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How to prune

 
Posts: 39
Location: Northern Somerset Co. in PA
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I know it's a busy time, but if you have a few minutes I need some thoughts on pruning.  Here are 5 pics. from different views.  This is a 2 year old Red Astrachan (we think) and being naïve I didn't think I should prune before now…what do I know.  It has some bottom branches for the first scaffold, but then it has a long central leader with no branches before it "splits" at the top.  So to train/prune this tree what suggestions do you have...or maybe a good website video?  But I've watched a number of videos and there seems to be several options.
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master gardener
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Location: Zone 7b/8a Temperate Humid Subtropical, Eastern NC, US
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Great looking apple tree Bill!

There's a lot of videos out there that would say to chop off a good portion of the top of the tree, which is what I used to do.

However, from my recent personal experience though where I've taken a more natural approach, I've seen a lot of benefits from very minor corrective pruning, doing it only if really needed, especially if you've got the space for this to become a full sized tree.

The only cut I would make on your tree, would be to take out the secondary limb near the split section at the top.

Branches should start forming on the long top section this year, and I think I can see from your great photos a few large buds that should form these new branches. With a well defined leader, they should also have pretty good naturally spreading limbs with good crotch angles.

You could tie down the current limbs to make them a little more horizontal this first year to help define the central leader better, but shouldn't need to do this in the future.

Hope this helps and hope you have a good harvest soon!
 
pollinator
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Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Personally those low branches look too low for my preferences. I like everything to be a bit higher off the ground for ease of access and to keep weeds grass down. As for the rest, bending lateral branches down to near horizontal, or just above, will help encourage fruiting spurs and give the main stem a clear dominance.

My own experience of young trees like that is that, if allowed to fruit, the thin branches can bend the branches right down low, resulting in a misshapen tree. Be prepared to sacrifice some fruit this year in favour of getting your main structural branches set where you want them. Shortening those branches can help as well, once they are set at the angle you prefer.
 
Posts: 16
Location: Western WA, Olympic Peninsula, USDA Zone: 8b
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Hi Bill:

I'll chime in.  This will sound like the old joke about asking 3 people how to prune a fruit tree and getting 4 different answers...

Over the past 40 years of playing with pruning systems on many, many fruit trees (I currently have 62 trees in our home orchard) I've personally concluded that there is almost no wrong way to prune a fruit tree.  I have made multiple, what I would now consider "dumb mistakes", when pruning fruit trees and all in all it has not mattered much in the grand scheme of things and the trees have done just fine and produced well despite my mishaps.  So my first bit of advice would be don't be afraid to experiment and see what works for you in your particular area, in your particular climate and with your particular tree rootstock.  A corollary might be that just because I like to prune a certain way doesn't necessarily mean that it will be right or work well for you.  So you'll have to ask yourself what is it that you personally want to accomplish with your apple tree?

OK, you asked about videos.  My "go to" system is Dave Wilson Nursery (DWN) Backyard Orchard Culture.  If you search YouTube you'll find lots of videos on pruning and other topics that DWN has posted.  Good stuff IMO.  Their mantra is winter pruning for "architecture" and summer pruning for overall tree "size".  Given my soil and climate conditions, I prefer vigorous and semi-vigorous rootstock for my apples trees (M106, B118, M111 and standard) but don't want 30 or 40 foot tall mature trees.  So I have become a firm believer in summer pruning.  I have 20 year old apple trees on standard rootstock that are about 10 feet tall and are relatively easily maintained at this height with summer pruning.  Most of my apples are on M111 and are kept at about 6-7 feet tall.

I've also moved away from central leader pruning for my apple trees over the past dozen years or so and prefer a modified central leader or even an open vase style as one would traditionally use on prunes or plum trees.  I'm a fan of this open architecture for apples (as well as for my other fruit trees).  So now that you have a feel for my personal bias with respect to home orchard pruning, what I would do if this were my apple tree would be to remove the tall central leader entirely to give me the aforementioned preferred modified or open architecture.  I would leave all of the other branches for now as I think you have a very nice tree aside from the disproportionately tall leader.  I would likely bench cut the taller side scaffold branches (with summer pruning) to begin to develop the L-shaped scaffold limbs that I prefer.  Weighting the limbs during the growing season would accomplish this as well.  As the tree grew taller I would then begin to select which of the lower branches I would remove all the while continuing to maintain overall height of the tree via summer pruning.  FWIW, the lower branches on many of my mature apple trees are generally somewhere in the knee to mid thigh range.

Anyway, my $0.02

-Michael
 
pollinator
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Location: Ashhurst New Zealand
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I'll echo what Michael just said: If you prune a tree and don't kill it, you've been at least partially successful.

The only thing I would do for certain on this tree is remove one of the twin leaders at the top. That angle is too small to cure and will become a weak crotch that is liable to split the tree down the middle someday if allowed to remain. You could try starting with a modified central leader plus scaffold and see how you like it, then successively shorten the leader as the years go by to transform it into a vase. I've done this with several apples and pears and it's working out pretty well.
 
Bill Weible
Posts: 39
Location: Northern Somerset Co. in PA
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Thanks for the information...lots to consider.  I did snip off the smallest of the lower branches before viewing these posts, but what's done is done.  What is the best material to use to tie down the branches?  Can a branch be trained to "bend" left or right to give the plane of the scaffold a better balance (more even spacing around the trunk)?  I'm going to look for videos of pruning for a modified central leader.   And will search for DWN  Also need to review bench cutting.  Thanks for the advice!  In the background I have other grafts coming.  This is a tree from my family homestead (carved out of my grandfather's farm) that we are trying to save.  We think it is a Red Astrachan.   But my Dad always called it the "Cow shit tree"...cow took a shit and the tree grew.  It was pasture land when he was a boy.   Fruit comes in late in July or early August...sweet and tart.   Now my cousin's want me to try and graft a St. Lawrence and Maiden Blush from their homestead!  
 
gardener
Posts: 6622
Location: Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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I would suggest (photo 1 is what I am going by)  taking off the bottom three branches and the left leader which will give the tree a nice single top and raise the lower end of the tree for a good looking trunk length.

Redhawk
 
Phil Stevens
pollinator
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Location: Ashhurst New Zealand
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Tying or weighting branches to bend them is a great idea. Don't do it yet, though...wait until early summer when the sap is really flowing and the branches are at their most supple. Also, don't bend all at once, as this can lead to broken limbs or ripped crotches. Do it in increments, increasing the tension or weight every few days. Use some padding where the twine wraps around the tree to prevent cutting or girdling the bark, and be ready to loosen and retie a few times over the growing season.

Another thing: If you lop off the leader below the fork, you will stimulate some new side branching a little further down in that blank area. That might be worth doing.
 
Michael Journey
Posts: 16
Location: Western WA, Olympic Peninsula, USDA Zone: 8b
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Bill Weible wrote:What is the best material to use to tie down the branches?  Can a branch be trained to "bend" left or right to give the plane of the scaffold a better balance (more even spacing around the trunk)?



I use discarded plastic water bottles that I pull from trash cans or pick up along the road side.  Better serving a purpose on my tree that clogging up the landfill.  I take a piece of string and tie it around the mouth of the bottle.  Then cut the string several inches long and tie the free end loosely on the limb that I want to "bend down" toward the end of that limb.  The closer the bottle is tied to the end of the limb, the more arc or curve you'll end up with on that limb once it's trained.  Unscrew the bottle cap and pour in water until you have the amount of bend you seek from the weight of water inside the bottle.  Screw on the cap and you're done. Easy peasy.  

To bend or shift a limb right or left I drive a tent stake in the ground at about the point that I want to bend the limb sideways.  I again use a piece of string and tie it to the top of the stake and loop the free end around the limb that I want to bend right or left.  Move the limb in to position and loosely tie it off around the limb to hold it there and you're done.  Once again easy peasy.

Usually after 3 or 4 weeks you can remove the bottles or stakes and the limb will stay in position.  If not, put the bottle back on and wait a few more weeks and it will stay put at that point.
 
Michael Journey
Posts: 16
Location: Western WA, Olympic Peninsula, USDA Zone: 8b
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Michael Journey wrote:

Bill Weible wrote:What is the best material to use to tie down the branches?  Can a branch be trained to "bend" left or right to give the plane of the scaffold a better balance (more even spacing around the trunk)?



I use discarded plastic water bottles that I pull from trash cans or pick up along the road side.  Better serving a purpose on my tree that clogging up the landfill.  I take a piece of string and tie it around the mouth of the bottle.  Then cut the string several inches long and tie the free end of the string loosely on the limb that I want to "bend down" with the bottle placed toward the end of that limb.  The closer the bottle is tied to the end of the limb, the more arc or curve you'll end up with on that limb once it's trained.  Unscrew the bottle cap and pour in water until you have the amount of bend you seek from the weight of water inside the bottle.  Screw on the cap and you're done. Easy peasy.  Play with it a bit to figure out the best placement spot on the limb for the hanging bottle to acheive the "architecture" that you seek for your trees.

To bend or shift a limb right or left I drive a tent stake in the ground at about the point that I want to bend or shift the limb sideways.  I again use a piece of string and tie it to the top of the stake and loop the free end of the string around the limb that I want to bend right or left.  Move the limb in to position and loosely tie off the string around the limb to hold it there and you're done.  Once again easy peasy.  Be a little careful though, if you pull or torque the limb too far sideways it can break the limb.  Yup, I've done this several times hence the word of caution.  As I mentioned in my initial post, no worries, a trees will do just fine even if you have to cut down a broken limb.  After you've done it a few times you'll develop a feel for how far you can bend a limb without breaking it.  Incremental bends over time work well if a limb needs to be shifted a lot.

Usually after 3 or 4 weeks you can remove the bottle(s) or stake(s) and the limb will stay in position.  If not, put the bottle back on and wait a few more weeks and it will stay put at that point.

 
Bill Weible
Posts: 39
Location: Northern Somerset Co. in PA
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Again thanks to all for the suggestions...I was going to use old pantyhose from my wife with stakes but wonder how the high winds, gusts of 40 - 60mph we now have in our area (all new in the last 10 years) might cause damage to he limbs.   I like the water bottle idea but might wait for a little more sap flow before tying any just yet.  We all agree the short tine of the fork needs to go.  I'll keep posting as things progress.
 
pollinator
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Location: Zone 8b Portland
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Personally I wouldn’t prune it at all. It looks to be growing in the natural form and has good branch spacing. I prefer minimal pruning when possible. Every cut creates more work 😊
 
Bill Weible
Posts: 39
Location: Northern Somerset Co. in PA
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Hello, I am back with a hopefully simple question...what is the best short blade (10 inches or less) pruning saw?  Especially the folding kind.  I will be doing a limited amount of pruning.    I will have more pruning questions and new pictures before too long.  Thanks, Bill
 
Michael Journey
Posts: 16
Location: Western WA, Olympic Peninsula, USDA Zone: 8b
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Bill Weible wrote:Hello, I am back with a hopefully simple question...what is the best short blade (10 inches or less) pruning saw?  Especially the folding kind.  I will be doing a limited amount of pruning.    I will have more pruning questions and new pictures before too long.  Thanks, Bill



Hi again Bill.  Pruners, saws, orchard ladders... is a bit like asking your favorite brand of truck, chainsaw, underwear, etc.  Sort of the Felco vs. Bahco hand pruner routine.  Anyway, I've tried multiple saws over the past decades and my personal favorite is the Silky Professional Series (GomBoy) folding saw.  More expensive than your typical Home Depot offering but built to last a lifetime with a guarantee to match.  I have several of these saws in our orchards and they hold up to heavy use year after year and retain their super sharp edge very, very well.  I like Silky Pro folders but YMMV.

-Michael
 
gardener
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I agree with Michael. I love my Silky saws.
 
Bill Weible
Posts: 39
Location: Northern Somerset Co. in PA
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So far everyone I've heard from likes the Silky, but for less than 100 cuts a year is the expense (25 bucks or more.) worth it?   Is there a 2nd choice?  Or is the Silky just that much better?
 
Sonja Draven
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That's a question only you can answer, Bill, based on your priorities and budget. $25 might be a lot and something you'd rather spend on something else. I know it's tough to decide and something I struggle with too.

I did realize recently that for quality items that will last the rest of my life, that I have the cash for and continue to make due without but someday will buy because it hurts to spend money today.. I'm foot dragging and missing out on the pleasure and benefit of using that item for more of my life. .. It helped put things in perspective.

I don't know if that's at all applicable to your situation. Pruning isn't my favorite thing. I'm still very much learning and I feel anxious about it. But I have found that having a set of good saws helps keep the frustration to a minimum and make it more enjoyable.
 
Posts: 104
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Samurai brand is also nice...but will cost around the same as Silky. The Samurai saws cut so well that it make the prices worth it as it works SO WELL!
 
Bill Weible
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So when you use your Silky, how many stokes do you think it takes to cut a 1 1/2 inch branch...does it fly through it?  I was just using my "el cheapo" saw from harbor freight and it took longer than it should have.  But what do you want for 5 bucks?  I actually had to stop part way through! And, even at 66, I'm not in that bad of shape!  
 
Sonja Draven
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I've never counted but yes it flies through with that size. I've only had to stop and rest when using my larger Silky on a thick, old angled branch on my apple tree. Overhead and other branches in the way too...  THAT was a workout. Which isn't always a bad thing...
 
Michael Journey
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Location: Western WA, Olympic Peninsula, USDA Zone: 8b
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I agreed with Sonja- I was raised by parents who taught me to buy the highest quality tool available and then care for and maintain that tool religiously.  Quality will provide a lifetime of use.  Thereafter you can pass on said tool to your grandchildren.  My version of sustainability I suppose and counter to mainstream cheap import throw away production.

I also agree with Ben.  Samurai saws are superb.  In fact my fixed blade saws are Samurai and they are top notch.

Bill, something else to consider aside from the speed of cut from a quality saw.  That is the saws we're talking about provide a very clean cut.  Essentially no raggedness at the periphery of the cut which heals smoothly.  I belong to the fruit tree "winter prune for architecture, summer prune for size" school of thought.  So for the past month or two I have been cleaning up tree architecture in my orchard.  In wandering amongst my trees and looking at branch removal cuts from prior years made with these saws, every single one is a nice uniform well healed callus at the branch collar.

Not trying to spend your money Bill, just a little more food for thought.

-Michael
 
Bill Weible
Posts: 39
Location: Northern Somerset Co. in PA
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So large tooth, medium or fine....if you could only buy one which would it be?  Or which is best for most pruning cuts one would make?

Michael, don't worry about spending my money....it's not really mine anyway, in the end. And I have a hard enough time spending it myself!  
 
Ben Gorski
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I would go with the Samurai Ichiban which has bigger teeth than the fine tooth Samurai Challenge Curved Pruning Hand Saw.


the Ichiban will work for general pruning best based on my experience.

ALSO be super careful whilst pulling the SAW out of the scabbard...I cut my finger, luckily it was WInter and I was wearing thick gloves so not too bad....these saws are RAZOR sharp and light in the hand.
 
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