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Pruning stunted trees

 
Abbey Myrick
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So, this is my first year trying to start an orchard. I did as the nursery recommended when I planted the trees last April: most were whips so I topped them, the ones that were feathered had their branches trimmed ect. All was well but then I spaced the followup pruning when branches reached four inches in length. I didn't end up pruning them until pretty late in the season I don't know if it was me spacing that pruning which would have given the trees a burst of growth or not but now I am faced with some really sad trees. Many are fine but many just have some puny little limbs or hardly any at all. When i look at them and think about trying to choose scaffolds in February I cannot imagine. The branches I have to choose from are more like meager twigs.

So my question is this: When you have a tree that did not branch much the previous year and your choices for scaffolds are either barely in exsistence or really sad, is it better to just treat them like a whip again and cut off the side branches and top it and try again? Does that work? Or if a tree is just slow in its first year, do you give it another year before choosing your lower scaffold branches and continuing with yearly pruning?

A few of the peach trees came to me from the nursery pretty tiny and weirdly shaped, they didn't grow up much...does this mean they need a little booster fertilizer? I avoided fertilizer last year per everyones recommendation.

That being said the Liberty trees kicked butt and I feel pretty confident about trying my hand at pruning them and the Green Gauge. I am sure the trees never cooperate as much as they do in the pruning diagrams but there are a few trees out there that just don't have anything TO prune. -_- Help!
 
Patrick Mann
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Location: Seattle, WA, USA
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If they have few branches because they lack vigor, then I'd hold off on pruning.
If they are healthy and just tend to grow vertically with few branches, then topping / heading seems like a good idea to force more branching.
You'll need to make the call.
 
Adam Klaus
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I would agree with Patrick that if the trees have low vigor, then I would not prune them at all. It sounds like may be something wrong with the growing conditions for your trees.

My three primary concerns would be- What is the weed pressure? Have you tested your soil? Is there adequate drainage?

Can you post a few pics of what the trees look like? Slow starts are not uncommon. I have planted 60 or so grafted fruit trees over the past few years, and they do not always grow as rapidly as the nursery would have you expect. I have found that less pruning in the first few years promotes better growth. Pruning as recommended by the nurseries seems to really stunt the vigor, to the point that the shapeliness of the tree is inconsequential.

good luck, and welcome to the forum!
 
Abbey Myrick
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Okay, that makes sense. Thank you!
 
Abbey Myrick
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When I planted them I laid down cardboard around them (leaving a 3 ft radius clear around the trunk for the roots to breath) then mulched lightly with wood chips well on their way to decomposition. They had some times when the weeds got away from me but I would say I did pretty good at keeping the weeds at bay for a good 6 ft radius circle. I also laid down drip irrigation. They are planted on a slight hill which admittedly has pretty varied drainage. The water table was far enough down but the soil seems to vary a lot on clay content. I did do a soil test but honestly its like a foreign language to me...not really sure what I am looking at.

I will try to take a picture today of an example!
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Castleton plum weird nursery shape
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Castleton bad branching some growth
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Liberty apple with good growth upwards but no branches
 
David Livingston
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I wonder if your peaches had leaf curl?

David
 
Adam Klaus
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One other thing, though it isnt really relavent today since the trees are dormant, but it may be helpful in the future and to others-

Foliar feeding first and second year transplanted trees produces really good results for me. My sense is that the newly transplanted trees simply do not have enough vigorous roots with abundant root hairs to pull up enough nutrition for vigorous growth. So I have taken to foliar feeding trace minerals every 2-3 weeks, and also foliar feeding with a dilute complete fertilizer like liquid fish, raw milk, or compost tea in between trace mineral applications. My results have been much, much better and more consistent with this regimine.
 
Abbey Myrick
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David Livingston wrote:I wonder if your peaches had leaf curl?

David


Well, looking over the trees the peaches actually did the best as far as new growth. Two of them did not grow up much although they did branch out nicely. Its surprising since they are at the lowest spot and I was worried about drainage. No curly leaves in the summer, however they did get blotchy re/brown spots on some leaves. It looked like a viral thing but only affected a few leaves here and there.
 
Abbey Myrick
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Adam Klaus wrote:One other thing, though it isnt really relavent today since the trees are dormant, but it may be helpful in the future and to others-

Foliar feeding first and second year transplanted trees produces really good results for me. My sense is that the newly transplanted trees simply do not have enough vigorous roots with abundant root hairs to pull up enough nutrition for vigorous growth. So I have taken to foliar feeding trace minerals every 2-3 weeks, and also foliar feeding with a dilute complete fertilizer like liquid fish, raw milk, or compost tea in between trace mineral applications. My results have been much, much better and more consistent with this regimine.


How heavy do you apply foliar fertilizer and do you continue to do so into maturity or just at the early stages of growth? What is in raw milk that the trees like?

ETA: to add that the peaches look good, one variety of plum (castleton) did badly while the other (Green Gage) did fine. All the apples had trouble branching and were hit hard with pests. Even the Liberty variety which grew vigorously up and out and avoided all most all of the cedar apple rust and leaf spot only put out on average two branches toward the top with decent crotch angles and diameter.
 
Leila Rich
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Abbey Myrick wrote: followup pruning when branches reached four inches in length...many just have some puny little limbs or hardly any at all...The branches I have to choose from are more like meager twigs

I'm having a similar experience with trees that were planted last season.
Some (pomes and plums) are doing fine, all other stonefruit are exceptionally miserable.
I'm doing no more pruning until the trees are healthy enough to take the trauma of losing leaf/wood.
I'll also be able to choose strong, well-placed scaffold branches rather than desperately settling on a skinny twig
I'm foliar spraying over summer, as well as making plans to dormant spray for leafcurl and black spot, as in this thread

There's also what orchardists call 'runting'; where major root damage, nutrient issues, waterlogging etc, etc can make a fruit tree, well, runty.
But I'd want to give them a few seasons with plenty of love before thinking about that much!

I know it's generally recommended to avoid high-nitrogen fertilisers on fruit trees,
but I'll be giving the weak growers a few doses of foliar and watered-in fish fertiliser, and maybe some sheep poo for good measure!

I may have missed it, but there's no seriously dwarfing rootstocks or natural dwarfs by any chance?
Just checking really, since most peaches are on their own roots and apples, the prime candidates for super-dwarfing, are doing ok
 
Abbey Myrick
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Leila Rich wrote:
I may have missed it, but there's no seriously dwarfing rootstocks or natural dwarfs by any chance?
Just checking really, since most peaches are on their own roots and apples, the prime candidates for super-dwarfing, are doing ok


Almost all the trees are on semi dwarf rootstocks. But the variation exists within each variety...some did okay and others didn't of one type. :/ Seems like some of them just had a hard time getting going after reading everyones posts on the matter. The apple trees had a big problem with cedar apple rust which probably didn't help and the Japanese Beetles decimated the leaves on my plums in summer. This year I am going to really try to be on the ball with the kaolin clay spray ahead of the beetles (weather permitting) and keep some of our layer hens up in the orchard for bug patrol. I hope they find japanese beetles delicious.

Everyone tells me in new york the apples trees just look like crud for the first few years due to the intense pest pressure. Organic orcharding in ny is often laughed at because of this. :p I'm going to try the foliar spraying and just baby them as much as possible I think.

But for the apple trees that grew upwards but didn't branch AT ALL....well, I think I will try heading them off and see if I can get some branches??
 
Kelby Taylor
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Location: SE Pennsylvania, USA
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My opinion would be to by and large leave them alone. Trees that young are not yet going to be developing a permanent structure, that won't be til years 4 or 5(and that height). They look 2 or 3 years at most. I didn't start developing my pear trees until they were almost 1.5" caliper, probably 5 years old. Assuming you started with bare root trees, they look as healthy as they can in January, and decent growth. Fruit trees are a game a patience, don't expect big things in year one.

The first plum you have shown, I'd cut off the two side branches. And that is the only pruning I would do. They are far too low to be useful unless you plan on having a bush instead of a tree. Aside from that, stake those trees so they are straight. Too much leaning can cause problems down the road (or might not, but better safe than sorry).

As far as apples, you will likely need to spray everything except Liberty. Liberty is just about the only no-spray apple out there...Enterprise and Spartan are close 2nds but still benefit from some help.
 
Abbey Myrick
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Kelby Taylor wrote:My opinion would be to by and large leave them alone. Trees that young are not yet going to be developing a permanent structure, that won't be til years 4 or 5(and that height). They look 2 or 3 years at most. I didn't start developing my pear trees until they were almost 1.5" caliper, probably 5 years old. Assuming you started with bare root trees, they look as healthy as they can in January, and decent growth. Fruit trees are a game a patience, don't expect big things in year one.

The first plum you have shown, I'd cut off the two side branches. And that is the only pruning I would do. They are far too low to be useful unless you plan on having a bush instead of a tree. Aside from that, stake those trees so they are straight. Too much leaning can cause problems down the road (or might not, but better safe than sorry).

As far as apples, you will likely need to spray everything except Liberty. Liberty is just about the only no-spray apple out there...Enterprise and Spartan are close 2nds but still benefit from some help.


Ah, that is good to hear. Everything I read about pruning just talks about "1st year, 2nd year, 3rd year" ect. but they never specify that the first year of pruning can start when the tree is five years old. I was under the impression I was suppose to start pruning these guys the following year after planting and that I must have done something wrong since they look too small. I'm glad they look normal. Thank you for the advice!
 
Michael Qulek
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Abbey, there are two general classes of pruning, either winter pruning which generally promotes growth; and summer pruning, which retards growth. Judging from the way you wrote your first post, I think whenever you did the second pruning, it acted to retard growth. I have to agree with Kelby in that you should just be leaving your trees alone for now. DO NOT expect them to have any fruit in the first year. In fact, if you see flowers, pluck them off to stop them from bearing fruit.

Emotionally, this doesn't seem to be right, but for the tree's overall health, and longevity, you want to minimize fruit production and maximize vegetative growth for the first year or two. For my own trees, I don't prune at all untill they are more than 6 feet tall, although this is more about keeping the bulk of the tree above deer's browsing height.

Getting back to nutrients, don't judge nutrient status by the size of things. Learn to recognize nutrient deficency symptoms by color. If the leaves of all the trees are bright to dark green all is well. Light green to yellowish means nitrogen deficiency. Redish/purplish color is phophorus deficiency. Yellow veins with green margins are potassium, while green veins and yellow margins means iron deficiency. You typically correct nitrogen an phosphorus deficiencies by adding them to the soil. Iron, maganese, zinc deficiencies typically might be corrected by a change in soil pH, but a quick fix is through folier applications.

Good luck!
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