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Why should I prune my new apple tree?

 
Eaton Wright
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I recently bought an apple tree at a nursery. It's on a dwarfing rootstock and will only get about 6-8 ft. When I bought it, the person who I was talking with from the nursery said that I should count up five buds from the bottom and cut off everything above it. I understand why pruning is important, I just don't understand why I should do that to my new tree.

There's really not too much to the tree to start with (maybe two or three feet tall--possibly 10 or so buds... sorry the pictures don't show the whole tree that well). Here are two pictures I took this morning. Sorry the one is not focused correctly.

 
elle sagenev
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I've most often seen this related as a knee pruning. Cut it off at your knee height. It super dwarves your tree. This could be a good thing, for some people. If you do not want to do it, then don't.
 
Patrick Mann
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As you say, super-dwarfing root stock means the tree will not grow above 6-8 feet. If the first branches end up 4 feet high, that's not much room left for more branches. Also, these trees are poorly anchored, so having a top heavy tree is more likely to result in leaning.
 
Ann Torrence
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You prune it to arrest apical dominance of the top-most bud. The tree's hormones are different in the lower buds; the top-most bud gets the message to push UPWARDS. That hormonal surge can dominate all the energy of the tree's growth. If you want a mere spindle, don't prune. Otherwise at this stage, you want to encourage branching. By nipping back the top buds, the tree divides its energy. Eventually, one of the new buds wins as the leader and goes straight up, but not before the others get a chance to grow.

However, I wouldn't prune it quite like the guy at the nursery said. I like to start mine about hip high. Michael Phillips says no lower than 28" to prevent fruit-laden branches from hitting the ground. Once you prune it (waste no time, do it right away before any energy gets wasted on those buds), choose 4-5 new buds right below the cut that are growing around the compass to keep. Rub off every time it sprouts below your chosen branches, just as soon as you can. Next year, you will have a mini-tree, with a new central leader heading up again. You might repeat the process to get a second layer of branches. If it were a larger tree, you might do it to get 3 tiers. In the third year, you can also think about bending branches downward to trigger fruiting hormones.

The first year we planted apples, I lallygagged on doing the initial pruning because it seemed like I was cutting off SO MUCH of the trees I'd just bought. That didn't do the trees any favors; now I do it as soon as I can after putting them in the ground. I have 75+ more trees going in next week and will hit them all with the pruners the day after I plant. I strongly recommend Stefan Sobkowiak's video, the Permaculture Orchard, and Michael Phillips books, to learn more about caring for your apples.
 
elle sagenev
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Ann Torrence wrote:You prune it to arrest apical dominance of the top-most bud. The tree's hormones are different in the lower buds; the top-most bud gets the message to push UPWARDS. That hormonal surge can dominate all the energy of the tree's growth. If you want a mere spindle, don't prune. Otherwise at this stage, you want to encourage branching. By nipping back the top buds, the tree divides its energy. Eventually, one of the new buds wins as the leader and goes straight up, but not before the others get a chance to grow.

However, I wouldn't prune it quite like the guy at the nursery said. I like to start mine about hip high. Michael Phillips says no lower than 28" to prevent fruit-laden branches from hitting the ground. Once you prune it (waste no time, do it right away before any energy gets wasted on those buds), choose 4-5 new buds right below the cut that are growing around the compass to keep. Rub off every time it sprouts below your chosen branches, just as soon as you can. Next year, you will have a mini-tree, with a new central leader heading up again. You might repeat the process to get a second layer of branches. If it were a larger tree, you might do it to get 3 tiers. In the third year, you can also think about bending branches downward to trigger fruiting hormones.

The first year we planted apples, I lallygagged on doing the initial pruning because it seemed like I was cutting off SO MUCH of the trees I'd just bought. That didn't do the trees any favors; now I do it as soon as I can after putting them in the ground. I have 75+ more trees going in next week and will hit them all with the pruners the day after I plant. I strongly recommend Stefan Sobkowiak's video, the Permaculture Orchard, and Michael Phillips books, to learn more about caring for your apples.


Not a single YouTube video I've seen that talks about it explains it like this. Now THIS makes sense to me. The videos mainly talked about keeping your tree short for picking. I'm glad I clicked back. You're a wise woman to watch! (I also like your blog!)
 
Stephen Mayer
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I've gotta ask though ... In the one straw revolution the author talks about letting the trees grow naturally without pruning. Had anyone tried this approach? Maybe wouldn't work as well with dwarf or super dwarf?

Cheers,
Stephen
 
Ann Torrence
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Stephen MayerIn the one straw revolution the author talks about letting the trees grow naturally without pruning. /quote wrote:
Was that for citrus? I don't recall that Fukoka was growing pome fruit. Two different animals, like cats & dogs.

Sure you could not prune it, but you would not get the benefits of a grafted tree.
 
Stephen Mayer
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The spirit of it is that if you prune you will always need to prune. Here's a good related post on this: http://www.permies.com/t/11230/organic/pruning-fruit-trees-hear
 
Ann Torrence
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IMHO, if you buy a dwarf tree, as did the OP, you commit when you put your cash down to prune. Different trees and strategies for different system elements. All good, so long as applied correctly.
 
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