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

Why summer train and prune apple trees?

Dwarf apple tree"Anna, you two seem to put so much effort into your highly managed orchard plot. What are the advantages of that effort vs just letting apple trees grow without interference?" --- doc

The advantages are more fruit faster, or at least so the theory goes. I'm too early in the experimentation process to say for sure whether it's working, but early results seem positive.

For example, take a look at the two trees in this post. Both are early transparent apples (aka yellow transparents). Both are on dwarfing rootstock.

The one illustrated in the top picture was planted in February 2009 and pruned using standard, minimal winter-pruning techniques. It seemed so averse to fruiting that I considered ripping it out a couple of years ago, but instead changed it over to a crazy looping method that I slowly morphed into my usual high-density training method. And this year, we finally have fruit on the limbs...although only seven apples over the whole rather large tree.

Loaded apple treeIn contrast, the second tree (same variety, same rootstock) was planted in late 2012 (so four growth seasons later). It's currently loaded with apples (36) and would have fruited last year too if we hadn't experienced a deep freeze.

I know many people enjoy the low-work approach and point to mature, standard apple trees that bear well with minimal pruning and training. The trouble is, those trees are humongous (one would take up a quarter of my garden) and they might not fruit for over a decade. A little extra work --- about 2 hours per month for all of our fruit trees combined --- really does seem worth a greater variety and volume of apples now rather than waiting until I'm completely gray to taste the first bite.

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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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I think more highly managed trees have a place in certain circumstances. For me, I have a very small urban space to work with and I kind of like fiddling with apple trees, and the look of nature shaped by the hand of man. So in that case espaliers are a good fit. I rather enjoy walking around most days past my handful of highly constrained dwarf trees and noticing what is going on with them while thinking about their fruitful future and what other varieties I want to graft on next year. I can watch the apples get bigger day by day, pinch and strap new growth here and there. And eventually I hope to be harvesting something like 50 kg of high quality apples of numerous varieties from 15 square meters of space at the back of the yard.
Comment by Holly Gates Mon Jun 6 12:23:24 2016
Holly --- What an inspiring comment! And the pictures on your website from last year are beautiful. I'd love to see a followup post just on your espaliers --- how you do the summer management, whether you have apples on the trees, etc.
Comment by anna Mon Jun 6 13:30:54 2016

Thanks Anna! Your posts and blog are an inspiration for a novice and part time garden enthusiast like myself.

I certainly plan on doing an update with plenty of pictures on the progress of the micro-orchard project at least once a year, possibly more. This year is mostly going well so far though as we all know the continuing challenges of gardending and growing fruit are enough to keep anyone humble.

  • Didn't have much dormant pruning to do, but I did snip a couple pieces to do scion trading with another member at which was cool.

  • I began the execution of my multi-grafting plans on these trees, adding 6 new varieties. Mostly cleft grafts with a few W&Ts thrown in. 12 out of 13 grafts are doing great, though aphid pressure is heavy this year and the new growth of grafts seems to be especially delicious for aphids.

  • dug up and replaced the one tree I killed last year with an ill-advised neem oil treatment as a prophylactic measure against borers

  • pinching new growth every couple days as the main summer activity, while periodically strapping the new growth I let run to the right spots on the training lattice periodically

  • All my apples on interstem rootstock wanted to fruit heavily this year (3rd leaf) but I thinned them down to a handful per tree since I want the trees to grow out more before spending too much energy on fruit. All the same, I hope to enjoy a few Rox. Russet, Gold Rush, and Opalescent in fall.

  • I stripped all fruitlets from my interstem Ashmead's Kernel since it is weakened by last year's raw neem incident and I'm hoping it will rally. Tried to help it along by attempting an inarch graft with a piece of G.30 rootstock planted right next to the trunk.

Comment by Holly Gates Mon Jun 6 13:51:32 2016

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