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Help me prune this tree!

 
pollinator
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This crabapple tree is getting unruly and I’d like to do some pruning this winter. Obviously, I need to take out all the water sprouts, anything crossing, and anything really close to the house, but I’m not sure what else to do. I want to trim some of the lower branches because my head hits them but it almost looks like this tree has 2 layers: the old bottom layer and the newer top layer which is mostly formed from long, straight up branches that double the tree’s height.

Im not sure if I should get rid of more of the older low branches and let the tree be higher or thin the long straight tall branches to let more light in.

Also,  Id like to make sure to get more light to the ground underneath so that the strawberries and asparagus get bigger!

Any advice is appreciated!
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pollinator
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I would start taking out the long tall branches, but only 1 or 2 per year any more and you'll just encourage more of them.
 
gardener
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Based on my experience remove all water sprouts that are in the middle of the branch. ones on the sides can be shortened to one bud and may turn into fruiting spurs and reduce future water sprouts.  The lowest limb could be eliminated but at least remove the end of any arching branches the at reach head height.  Remove one large upper branch per year at most. Remove first those with a narrow angle to the center of the tree because they are the most likely to split with heavy fruit. Leave the center full height to discourage more water sprouts growing tall.  The tall center may not be harvestable but it satisfies the genetic potential so the tree grows more lateral instead of trying to go higher with each new branch.
 
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In general, cut out branches that are:
Diseased
Dead
Duplicating (crossing)
or
Damaged.
Not more than 1/3 of tree per year.  

PC image: Prune it so that a robin can fly through it.  It needs to breathe.  Enclosed means high humidity and room for disease to rampage.  Pruning it makes it more like a fruit tree in a dry area, like the intermountain west of USA.  Low disease pressure area.

John S
PDX OR
 
Brody Ekberg
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Skandi Rogers wrote:I would start taking out the long tall branches, but only 1 or 2 per year any more and you'll just encourage more of them.



It seems to me that cutting the water sprouts encourages more as well. Everywhere that I’ve pruned them before has new ones growing. And i always prune in winter to try to avoid stimulating new growth.
 
Brody Ekberg
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Hans Quistorff wrote:Based on my experience remove all water sprouts that are in the middle of the branch. ones on the sides can be shortened to one bud and may turn into fruiting spurs and reduce future water sprouts.  The lowest limb could be eliminated but at least remove the end of any arching branches the at reach head height.  Remove one large upper branch per year at most. Remove first those with a narrow angle to the center of the tree because they are the most likely to split with heavy fruit. Leave the center full height to discourage more water sprouts growing tall.  The tall center may not be harvestable but it satisfies the genetic potential so the tree grows more lateral instead of trying to go higher with each new branch.



I’m not worried about harvesting any of these. They are tiny and hard. We have a different crabapple tree in the back yard with slightly larger fruit that i can use for pectin if needed.

I’m more concerned with the overall health of the tree and the garden below it. Any pruning whatsoever should help increase light to the ground below, which is good. I was torn between trying to remove the long straight branches due to them being more likely to split, or leaving them since they make up half the height of the tree. I think ill cut off the lowest problem branches first, then anything crossed or pointing inwards. Then the water sprouts. Then after that, depending on how much I cut, I may be done for the year and continue next year. Almost the entire top half of the tree is made of branches with narrow angles, so to remove them all would be pretty extreme for one season!
 
Brody Ekberg
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John Suavecito wrote:In general, cut out branches that are:
Diseased
Dead
Duplicating (crossing)
or
Damaged.
Not more than 1/3 of tree per year.  

PC image: Prune it so that a robin can fly through it.  It needs to breathe.  Enclosed means high humidity and room for disease to rampage.  Pruning it makes it more like a fruit tree in a dry area, like the intermountain west of USA.  Low disease pressure area.

John S
PDX OR



Believe it or not, robins can and do fly through it. Actually birds nest in this tree every year and we have turkeys that like to hang out in and around it eating crabapples. Apparently they dont mind the messy growth!

I’m thinking ill do some general cleanup this year and then next year remove some of the big interior branches. Unless its less drastic than I imagine, maybe I’ll do it all this winter.
 
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Brody, if you're game to try something, you could do summer removal of water sprouts and see whether it stimulates regrowth in this tree. I do this to most of my apples and pears in early summer (which is right now). When they're still tender and non-woody, you can usually snap them off right at the union to the parent branch without leaving a mess. What I find on most trees is that we don't get new ones arising from the same bud, most likely because the snapping off rips out the bud wood and leaves nothing to promote new growth at that node.

By the time the suckers are tough enough to bend without breaking it's a little late for this approach but they're still easy to clip off with the little secateurs I use to thin fruit, so I often combine these tasks. This is a really nice time of year to be out in the orchard and that's one of the reasons I'm a fan of summer pruning.
 
Brody Ekberg
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Phil Stevens wrote:Brody, if you're game to try something, you could do summer removal of water sprouts and see whether it stimulates regrowth in this tree. I do this to most of my apples and pears in early summer (which is right now). When they're still tender and non-woody, you can usually snap them off right at the union to the parent branch without leaving a mess. What I find on most trees is that we don't get new ones arising from the same bud, most likely because the snapping off rips out the bud wood and leaves nothing to promote new growth at that node.

By the time the suckers are tough enough to bend without breaking it's a little late for this approach but they're still easy to clip off with the little secateurs I use to thin fruit, so I often combine these tasks. This is a really nice time of year to be out in the orchard and that's one of the reasons I'm a fan of summer pruning.



I was under the impression that spring pruning tends to promote new growth and that summer pruning encourages infections from fungi and whatnot. So I try to prune in winter when the trees are dormant and there’s less fungal spores out and about.

But, my winter pruning so far doesn’t seem to be stopping the new growth. At least not the water sprouts. I cut one off and 3 come back instead. They are too big and mature to snap off now, but maybe ill try that with the fresh ones in the summer.
 
John Suavecito
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It depends on your climate. In Michigan, where I went this summer, there were giant rainstorms most days of the summer.  Warm + humid + rain is a good recipe for fungal disease, so winter is better for large pruning. Disease pressure is lower, especially in Michigan where it's REALLY cold.  In my climate, it's the opposite.  In winter pruning, the tree has gone to sleep. It wakes up and says, "Someone chopped part of me off! I need to grow back!" In the summer, it's already growing so it will have less of an urge to regrow.

JOhn S
PDX OR
 
Brody Ekberg
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John Suavecito wrote:It depends on your climate. In Michigan, where I went this summer, there were giant rainstorms most days of the summer.  Warm + humid + rain is a good recipe for fungal disease, so winter is better for large pruning. Disease pressure is lower, especially in Michigan where it's REALLY cold.  In my climate, it's the opposite.  In winter pruning, the tree has gone to sleep. It wakes up and says, "Someone chopped part of me off! I need to grow back!" In the summer, it's already growing so it will have less of an urge to regrow.

JOhn S
PDX OR



We get quite a bit of warm, rainy, humid weather here in summer. And this tree is surrounded by a garden thats mulched with rotting woodchips. Actually, theres rotting woodchips as mulch, and in piles all over our property. Also have several outdoor mushroom growing projects. Plus a lot of fungi naturally in the yard anyway… so, I think that winter pruning is probably safest for the tree, or anything I want to prune for that matter. Lots of spores in the air around our house!
 
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Brody Ekberg wrote:
I was under the impression that spring pruning tends to promote new growth and that summer pruning encourages infections from fungi and whatnot. So I try to prune in winter when the trees are dormant and there’s less fungal spores out and about.



i was just reading something that said early winter pruning tends to encourage more growth than pruning in late winter /just before flowering. my standard time is february, after the worst cold has passed. in general, winter pruning encourages growth and summer pruning discourages it. i’m not surprised that you’ve got vigorous regrowth.

when you’ve got a lot of wood that should be removed (as i think is the case here), it makes sense to do a winter prune followed by a summer prune to clean it back up (plus take a bit more off) to avoid taking too much wood off at a time.

edited to add: the fungus in rotting wood chips isn’t necessarily the same thing as fungal disease that will attack living trees. high summer humidity is worth considering, though.
 
Brody Ekberg
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greg mosser wrote:

Brody Ekberg wrote:
I was under the impression that spring pruning tends to promote new growth and that summer pruning encourages infections from fungi and whatnot. So I try to prune in winter when the trees are dormant and there’s less fungal spores out and about.



i was just reading something that said early winter pruning tends to encourage more growth than pruning in late winter /just before flowering. my standard time is february, after the worst cold has passed. in general, winter pruning encourages growth and summer pruning discourages it. i’m not surprised that you’ve got vigorous regrowth.

when you’ve got a lot of wood that should be removed (as i think is the case here), it makes sense to do a winter prune followed by a summer prune to clean it back up (plus take a bit more off) to avoid taking too much wood off at a time.

edited to add: the fungus in rotting wood chips isn’t necessarily the same thing as fungal disease that will attack living trees. high summer humidity is worth considering, though.



I must have mixed up my information along the way. Maybe I’ll wait until February to prune then.

As far as the fungi go: a large amount of the spores in the air around our property and a large amount of the spore slurries and scraps I throw out around the woodchip mulch are oyster mushrooms. And oysters are aggressive. I haven’t seen them growing on apple trees but they grow on pretty much any other kind of tree, hardwood or softwood, so I dont think apple trees are safe from them.
 
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