to three per side or four per side, the amount of fruit will be less.

Redhawk
 
Lauren Ritz
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Larisa Walk wrote:If size weren't an issue and you have no $, I would grow seedlings and then graft desired varieties as life can be too short to wait for what may be a poor outcome (we planted grafted seedlings at a previous homestead). We have loads of wild apple trees nearby, probably planted by wildlife over the years, and although a few of them have good fruit, most aren't worth picking.


My experience with most trees is that if the parents are good the offspring will be good. Wild trees in the area would of course complicate this.

I got seeds from my sister's apple and pear trees (grown on their own roots, from seed), and from a neighbor that had an "accidental" tree grow in her yard (The fruit is amazing for apple sauce, juice or chips, and doesn't brown on exposure to air--this is one I wouldn't mind getting a cutting from). Once I have a single tree old enough to bear fruit I can graft younger trees into the adult and use it as a test for fruit desirability, then simply cull those that don't make the cut.
 
Lauren Ritz
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:There is also pruning of trees in the ground that works very well for your needs and the two methods would be; 1. pollarding so the trunk remains short and all the branches are new growth every year. 2. espalier where you train the branches to grow in a single plane (like against a wall). Leaving a tree in the soil and pruning back the leader will end you up with a multi leader tree, which makes trees very weak at the junctions.

For keeping a full size tree short the pollard method usually works best for those looking for maximum fruit from a tree, espalier works really well for perfect fruits but since you are limiting the number of branches to three per side or four per side, the amount of fruit will be less.

Redhawk


I do have some trees I'll be espaliering, against the back fence. So far one apple, one peach, and I have three spots for nectarines once I get some starts off our existing tree. I had another apple but it died.

I wasn't intending to do actual bonsai, but simply using some of the techniques they use to keep the trees small. Still researching some of that, since as you said some of those techniques require root pruning as well.

There's a house a few miles from here that I pass frequently--they have fruit trees in their yard that are carefully pruned, and it appears that they prune back all new growth to the main branches every year. I've been watching, and this year again all new growth was pruned off. But every year those trees are loaded with fruit. I need to stop in and talk to them. It isn't pollarding exactly, the limbs aren't cut back to the trunk and the trees maintain their open shape. No weird truncated trunk or branches, but also no upward growth at all. It probably wouldn't work for some trees, but I need to check and see what they're doing.

That kind of technique would at least keep the trees small, even if the work is more intensive. I know there are other techniques out there, I just need to find them.
 
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I think part of your solution will be planting more seeds every year or five so you always have some adolescent trees just starting to produce but not too big yet.  You could do well with at least some grafting, keeping branches from trees that are getting too big but have produced good fruit.  Over time you'll have a nice genetic pool on site and may find you are growing some really great trees from your own seeds.  The SkillCult channel on youtube does a lot with growing apple trees from seed and grafting.  His frankentree apples are close to what I'm picturing, but probably could have been trained and pruned to be a bit shorter.  A lot of trees may not live or produce long enough anyway, even if you were willing to use a ladder to harvest so having a constant supply of younger trees makes sense to me either way.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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It sounds to me like they are doing what is termed "terminal branch pollarding" where you trim each branch back to the older (2 year old wood (for first pruning)) then keep pruning to that point at the end of every growing season.
I did some trees like that in California and they were heavy producers for the orchard.
The orchardist sent me pictures about 10 years into the method and I was surprised that the branches didn't have the characteristic "knob" look but that was because we were using the whole branch as opposed to picking a point to slice the branch off.

Good luck, it sounds to me like you already have a pretty good handle on what and how you want to care for your fruit trees.

Redhawk
 
Lauren Ritz
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Buster Parks wrote:I think part of your solution will be planting more seeds every year or five so you always have some adolescent trees just starting to produce but not too big yet.  You could do well with at least some grafting, keeping branches from trees that are getting too big but have produced good fruit.  Over time you'll have a nice genetic pool on site and may find you are growing some really great trees from your own seeds.  The SkillCult channel on youtube does a lot with growing apple trees from seed and grafting.  His frankentree apples are close to what I'm picturing, but probably could have been trained and pruned to be a bit shorter.  A lot of trees may not live or produce long enough anyway, even if you were willing to use a ladder to harvest so having a constant supply of younger trees makes sense to me either way.


I currently have two first year apple trees, one peach, and several almond seedlings. The older trees are already in their places. My oldest apple tree is about four years old and hasn't started budding yet. Once it's old enough I'll start grafting buds in to see what kind of fruit the smaller trees will have. That way I can choose early and get rid of the trees that won't work.

The idea of getting rid of trees that get too big is interesting, and I'll have to think about how that would work.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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hau Lauren, One other pruning technique (I love this one for our own pear trees) is to let the trunk grow to the point of as high as I can reach comfortably from my ladder (10 ft. ladder in my case) and that is where I cut the crown out.
As new leaders grow from this cutoff point I attach weights to the branches about 5 inches from the growing tip with strips of rubber innertube material so they won't damage the bark.
In winter I loosen the strip on each branch and move it out to the 5 inches from the tip point.
Usually it takes about three years of weighting to have the new "crown" spread out for easy harvesting of the fruit.
The draw back is you have to prune those branches back to the main branch wood every fall after the leaves drop so you don't have stand up "hair".
Mine are being shaped to look like an umbrella, I do make sure I have all the minerals the trees need to be strong and healthy by giving them a cup of "sea-90" every spring for four years then I give them two years off before I make the spring additions to the soil again.
As I thought about it, it seemed to me that this might work really well for you, especially as you age into your land. (I'm 67 and we plan on being here to the end)

Redhawk
 
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:hau Lauren, One other pruning technique (I love this one for our own pear trees) is to let the trunk grow to the point of as high as I can reach comfortably from my ladder (10 ft. ladder in my case) and that is where I cut the crown out.
As new leaders grow from this cutoff point I attach weights to the branches about 5 inches from the growing tip with strips of rubber innertube material so they won't damage the bark.
In winter I loosen the strip on each branch and move it out to the 5 inches from the tip point.
Usually it takes about three years of weighting to have the new "crown" spread out for easy harvesting of the fruit.
The draw back is you have to prune those branches back to the main branch wood every fall after the leaves drop so you don't have stand up "hair".
Mine are being shaped to look like an umbrella, I do make sure I have all the minerals the trees need to be strong and healthy by giving them a cup of "sea-90" every spring for four years then I give them two years off before I make the spring additions to the soil again.
As I thought about it, it seemed to me that this might work really well for you, especially as you age into your land. (I'm 67 and we plan on being here to the end)

Redhawk



Redhawk, that sounds very much like what I want to do with some of my trees.  If you have some time and could take a picture of one of yours, I would greatly appreciate it.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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hau Trace, sadly I don't have the ability to post photos to the internet. If I can locate something already on the internet I can post that.


Apologies,
Redhawk
 
Lauren Ritz
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:hau Lauren, One other pruning technique (I love this one for our own pear trees) is to let the trunk grow to the point of as high as I can reach comfortably from my ladder (10 ft. ladder in my case) and that is where I cut the crown out.
As new leaders grow from this cutoff point I attach weights to the branches about 5 inches from the growing tip with strips of rubber innertube material so they won't damage the bark.
In winter I loosen the strip on each branch and move it out to the 5 inches from the tip point.
Usually it takes about three years of weighting to have the new "crown" spread out for easy harvesting of the fruit.
The draw back is you have to prune those branches back to the main branch wood every fall after the leaves drop so you don't have stand up "hair".
Mine are being shaped to look like an umbrella, I do make sure I have all the minerals the trees need to be strong and healthy by giving them a cup of "sea-90" every spring for four years then I give them two years off before I make the spring additions to the soil again.
As I thought about it, it seemed to me that this might work really well for you, especially as you age into your land. (I'm 67 and we plan on being here to the end)

Redhawk



Added it to my list. Thanks! I was going to get a picture of what we did with the plum--it sounds a lot like what you have done, but the structure is obscured by trees. Essentially there is no main leader--three branches make up the structure, and each one is bent over so most of the fruit can be picked from the ground. Except that life happened and I wasn't able to trim them for a while, so they got away from me. They now have a full layer of the "hair" you mentioned that is entirely out of reach and fruiting copiously. :)
 
Bryant RedHawk
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These are the "rules" for proper fruit tree pruning in the open or vase style I prefer.

Basic principles  (never cut more than 25% of a tree off in any pruning season (winter or spring before bud out))

Stand back and look at the natural shape of the tree (decide what the basic shape of the tree is, you want to emphasize that basic shape)

Use sharp, clean tools (have a bucket of sanitizer to dip your tools in after every cut to prevent accidental contamination)

Aim for an open centre – think of a vase (this not only allows more light into the tree but it is where you can limit the height of the tree without creating weak branches)

Remove dead wood and crossing branches

Take out spindly side shoots

Cut lateral shoots where they interfere with the chosen shape and as high up the leaders as you can comfortably

Prune close to the main branch or trunk so that wounds heal (be sure to leave the collar intact)

Cut heavy branches a couple of feet above the final cut (two cuts means less chance of damaging the tree branch or trunk)

Stand back and admire your work

Redhawk

A pruning tool kit should contain; hand pruners, loppers, small limbing saw, larger cross cut saw or bow saw. ( also have a good rope that is 50 feet long for those times I need to control a high branch so it doesn't crash to the ground)
I also add a bottle of white "Elmer's glue" to seal wood when I have to make a pruning cut after the sap has started flowing (more for keeping borers out than anything).
The Elmer's glue seals the heart wood but will let the sap wood weep and seal over the wound, it is also going to vanish with weathering unlike those nasty tar based "pruning paints".
 
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