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Pruning Advice for a younger apple tree

 
Posts: 26
Location: Eastern Ontario, Canada Zone 5b
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Hello.

I just purchased and planted this 'Haralson' apple to fill a space that was left from another tree (an old, abused 'umbrella tree') that died out this spring.



As you may be able to see - it has a few problems:

1. The little apple on the central leader is at the 30" mark, roughly where I want my first set of scaffolding branches. The existing branches below that are way too low.
2. I have a competing leader growing. I debated just starting my scaffolding there, even through it's lower than desired, but that branch is too thick to bend for training.

So, to my mind, all the branches below the first apple on the central leader have to go. However, it's also well into July - not exactly an ideal time for pruning.

Also, I'm not sure how to encourage scaffolding branches at the height that I want them, because there are no lateral branches currently at that height. In a new tree, I would have cut the central leader there at the appropriate time to create the laterals, but obviously, this tree is well beyond that.

I'd appreciate any advice. This tree *should* be a semi-dwarf size, but there was no information about the rootstock other than a tag that said it gets to 5m tall and wide (about 16').
 
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Hi Brian,

There should be dormant lateral buds where you would like branches to be, so look into notching: then use the notching technique above the lateral bud you would like to activate. Notching is just surgically severing the canbium layer, to disrupt the chemistry which controls apical dominance.

Don’t prune off any branches this season, as that will slow root establishment. Once you get the structure you want there from notching, you can also use notching to slow growth on limbs you don't want. This will alow you to delay pruning off any braches untill your desired structure is well enough established, so it doesn't stress the tree in its development. People will say prune young trees heavy, but I say don't: as it can cause stress that in some cases permanently harms the tree through altered epigenetic expression. This can make trees higher maintenence from lifelong obsessive suckering, and as a result shift energy away from fruit production.

A notch can just be a single surgical canbium depth slice, about 1/3 to 1/2 the circumference depending on application, in line with the vascular flow directly above what your trying activate, or directly below what you would like to slow the growth of. Sometimes with trying to slow the growth of limbs, typically designated for future removal, the notch will be a 1/16 cresent shaped sliver of the canbium that gets removed. This is because a single slice closes to fast for the desired application. These types of notches for slowing growth need always be on and outward from the appropriate branch collar.

Also always properly disinfect your tools, rubbing alcohol works the best.

Hope that helps!
 
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R. Steele wrote:Hi Brian,

Don’t prune off any branches this season, as that will slow root establishment. Once you get the structure you want there from notching, you can also use notching to slow growth on limbs you don't want. This will alow you to delay pruning off any braches untill your desired structure is well enough established, so it doesn't stress the tree in its development. People will say prune young trees heavy, but I say don't: as it can cause stress that in some cases permanently harms the tree through altered epigenetic expression. !



Fantastic advise.

That tree looks really healthy.  Let it enjoy the summer growing season without any pruning.  All those little solar panels are converting photons and air-born carbon into sugar.  Mmmm . . . sugar.  When fall comes, the plant will pull sugars from the branches and draw them down into the root system as an energy reserve for next growing season.  The tree pulls that sap down through the vascular system — it's actually quite remarkable.  If you prune too early, all that energy is wasted.  

At most, when you prune next winer, only take off a third of the branches.  All plants keep a root to shoot ratio for optimum health.  When you prune too aggressively, the plant will sluff-off roots to return the plant back to balance.  Let the tree be a tree.
 
Brian Vraken
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Location: Eastern Ontario, Canada Zone 5b
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Thanks for the responses all.

Regarding notching - I've always heard not to aim for new growth after July 1 as it won't have time to harden off before winter. Is that an old wive's tale, or good advice?

It notching is still feasible, then I will give it a shot so that I don't 'lose' this whole year in terms of training the tree.
 
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hau Brian,

Are you planning on creating a bonsai or other manipulated tree shape? Or are you just wanting to shape the tree for easy harvest and getting around it later down the years?
I like to set the trunk height and let the branches age into their final shape, it leaves the tree in a positon of strength rather than stress in the wood that creates weakness of the structural wood.

I would wait until the tree is in dormancy, it needs this year and perhaps next year for the root system to establish so the tree will not be stressed when you do prune it.
Winter is the time for pruning, early spring is the time for notching most fruit trees.

If you were to prune or notch now, you would invite insect damage to occur as well as sending out the call to feed for fungi spores that are airborne.

Redhawk
 
Brian Vraken
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:Are you planning on creating a bonsai or other manipulated tree shape?



No, I just want to end up with a 'standard' central-leader tree. My main concern is that the existing branches are mostly too low, and as far as I understand, it gets harder to 'induce' branching on older wood. I believe the area where I want the scaffolding to grow is already 2-year old wood (this being it's third year), so already may be difficult to get it where I want.

I would wait until the tree is in dormancy, it needs this year and perhaps next year for the root system to establish so the tree will not be stressed when you do prune it.
Winter is the time for pruning, early spring is the time for notching most fruit trees.

If you were to prune or notch now, you would invite insect damage to occur as well as sending out the call to feed for fungi spores that are airborne.

Redhawk



I appreciate the advice. I am giving up on the idea of pruning, thinking only to notch to induce some scaffold branches where I want them... but even that, I am hesitant about this late in the year.

Working with trees purchased as 1-year olds is way simpler....
 
Bryant RedHawk
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The one thing I would do at this point in the year would be to decide which leader you want to keep and I would get rid of the other and use Elmer's glue to seal that one wound.

Leaving a double leader can lead to deformation of both leaders and that ends up weakening the tree.

notching this late in the season does not allow for enough time for new growth to fully harden before winter, that can lead to death of the new branches.

There are three options available in your situation.
1. do nothing till winter, your tree isn't old enough to not respond to good, judicial care of branching.

2. remove the unwanted leader and seal the wound to prevent insect/fungal damage.

3. turn the unwanted leader into another tree by air layering and waiting until a good mass of roots have formed on the scion then cut off seal wound and plant new tree.

you can, in the spring, encourage new branching where you want it to occur by inducing bud formation as per R. Steele's suggestion and method.

Redhawk

 
Brian Vraken
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:The one thing I would do at this point in the year would be to decide which leader you want to keep and I would get rid of the other and use Elmer's glue to seal that one wound.

Leaving a double leader can lead to deformation of both leaders and that ends up weakening the tree.

notching this late in the season does not allow for enough time for new growth to fully harden before winter, that can lead to death of the new branches.

There are three options available in your situation.
1. do nothing till winter, your tree isn't old enough to not respond to good, judicial care of branching.

2. remove the unwanted leader and seal the wound to prevent insect/fungal damage.

3. turn the unwanted leader into another tree by air layering and waiting until a good mass of roots have formed on the scion then cut off seal wound and plant new tree.

you can, in the spring, encourage new branching where you want it to occur by inducing bud formation as per R. Steele's suggestion and method.

Redhawk



Thanks. I will probably take this advice.

As for air layering - I had never heard about that, but it seems amazing! On the flip side, I also see it as a potential avenue for disease on the parent tree, not necessarily something I want to experiment with the first time around.

That said, I've been thinking about trying an apple on it's own roots as an experiment. There's some 'wild' apples around here that produce prolifically, and are likely the result of seeds scattered into fence lines by birds. Ignoring the fact that the wild quality is all over the map, the trees are for the most part large, healthy and productive with no human intervention.

 
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