The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Training newly grafted apple trees

New apple branchesMost folks will tell you to leave a grafted apple alone for its first year of life.  The goal is for it to grow straight and tall, into a one-year-old whip that is hopefully four feet tall (for an apple on MM111).

That makes a lot of sense if you want a tree to achieve its full height potential, but what if you plan to use high-density methods to fit more apples into a smaller space?  As our grafted trees surpassed waist height, it occurred to me that if I want branching to begin relatively close to the ground, I might as well break the apical dominance now rather than waiting until this winter to begin pruning.  The photo to the left shows what happens a couple of weeks after snipping the top off one of the whips --- new branches begin to form in the leaf axils of the top three leaves or so.

Branching apple

What next?  The photos above show an apple on MM111 rootstock that is several years older, and also several weeks further along in its top-snipping adventure.  As you can see, I've tied down all but one of the new branches so the tree will once again enjoy apical dominance while turning the horizontal twigs into scaffolds.  On a vigorous tree like this one, I've managed to snip the top off the tree twice this year (if I recall correctly), building two whorls of scaffolds in one summer.

I doubt our little grafted trees will put out much more growth this summer, but hopefully they'll sink at least a little energy into the new branches.  If all goes as planned, when I transplant them to their new homes this winter, they'll be a bit further along than the typical one-year-old whip.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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