Saturday, March 12, 2011

Permaculture Pruning: Lesson Three

'Momma Red' proves that when the books tell you
a red delicious is supposed to make a good central
leader the tree may not agree. You have to be
willing to accept what the tree gives you.

The primary purpose of planting a fruit tree is to get fruit. This sounds simple, but most of the fruit trees I pass on the road are neglected, almost as a ritual. One of the biggest areas of neglect is in pruning.

Either people don't prune at all, prune once every five to ten years, or prune with reckless abandon with no idea of what they are doing. Of these three methods, I would rather see no pruning because when I'm called in to fix the tree, I can turn to what nature provided rather than what man mangled.

The decision of how you prune starts when you decide to buy a fruit tree. By the time you've bought the tree you already have to know if you have room for the tree you are getting. This includes height, width, and avoiding incompatible obstacles like the children's sandbox or your spouse's favorite rose.

And then there is the fruit. How do you prune for the best fruit? There are three widely used forms for raising temperate fruit. They do not cover all possibilities, but they are great tools for getting most jobs done.

Open Center This is my favorite because it can be used for many types of trees and because it is easy for me to climb and pick fruit. An open center tree is formed like a wide bowl or vase with the main branches coming out of the trunk anywhere from one foot up to about four feet up, pointing in different directions.

Usually four main, or scaffold, limbs are recommended, but I vary between three and five depending on what the tree gives me. 

If the type of tree is well suited to this form it will be easy to prune each year. Fruits that take well to open center pruning are: almond, apples (most), apricot, cherry (pie), fig, nectarine, peach, and plum (Japanese).

A nice open center prune job.
Top view of the above tree. Note the small fifth
scaffold limb. It fills a spot that the older limbs
were never able to use.

Central Leader This is what we think of as a 'classic tree'. It has a trunk that runs from bottom to top with scaffold limbs popping out in all directions from about three or four feet from the ground to nearly the top of the trunk.

The central leader form is often used for big fruit and nut trees that can not harvested from the ground. It is also used for shorter trees that have strong vertical growth, like pears.

Trees that do well trained to a central leader are: apples (red delicious, jonathan), butternut, cherry (all), chestnut, filbert and hazelnut, pear, pecan, and walnut (black and English).

This would be well on its way to a central
leader if it were not sick and dying.

Modified Central Leader This is the same as a central leader, but the limb that is serving as the 'trunk' is cut back somewhat short of its top.

Many years ago when I was just learning pruning, I thought of this as one of the best and most versatile ways to prune a fruit tree. Now, having rarely used it, I wonder if I have learned wisdom, or if I need to rethink some of my pruning.

Trees that do well with a modified central leader are: apple, apricot, cherry, pear, and pistachio.

Other forms that are used, but less thought about are:

Natural Form Citrus and most plums do well with only basic removal of dead, sick, and crossing limbs. 

This plum has done well for most of its life with
little help from me or anyone else. Now that it is
getting older I keep more of an eye out for dead
wood. I take a few live branches mainly to improve
sunlight for the remaining branches.

Multi Leader Service berries, filberts, and other trees that have a natural suckering habitat and no root grafting are usually right at home going somewhat amuck.

Double Leader Some trees are highly susceptible to diseases that are only treatable by removing all the infected wood, plus some. By providing a secondary, smaller leader you provide insurance against a bad infection on either of the leaders. This is my favorite way to prune pears.

Dozens of other systems for pruning fruit trees exist. But this is a solid list of the basic forms for a beginner to learn and the most productive for the average home owner.

1 comment:

  1. Thank You so Much! I have been learning as much as possible and am very happy I found this here!