Pruning our Apple Orchard

Orchard work is an all year long endeavor.  Holidays are over, trees are dormant and so out we go to start pruning. The moderately warm temperatures of late December provided us an opportune time to begin pruning in the apple orchards.  The ideal time to prune is when the trees have reached complete dormancy and temperatures are at or above freezing.  Most of the time for us this temperature range is not always feasible.  If temperatures are at 25degrees with no wind, you will find us donning insulated work clothes and taking the pruning  equipment out into the orchard.Pruning an apple tree

Why prune? Pruning is done during a tree’s productive years.  Pruning is indeed an art.  The process takes in analyzing the tree’s vigor and understanding the characteristics of each apple variety.  The decision to remove what branches from each tree is based upon how to establish fruit quality enhancement and how to stimulate tree vigor.  There is probably not a single pruning technique or method that is always perfect.  Each tree has its own unique characteristics and needs an individual touch.  Pruning is a continual learning process, putting into practice several basic concepts and rules.  Once you become familiar with tree growing habits and the basic pruning concepts you should be able to prune any tree with confidence.

Pruning fruit trees has several main purposes: control tree sizes, shape the tree properly and allow sunlight, air and spray to reach the fruit.  Just as we get haircuts to control and eliminate those “bad hair days,” we control the size of the tree with pruning.  Sizeable branches are removed to keep the trees from growing too tall.  Horizontal branches bear fruit but the vertical ones create the form, height and size of the tree.  Branches should be pruned so the initial fruit load actually helps position the branches downward or horizontally.  For fear they will ruin the tree, back yard orchardist sometimes refrain from cutting larger branches and treat the tree like a hedge, shearing off only tips.  This process will make a mess of a productive tree.  Shyness about cutting too much doesn’t help when pruning.  But again, it is imperative to learn what needs to be cut.

Sunlight on the fruit is vital for color and development.  Proper pruning makes the trees open so light can reach the inner branches.  Air movement around the fruit is also essential for disease control and development.  If fruit is not hidden under lots of leaves, it can dry quickly after a rain keeping bacteria from forming on the apple.  We create a thinning effect by removing branches that touch or rub against each other.  Branches that interfere with other parts of the tree are also removed.  Taking out some of the older bearing wood promotes new growth.  This pruning season we are removing much dead wood which is a combined result of the 2012 summer drought and the harsh winter of 2013 with its bitterly cold temperatures.  All trees took a major hit from these natural factors and that includes our fruit trees.

We start pruning in late December and depending on Mother Nature, we finish by mid March.    There are crews that can be hired to contract the time consuming process of pruning, but we still like to check and analyze each tree in the orchard ourselves.  This is something we still are able to do and it keeps us abreast of what’s happening.
We will be attending a Horticultural Show in Indianapolis next week.  We’ll certainly need a day off by then.   More than that, however, the show gives us the opportunity to meet representatives from Purdue University who keep us up to date on what’s happening throughout the state.

About Patty Doll

Owner, operator, picker, seller, customer service, and grass mower for Doll's Orchard, LLC.
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