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traditional fruit tree pruning

 
paul wheaton
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I wanted to start a thread to talk about normal fruit tree pruning.  For discussion of the very different form of ... well ... NOT pruning that holzer, fukuoka and some other permaculture people favor, please see this thread.

I think the most popular form of pruning in professional orchards these days is the spindle cut technique.  Lots of dwarf-ish trees grown in rows complete with intensive annual pruning.  You end up with something that looks like a hedge - with the top a bit narrower than the bottom.  Ladder use is minimized if not eliminated. 

Some permaculture folks really like this.  I don't. 

On to more basic fruit tree pruning techniques ....

This is my 60 second lesson to newbies on pruning.

Skipping over tree shape issues - that can be an almost religious debate - I'll focus instead on some of the simplest stuff. 

First, there is obvious stuff:  crossed branches and crotches.  These lead to problems and sickness for the tree.  Eliminating these problems is the highest priority.

Consider for a moment that the leaves of the tree are typically on the outside edge of the canopy.  Branches hold up leaves and fruit.  The leaves are the little solar collectors giving the tree food - for the fruit, the roots, the bark, the wood and the leaves themselves.  The wood doesn't need very much - so let's ignore that for now.  Consider the rest.  If we are low on energy (food) the tree will be sickly and the fruit will be lame.  But if we are loaded with energy, then the try is has vibrant good health and the fruit is excellent. 

What if we can keep the leaf count the same, but drastically reduce the energy needs?  Could that help move us into the vibrant direction?    What can we eliminate?  We can't eliminate roots.  We don't want to eliminate the leaves.  Eliminating wood won't make much difference because the wood doesn't take much energy.  But we might be able to eliminate some of the bark.

Suppose you have two limbs that are parallel to each other and they are the same in nearly every respect - only since they are right next to each other, one has leaves on the left side and one has leaves on the right side.  If you cut out one of those limbs, the other limb will eventually fill out leaves on the other side (okay, there is a lot more going on here, but let's keep it simple for now).  You will have eliminated half of the bark while maintaining the leaf count. 


 
Fred Morgan
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Location: Northern Zone, Costa Rica - 200 to 300 meters Tropical Humid Rainforest
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Good stuff Paul.

After pruning a bazillion trees (I swear) these are my rules for fruit trees.

1. You need to know if the tree bears on one year old wood or not. This is an issue here for sure. Vines like grapes are like this as well. If so, get ready to hack but leave one year old wood. The idea is to make sure that you maintain the wood for this years crop while encouraging next year new wood. Almost anything else can go away, except what you need for support.

2. I don't like climbing trees, so I keep my trees short. As I get older, I like climbing even less. Besides, I think a tree that looks like am umbrella looks cool. 

3. Never remove more than a third of the tree, it can kill it, or make you wish it was dead with all the new water sprouts.

4. If you have the luxury, prune withing 4 days of the full moon. I kid you not. I have found by experimentation here that if you prune around the full moon, you get much less water sprouts.

5. Make sure your pruning equipment is clean and have something to sterilize between cuts, especially between trees!

6. Unless it is a lawn tree that you are also growing for looks, don't worry about shape as much as strength.

7. When facing cutting between two limbs, I try to select which one looks healthiest and is going in a direction I like.

8. If you get a huge set of fruit, it isn't a bad idea to manually remove a lot of them so as to not get into bi-annual bearing. It will generally result in much better tasting fruit as well.

Really, pruning is easy if you understand the basics. And a good healthy tree is like your hair, it will out grow a scalping in time. 
 
paul wheaton
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I'm more of a central leader man, myself.

Anything higher than I can get to is for the critters.

 
Brenda Groth
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i agree with you Paul, i prefer the normal wild grown seeded trees "away" from my mixed beds, allowing the trees to grow totally naturally..

however, i do have a use for the smaller dwarf and pole trees, i grow them in my mixed beds..although they are strange and perverted in a way, they do allow for me to be able to grow these itty bitty fruit trees in my mixed beds..

i tend to like to grow everything in layers, even if it is flowers and ground covers..so i like to add smallish trees to all of my garden areas, which gives a good use for these odd little creatures..

so they do have a use..they provide fruit in an area where i generally would not be able to grow fruit..my flower and vegetable mixed beds.

i have dwarf cherries, apples, peach, plum, pear trees dotted here and there among my beds, also i used shrubs and vines in these beds with perennials (both food and flower) and herbs, and even groundcovers..

none of my beds are monoculture..and obviously i couldn't grow a full size apple tree or pear tree in these beds..so i have chosen the weird small pruned dwarfs for these areas so i can continue to get the most use out of these areas.
 
Bob Waldrop
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Fred Morgan wrote:
4. If you have the luxury, prune withing 4 days of the full moon. I kid you not. I have found by experimentation here that if you prune around the full moon, you get much less water sprouts.



Is this within 4 days before the full moon, or 4 days after, or 4 days either way?  My grandfather used to always plant his garden by the phase of the moon, and I follow some of the basics of that in my own annual garden, but I have never heard anything relating moon phases to fruit tree pruning.
 
Fred Morgan
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jpeaceokc wrote:
Is this within 4 days before the full moon, or 4 days after, or 4 days either way?  My grandfather used to always plant his garden by the phase of the moon, and I follow some of the basics of that in my own annual garden, but I have never heard anything relating moon phases to fruit tree pruning.


Generally speaking, 3 days on either side and of course, the day of the full moon. Conversely, if you want to stimulate new growth, prune when it is a new moon.
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/cards
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