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to prune or not to prune

 
Rick Freeman
Posts: 103
Location: NW Montana, Hardiness Zone 4b
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In western Montana, fruit trees have a hard life. Soils are new or have little profile development (little humus), winters temperatures can spike downwards (sometimes after a series of warm days), fire-blight is always a threat, etc. etc. Given all these challenges, we need to be careful with our planting stock and put a lot of prep into the site just to get it through the first year or so -- especially on newly developed sites. Given all this overhead (money and labor) just to get a tree growing, doesn't it make sense to do some pruning to alleviate snow damage and thwart aphids?

BTW, Excuse me for cross-posting. I just now realized that I posted on the earthworks forum but can't seem to delete.
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1355
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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If you are not going to harvest with a machine it is best not to prune if the tree has never been prune before.
Unprune trees have bigger better root system and they self prune and the branches grow away from each, the only good think about pruning is that it is easier to harvest. However unprune trees bear the same amount per acre or a little more and are productive for longer and also live longer and are more pest free.
 
Paul Cereghino
gardener
Posts: 855
Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
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I wonder if you are growing grafted stock, if you can grow a 'natural form' tree? I suspect it might have something to do with the genetic individual you are growing... I wonder how different 'breeds' peform 'au natural'. I suspect it also depends on what you are planning to do with the apples. Sorry.. no answers.
 
Diego Footer
Posts: 180
Location: San Diego, CA
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S Bengi wrote:If you are not going to harvest with a machine it is best not to prune if the tree has never been prune before.
Unprune trees have bigger better root system and they self prune and the branches grow away from each, the only good think about pruning is that it is easier to harvest. However unprune trees bear the same amount per acre or a little more and are productive for longer and also live longer and are more pest free.


This is sort of all true.

Trees self prune by having branches snap off. Branches don't snap off cleanly so they become vectors for disease. Yes the tree will try to compartmentalize the wood, but it is a lot more damaging for the tree to try to heal a bit strip than a single cut.

There are branches that we prune off because they are structurally unsound. Bottom branches and branches with low crotch angles. Both of these types of branch attachments can be weak and are areas where the tree can self prune and break. Not good for the tree. So pruning for structural strength is good.

Pruning off dead branches is also good because it removes another possible disease vector.

Trees that are in large orchards and are pruned mechanically with big lawn mower style gang pruners live shorter than unpruned trees, but that is not the case for trees that are properly pruned using natural target pruning.
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1355
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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There are cases where you will have to prune a tree, e.g. if you see dead branches etc, but for the most part even the non-productive branches support the load of the productive branches and I hardly see unpruned tree with low branches once the tree get tall enough, they self prune and I have to jump to catch a branch. And the best pruning by humans still opens up a vector for diseases and in the end we are worst that what nature would have done. Pruning reminds me of watering a tree everyday all that does is make the tree develop a shallow root system that will kill the tree if we stop watering for a week. And yes, if a tree only get 5inches of rain you are going to have to water everyday but for the most part people get 40+ inches of rain and still water plants unnecessarily. The same goes for pruning.

So prune if you want the tree to look "pretty", to appease the HOA, if you want to create art. Prune if you dont want to climb a 25ft tree. Prune if you want to occupy your time with something safe and fun. Other than that don't prune.
 
Cris Bessette
gardener
Posts: 764
Location: North Georgia / Appalachian mountains , Zone 7A
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Masanobu Fukuoka was a "no-prune" advocate on his citrus and other trees.
I think his basic philosophy was that once you do deviate a tree from its natural growth pattern, its gonna be dependent on pruning to maintain the "unnatural form".

On the other hand I agree with the points about removing dead branches or obviously diseased or damaged branches


I removed the cross post in Earthworks mentioned in the opening post.
 
                        
Posts: 34
Location: Big Island, Hawaii
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a grafted tree will need to be pruned - it's natural form is that of a branch, not a stout trunk. fukuoka was working with decades-old trees when he gave the advice not to prune. a seed planted into the ground will grow into the exact tree it should be. talk to your trees. a clean cut with a sharp saw is much better for a tree than a limb ripped off from snow-load or fallen branches. pruning is an art. done properly, pruning can improve a tree's productivitiy, lifespan, and beauty. done poorly, pruning can kill a tree.

proper pruning removes crossed branches, diseased wood, and opens up the tree for more light and air. a seedling tree does this by itself, a grafted tree does't know how.

pruning a tree means a lifetime of work. but that work pays off. do it right, keep the saw sharp and clean. domesticated plants need care, pruning, fertilizing, and weeding. i know that's not the "permie" ideal, but it's the truth of my experience.
 
John Polk
steward
Pie
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Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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An important thing to remember (if you decide to prune):

A natural instinct in us tells us to cut the sick and/or diseased limbs.
The tree now has a different shape or form. We see that additional pruning would help the tree.
Before you do that, disinfect the saw (or loppers) with alcohol.
No sense spreading the infection to previously healthy parts of the tree.

The same holds true with any gardening project.
If you are dealing with disease, disinfect your tools before moving to healthy plants.
(Or do the healthy plants first...but that is not our nature.)
 
Lucio Cavalca
Posts: 5
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Hi guys, we are planting fruit trees in hurban public area, in order to let people take fruits by themself.

this is our project www.fruttortiparma.it

We trained ourself in modern training courses, in which they teach to prune in order to keep trees short and healty with a good production of fruits; but we would like to follow permaculture system.

I ask to myself if a not pruned cherry or apple or whatelse tree will grow too much and harvest will only possible with stairs and too high to harvest for normal citizen without special tools.

What do you think about?

thanks for helping
 
John Saltveit
gardener
Posts: 1885
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Ciao Lucio,
What you need so people can harvest the fruit are dwarfing rootstocks, so the trees don't grow too tall. Gli alberi piccoli naturale. Sorry. I don't get many chances to scribere in italiano.

Pruning isn't totally necessary on a tree that is harmoniously living in your ecobiome. I want fruit that is not from my ecosystem. Quinces come from dry areas. I live in a wet area. In a dry area, they don't get much rain and it doesn't make many branches. I can't stop the rain. If I prune, I can decide to prune when it is dry outside, to limit disease. If it slowly kills my branch, that is a wet vector of disease in the wet season for months. Bad idea. I prune.

If I lived on 20 acres, maybe I would grow from seed and grow mostly plants which are comfy in my eco zone, like Montmorency cherries, which prune themselves here. But I have .2 acres, and I want non=native fruit, so I prune.
John S
PDX OR
 
Lucio Cavalca
Posts: 5
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thank you John for answering, we would like to plant only local fruit trees by seeds but at the moment it is not possible

we have bought all our trees in a nursery specialized in local old fruit trees, but it is all with rootstock and already pruned.

we are going to plant a lot of trees and prune needs prune, it would be a lot of work that we can't do.

so we are going to plan our public nursery with trees by seeds, but it is necessary a lot of time, and I don't know if we will have little trees or not...

 
richard valley
Posts: 240
Location: Sierra Nevada mountain valley CA, & Nevada high desert
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Pruning seems to be a matter of choice. I feel it is nessary or fruit trees may spend time becoming bound above ground as can happen to the roots while the tree is in a pot or in hard ground where too small a hole has been dug for a root ball.
To help the root spread, the ground is hard, compact, at the lower ranch, high desert, we bore holes around the tree, the second year, and fill with organic: leaves, paper, spent horse, goat or chicken waste, each year after that we bore more holes between them and farther out.
In dry windy areas, humus will not form, at the upper ranch humus forms in wild excess and can be gatherd and moved where needed. If placed on the ground at the lower ranch it will blow away, but in holes 4" ID X 18-24" deep it stays and holds moisture. The roots will eventually bust through the walls of the humus bores and combine soil.

We have planted a good many fruit trees at the lower ranch, if pruning is done at the proper time of year, new trees can be sprouted from these or grafted to larger trees.

I remember when I was a boy, seeing plums on our aprocot trees. I told my father "look there are plumb'' Daddie said " no! that can't be" and laughted, hugged me. He had been grafting the prunings for years. God I miss him.

We have planted: apple, apricot, peach, plum, and cherry. Some trees we grew from seeds, I'll graft ofspring from already fruiting trees onto them.

Oh! We were talking about pruning... or not...I'd say except for the tree in a small yard that you have to stop the negibors from looking into your window, pruning is nessary, most trees like it, they've told me so.
 
John Kitsteiner
Posts: 38
Location: East Tennessee
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Very interesting thread, but I have a question...

Does anyone have any "proof" to back up the argument (prune or not)? I am looking for some good evidence. It may not exist. I don't know.

I appreciate the opinions, but I would love something more solid. I can see the theory behind both arguments, but theory and practical application are two different things.

Thanks!
Doc K
 
John Saltveit
gardener
Posts: 1885
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One form of evidence or "proof" is the amount of disease that one gets after pruning or not pruning. It's pretty compelling when you watch a wet spring season without pruning (lots of disease) and with pruning (much less).
John S
PDX OR
 
Patrick Mann
Posts: 302
Location: Seattle, WA, USA
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John Polk wrote:Before you do that, disinfect the saw (or loppers) with alcohol.


Here's a good paper regarding benefits of disinfecting: http://baker.ifas.ufl.edu/Horticulture/documents/DisinfectingPruningTools.pdf
If you are going to disinfect, Lysol is recommended over alcohol or any other disinfectants. My preference would be a quick blast from a blow-torch.
 
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