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torn about not pruning fruit trees

 
Marianne Cicala
gardener
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Location: south central VA 7B
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I've read all of the reason and benefits of no longer pruning my fruits. I'm torn! Somehow I have a sneaking suspicion that if the branches are left to hang low, it will just give the deer more ease to maul the limbs and do a lot of damage, not to mention bring all of their buddies from surrounding counties to feast with ease. Don't even get me started on the bears, who I watched a few weeks ago, happily rolling around on a blackberry high. Anyone letting their fruit trees go with an abundance of hungry wild life?
 
Craig Dobbelyu
pollinator
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Location: Maine (zone 5)
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I did a little experiment where I sort of tested this idea.
My field is loaded with small apple trees. There used to be an orchard in the higher property and we have a lot of 4 year old volunteer trees that just shoot up all over the place. So on one half of the field I mowed around the trees and trimmed them to one trunk and a nice neat top. On the other side of the field I just let them grow. They have many small stems and a lot of tangled branches. After 2 years I can say a few things for certain.

Moles, voles and mice easily girdle a small tree if there is only one stem. They go right around it and in a year the tree is dead. The critters have a tougher time getting to the main stem when it's surrounded by smaller stems and shoots. The smaller stems are more palatable to them so they leave the hard to reach main stem alone. If they do get to it, they usually can't get all the way around it to kill it.

Deer will usually only eat buds and tips of twigs that are within reach. By having a lot of little sucker branches within reach you can provide them the snack they want without having to reach. If they have to get on their back legs to pull branches, they will break limbs.

Finally, apple borers will get at some of your trees no matter what you do. I've lost some trees with only one stem because the borer eats them inside out. With many stems you have a chance of some stems eventually out-growing the risk from borers.


I know it seems crazy but... the tree knows what it should look like. It knows how to protect itself from all sorts of pests. Our trimming is weakening them for the sake of "neat and pretty".
No more trimming for me. I'm convinced.
 
Marianne Cicala
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Location: south central VA 7B
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Thank you Craig - you did exactly what I hope someone had done. I rarely am an all or nothing approach person. I've watched our deer take every cherry down to the surrounding cage, flowers, fruit, twigs and limbs, but they do reach up on our other fruits to eat but not much limb damage. This year, I've watched them take more satisfaction from the surrounding growth (we've let it grow) and have done a lot less damage.

Yeah - no more pruning it is!
 
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