Did you know that apple trees have existed in Ireland for almost 3,000 years? And that they are more than 7,500 varieties across the world?
That means if you wanted to live by the old saying an apple day keeps the doctor, it would take you over 20 years to taste every single variety. Better get busy!!
As we emerge from the winter slumber, the garden begins to awaken. The heaviest of frost and cold has hopefully passed. Spring is around the corner as the buds prepare to pop.
Now’s the time to look at your apple trees and prepare them for successful yields in autumn, this is winter or dormant pruning.
Winter pruning is carried out to correct or maintain the overall structure of your tree. As the tree lays bare it’s easiest to see the full tree, its overall shape and branching habit.
The equipment required must be first cleaned to reduce the likelihood of spreading diseases such as canker. I personally use a cloth with a small drop of methylated spirits to clean. I would recommend cleaning prior to pruning each individual tree to reduce any case of cross infection.
One of the most important things to consider before carrying out a pruning activity is how sharp the tools are.
Blunt or damaged blades will create poor cuts increasing the surface area and therefore the chances of infection or poor healing. Good quality equipment will prove more valuable for your pruning tasks.
To carry out the task of winter pruning you will need secateurs (smaller branches), pruning saw (medium branches), and a pole saw (branches that further up in the tree canopy)
Once branches have been removed from the tree ensure that they are removed from the site and disposed of. This again will reduce the spread of diseases or pests through your orchard. Please don’t put them into your compost heap as this may causes diseases to spread.
I recommend cutting no more than 30% of the overall tree per year. If the tree requires further pruning to maintain or correct the shape leave it to the following year. Pruning too much will dramatically affect the yields come autumn time.
Also, don’t cut to close to the stem, leave a collar, to ensure a sufficient surface area is available so that the tree can heal the wound successfully. This is better done naturally as well.
The main area of branch removal are:
- Diseased branches normally apple canker
- Damaged branches usually from wind damage or animals
- Crossing branches which result in an open wound
- Central branches that are closing the overall canopy and reducing light levels
- Branches that are causing the tree to have poor structure or balance.
For non-commercial apple tree training, a wine glass shape is ideal and allows for sufficient yields. It can make harvesting a little more tedious though as apples can be high up in the branches or between branches
Another recommended training technique is an espalier or fan shape. This is more commonly used for its aesthetic quality rather it’s productive value. Trees are trained flat along a wall by wires and allow greater exposure to sunlight, therefore, increasing ripening.
The commercial training technique is called a slender spindle system. This allows for a greater density per hectare and also allow harvesting to be quicker and easier. Although this may increase stress on the tree as a lot of pruning is required and may reduce the lifetime of the tree
Here are some are my favourite apple trees that I have found to be successful in Donegal
- Bramley Seedling
- Beauty of Bath
If you have any further queries, questions or would like to arrange a consultation please get into contact. ___________________________________________________________________