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Pruning fruit trees to make them suitable for small gardens

 
pollinator
Posts: 145
Location: Courtrai Area, Flanders Region, Belgium Europe
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Hey

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.

https://www.natuurenbos.be/museumgarden
https://www.google.be/search?q=museumtuin+gaasbeek&rlz=1C1GGGE_enBE462&espv=2&biw=1537&bih=1022&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjPu5zG98LSAhUE1RoKHcYoDSUQ_AUIBygC

If you find yourself near Brussels this garden is definitely worth a visit.

Greetings
Erwin
 
Posts: 77
Location: USDA zone 6a/5b
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wow i wonder what rootstocks they use...very motivating and interesting use of space
 
pollinator
Posts: 1376
Location: cool climate, Blue Mountains, Australia
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Espalier or ballerina apples which are not all that great but really space saving.
 
master pollinator
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Here's a video about how to cram a ton of fruit trees into a small backyard:  https://vimeo.com/168726623
 
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If you have little space available for fruit trees, there are a few options.

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.
 
Posts: 49
Location: Hudson Valley Zone 5b
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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.
 
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Ann Ralph's book Grow a Little Fruit Tree is a guide to growing and pruning full-sized fruit and nut trees to make them harvestable without a ladder and fit a large number of them into a small space. Much of the book is based on Dave Wilson Nursery's techniques mentioned by O. Donnelley, as well as Ralph's own experience.
 
Posts: 87
Location: Fair Play, Northern California
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Agree with Ann, above.  Ann Ralph's book Grow a Little Fruit Tree is super.  She worked in nurseries for many years and has taken her own advice in her own garden.  Her experience shows you do not need to get trees on dwarfing root stock for low pruning to work.  
 
pollinator
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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.
 
Tyler Ludens
master pollinator
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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The Westonbirt Arboretum coppiced lime (linden) is 2000 years old.  The original Bramley apple tree is 200 years old and appears to have been pruned throughout life.  Espaliered apple trees at Standen in Sussex are 120 years old. I'm sure there are many more examples in Europe and few in the US, I just don't have the patience to look them up right now.  I don't know that we can use these as typical examples of how long pruned trees will survive, though.

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!  
 
Angelika Maier
pollinator
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Location: cool climate, Blue Mountains, Australia
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If you have to net trees you have to keep them small. Here no net means no fuit.
 
Posts: 49
Location: Mid-Missouri
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Espalier apples and pears work very well in small spaces, I've planted mine as a living fence between my yard and a busy road but the technique really shines against a fence or a wall, especially on the south side of a masonry wall.  If you do this please double check that you choose apple varieties are spur bearing and not tip bearing. Also I highly recommend Katherine Aby's book on espalier for use as a guide. It is a very short, instructional book with pruning instructions for year one, year two, etc.

Here is a picture of my apples. In this photo they were in their third year of growth, we got apples the following year.

ESPALIER-APPLES.jpg
[Thumbnail for ESPALIER-APPLES.jpg]
ESPALIER APPLES
 
O. Donnelly
Posts: 49
Location: Hudson Valley Zone 5b
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Regarding shortened lifespan of trees:  is it the aggressive pruning?  Or the dwarfing rootstock that is the problem?  Because as has been mentioned, colonial era fruit trees and ancient hardwood copices seem to exist (on their own roots).

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?
 
gardener
Posts: 1870
Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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If you really want to see how intensive pruning impacts the life of trees, take a little time to look into bonsai. Some of those tiny plants are centuries old. These aren't special varieties grown only for bonsai, they're regular trees that have been knowledgeable pruned.

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.
 
gardener
Posts: 1534
Location: Officially Zone 7b, according to personal obsevations I live in 7a, SW Tennessee
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I've heard of pruning fruit trees into the form of a weeping tree for size control and ease of harvest. I have not found anything resembling a step by step instruction set. For me, a statement such as... prune to keep downward growth... is too vague. Has anyone run across instructions with pictures?
 
Posts: 79
Location: New England USA, Zone 7a
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So much good info on this thread.

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
 
gardener
Posts: 5738
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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What causes short life span of grafted trees is the rootstock, not the actual graft.
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.

Redhawk
 
Joylynn Hardesty
gardener
Posts: 1534
Location: Officially Zone 7b, according to personal obsevations I live in 7a, SW Tennessee
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One method of pruning, crating a columnar tree is shown in Permaculture Orchard: Beyond Organic. Stefan Sobkowiak uses wire to bring the limbs downward to his desired shape.
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.

https://permies.com/t/52894/Permaculture-Orchard-organic-Olivier-Asselin

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!
 
pollinator
Posts: 753
Location: Federal Way, WA - Western Washington (Zone 8 - temperate maritime)
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Good stuff!!  Just wanted to mention that many of the orchards on the other side of the Cascades have long been dwarf or semi-dwarf, for ease of harvesting, I think (among possibly other reason... like pruning, maybe?) Also, Erica Strauss, of 'NW Edibles' blog (now dormant and archived ... still a treasure load of information and fun!) tried the Dave Watson 4 trees in 4'x4' bed, and, IRCC, it ended being disappointing.  This was in the PNW, and she very carefully planned it.  I'd post a link to her review, but can't find it right now.  And Wilson and Ann Ralph garden in California, I think.  

Also, might try to find info on the Lorette System (French).  And I've hung weights on water sprouts and they've fruited well, if not lowered below the horizontal.  
 
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