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Pruning in early winter, mid winter, late winter, early spring... what's the difference?

Posts: 225
Location: Estonia, Zone 5/6
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We have a small apple orchard established with trees I would say are 10+ years old that haven't been pruned in a long time. Lots of overlapping branches, and fairly overcrowded.

We want to prune for maximum yield, flavour and sweet juicyness for cider and vinegar creations.

I have read many differing opinions on when to prune, some say early spring, after the coldest parts have passed, some say other times - what's the difference?

I'm very new to this, but some of the apples didn't seem so great compared to others on the same tree... while other apples on the same tree seemed to be crispy and full of juice and flavour. Has this got to do with old branches or perhaps sick branches?

A few other questions:

Would a floury kind of apple have anything to do with a branch that has lost its vigour?

Does a younger branch create more sugar juice content apples or is this unrelated?

We had one tree that is quite large but must have only produced 5 apples. It looks like it could have produced 100's - but it's very overcrowded.

Thanks for any pointers!

Posts: 310
Location: Seattle, WA, USA
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I have also observed that the biggest and best apples grow on the younger branches, so pruning for branch renewal makes sense to me. However, those may have been trees with tip-bearing tendencies. For spur-bearing trees you'd want to allow enough time for spur systems to form.

I think a lot of the difference observed in fruit on the same tree is related to differences in sun exposure.

For apples, my rule of thumb is you can prune anytime, except late fall if you have hard freezes in your climate that would freeze new growth. Summer pruning tends to dampen the trees regrowth response and is good for e.g. managing vigorous trees; winter pruning tends to stimulate growth and is good for less vigorous trees.
Posts: 684
Location: Richmond, Utah
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Hi Rob,
I only prune to clear problems like overcrowding or branch on branch rubbing, I mostly do this in spring after the blossoms have fallen. I have managed the same orchard for 20 years now, at first pruning as I was taught, then not pruning and letting all the higher up apples freeze and feed the birds whenever there is a thaw. Yesterday there were maybe 200 birds noisily feasting on thawed apples. As most permies already know, all fertility comes from the wild, so enticing them to bring it to you is the easiest way to increase your harvest.
Don't worry about the tree with only 5 apples on it, apple trees don't produce every year. Next year that tree will be your biggest producer!
I have a closed system, no inputs and no waste output. The branches(only small branches should be pruned), leaves and fallen fruit is all buried in a sort of mini hugelbeet. Each tree has its own bed where I also grow early season vegetables in the spring before the trees fully leaf out and then grains and potatoes through the summer.
It's hard to express the changes this system has brought about because they are subjective, but I know that this is the way for me. I will be using and promoting this system for the rest of my life.
I posted a picture of our best apple tree here Mother tree photos
Rob Irish
Posts: 225
Location: Estonia, Zone 5/6
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Thanks a lot for this information.

Bill: the tree(s) I was referring to that only produced a hand full of apples also produced the same amount last year - is it likely a tree doesn't produce much of anything for multiple years in a row?

Would love to see more shots from your other trees - or do you prune them all the same as the mother?

We would really like to make the place much more fun for the wild. We did leave many of the high apples to freeze this year and it was really great to see the birds coming. I know this time last year there were no birds but they've stuck around because the trees weren't stripped bare so that is great.

Something else worth mentioning is that most of these apple trees don't have any nitrogen fixers anywhere near them. We do have a sea buckthorn stand near our smallest tree which is about 1/3 the size of the other trees, and it was cool to see how that one produced as much as the others and also the tastiest. It is also however a different type of apple as well.

Patrick: I'll have to do some more research to work out whether they are tip-bearing or spur-bearing. Thanks for mentioning that as I had no idea about it.
Posts: 6687
Location: Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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When a Fruit tree has to many branches (center of tree gets no sunlight) it is time to prune to thin the branches. First and foremost for pruning any tree is to remove any branches that cross over or under a thicker main branch.
Once you have those removed it is time to thin for sun penetration. This is where you will remove enough branches to allow sunlight to fall on every branch of the tree. This can be done by several methods; overall thinning, V center thinning, or triple V thinning (the least favorite of mine since this method can lead to issues later on). I normally use the center V method because it allows me to get to all the fruit easily as well as providing full sun penetration.

In France I have seen Apple trees that were pollarded every winter. These trees grow a Nob at the termination point of the trunk, from which all the new branches sprout in the spring, the varieties were all tip bearing trees.

I've never tried to accomplish this type of pollarding because it seems healthier, in my own opinion, for the tree to retain the main branches from a pruning session.

The way the tree sets fruit is also an important factor in how much to prune. If the variety is a spur bearer, you need to keep the last years growth since that is where the fruit will be set. If it is a tip bearer, then it is the new growth that will bear the fruit.
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