Thursday, February 9, 2012

Pruning Our Apple Trees

Way back in 2006, we planted two apple trees in our back yard. I had dreams of applesauce, apple crisp, and, of course, fresh, juicy apples.

I'm still dreaming. I haven't had so much as a blossom from either tree yet (I should note that these are standard trees, not dwarves, so it is normal for them to take longer to mature - but this is getting ridiculous!)

Of course, everything I read about apple trees said that they should be pruned yearly from the start, to promote fruiting and allow enough light through the canopy - and we hadn't pruned either of our trees at all. Ever.

Last year it was evident that the overcrowded branches and wet weather were taking their toll, and so I decided to read up on pruning and do something about my poor trees.

Apparently the best time to prune apples is while the trees are dormant in early spring, which is also when the bacteria aren't as active so there is less chance of fireblight infecting the tree. So my husband went out last Saturday, UW extension publication in hand, and did as major a pruning as he dared.

Tree #1 - before pruning

Tree #1 - after pruning
 (Sorry about the odd shadows - the "before" pictures were taken in the early morning, while there was still frost on the trees. The "after" pictures were taken in the late afternoon in full sun.)

Tree #1 seemed the most hard hit by whatever bacteria was attacking my trees last summer (it was also the one that was most tangled and overgrown). It wasn't exactly a life-threatening problem, but I figured it was best to try to nip it in the bud before it got any worse.

We are attempting to prune to a "Central Leader" system, in which there is a vertical central leader (main stem) and two or three tiers of "scaffold" branches, giving the trees a strong framework, with plenty of light penetration and air movement (and, hopefully, easier picking).

It still looks overgrown to me, but my husband is naturally more cautious about such things (which is a good thing - I probably would have taken half the tree off! It's best to prune no more than 1/3 of the tree at a time, so we're going to need to do a little bit each year until we get to a normal maintenance level.)

Tree #2 - before pruning

Tree #2 - after pruning

It's a start, anyway. Hopefully the trees will do better this year, with more airflow between the branches (and better weather). 

Meanwhile, I'll keep dreaming of apple blossoms . . . 

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