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Summer pruning and training the high-density apples

Double-header apple treeI wrote last fall that high-density apples yield early and prolifically, but that you have to commit to lots of summer pruning and training to make that dream a reality.  With fruits well set on trees that are going to produce this year, the plants are now turning their energy to shoot growth.  Time to honor my commitment and give those dwarf trees some TLC.

The first thing I'm looking for at this time of year is double headers like the one shown to the left.  Since the nursery I bought the trees from headed (cut the tops off) the apples before shipping them, multiple shoots have a tendency to spring up right below the cut.  I want one central leader, so I pick my favorite, then rip the other one(s) off.

Side shoots are also starting to elongate at this time of year, and many varieties have a tendency to send that growth vertically, straight to the sun.  I don't want side branches competing with my Tall-spindle applecentral leader, and I also want to make the branches as horizontal as possible to promote early fruiting, so I took another pass through the planting to tie down branches so they look like the photo to the right.

Even if you don't have a dwarf apple tree that you're pruning in a high density system, now's a great season to spend a little time with your fruit trees.  Weighing down a few branches now or yanking off watersprouts before they harden off really pays off by prompting the tree to put all of its energy into the wood you want.  Just remember that for most trees, you won't want to make the side branches completely horizontal the way I'm doing for my high-density apples --- that's a way of keeping the plants compact and tempting out early fruits at the expense of a large canopy and longevity.

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Are you literally ripping off the shoots or figuratively? Just wondering how much you need to "baby" the trees?
Comment by Patrick Fri May 24 10:22:16 2013
Patrick --- It sounds harsh, but when shoots are new, ripping them off is actually pretty gentle. I hold the main stem and gently pull off each shoot, and only rarely do I cause any damage. Ripping is better than snipping because the latter leaves the base of the stem behind, which promotes more sprouts from that point. By ripping, you prevent sprouts from that area in the future.
Comment by anna Fri May 24 12:11:04 2013

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