I have an intrest in fruit trees and a depressingly small garden. Last year we visited the fruit collection at the museumtuin (= museumgarden) of Gaasbeek Castle near Brussels, Belgium. There is lots of interesting information about pruning fruit trees to make them suited for city gardens. I have not noticed this kind of info on this site so i tought to mention it.
The museumgarden has a lot of info permies folks could apply. The following links show some of it.
If you find yourself near Brussels this garden is definitely worth a visit.
You can buy trees on dwarf rootstock. G65 is a an extremely dwarf rootstock for apples that only gets 4-7 feet tall.
You can also summer prune trees to keep them at a low height. I keep all of my fruit trees under 12 feet, simply to make harvesting easier.
And if you want to get fancy, you can also graft multiple cultivars or varieties onto a single tree. One of these days when I have some time for it, I want to graft an apricot, plum, pluot, aprium and peach onto the same nematode resistant root stock, simply for the novelty of creating a "FrankenPrunus" tree.
O. Donnelly wrote:Check out Dave Wilson's Nursery on YouTube. They have an entire collection of videos on backyard orchard culture, where they discuss pruning and training fruit trees to a small size where you can work the trees from the ground. I'm addicted to their videos.
What's interesting about Tom Spellman, the guy on those Dave Wilson Nursery videos is that he seems to be getting more and more permie with each passing year. He's talking more and more about soil health, beneficial fungi, microbes, mulch, water retention, and the like. He never used to talk about any of that. Its good to see that he's growing and learning. Good stuff.
I've moved away from the aggressive pruning and chopping trees down to size because from everything I've read, it dramatically shortens the life of the tree. A peach tree that would grow 40 years now has a 20 year lifespan. If anyone has any research on this (confirming or denying), I'd love to see it. So I've taken a decidedly less invasive approach to pruning my own orchard. But I fully understand that for people with a small space, you can't just let a tree jump up to 15 feet high and dominate your entire space if you wish to grow other things. Luckily, I've got the space to let my trees grow.
I love Stefan Sobkowiak's approach to training limbs rather than just pruning them off. If a branch isn't growing the direction you want it, can it be pulled the direction you wish and held in place for a couple of years until it naturally stays there? I've done that all over my orchard and it's radically reshaped my trees, particularly the plums, pluots, apricots and apriums. Yanking the branches around and telling them where to go is far less traumatic on the tree than lopping the whole thing off. Its a nice way to space branches where you want them to be long term.
Here are some really old bonzai trees (non-fruiting): http://www.bonsaiempire.com/inspiration/top-10/oldest-bonsai-trees
Article mentioning 1000 year old pollarded oak and another old pollarded lime: https://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/infd-74elxu
and like that!
Here is a picture of my apples. In this photo they were in their third year of growth, we got apples the following year.
Tom Spellman on the videos claims he can keep any rootstock small with aggressive summer pruning. That's contrary to most of the advice out their in extension literature. But here you have a guy that's doing it on camera vs who knows who the extension author is and whether that person has ever seen a live fruit tree or whether he's just repeating the conventional wisdom...
I've trained my trees with a tall, central leader form in mind to date. However I've become intrigued with the Dave Wilson approach and will be trying it with a new batch of trees I'm planting this spring. It's all just one giant experiment anyway, so why not have fun with it, right?
I'm just a few years into my espalier, but it will be interesting to see how long my peaches are productive for. Of course, I've got enough room to grow full sized trees for the most part. I wouldn't like to maintain every tree I plant in this fashion.
Ann Ralph wrote an article in 2015 that summarizes her pruning methods, for those who can't get their hands on her book: http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/gardening-techniques/small-fruit-trees-zm0z15onzdel
Pruning trees has little if any effect on longevity of the tree.
It does however dictate shape and amount of light the branches receive.
To create a "weeping" tree you can; 1) prune so that only branches that naturally grow towards the ground are left. Or 2) use copper wires wrapped around the branches to bend and hold them into the desired shape just as we do when creating Bonsai.
Either method will work and they both take about the same amount of time, the Bonsai Training method will allow easier formation with more branches.
To our good fortune, our fearless leader has released this today, here on Permies! Pruning begins at about 1 hour 15 minutes into the movie.
EDIT! This was a limited time release. It is however still available on amazon. There is a link somewhere in the above mentioned thread. An excellent movie!