My friend, Mihku, who is a master gardener (and has also led some great workshops at the Hub), gave me more advice about pruning last Sunday. We looked at my young orchard trees, and she reminded me that these first few years are all about creating a good shape for the tree, thickening up the trunk, and creating strong scaffold branches, while not letting them get too leggy or long.
So for example, here is our peach tree before pruning (on May 27th). It looked bright and happy, and even had a few flowers, (which you can see if you zoom in). But the branches were quite long, and the tree is too young to give energy to making fruit this year. On the right foreground of this photo, you might also notice a very leggy branch from one of our cherry trees, dividing into new shoots at its tip.
The next day, I went back to my Holistic Orchard book to read what Michael Phillips had to say about pruning, too. It seems I need to read it at least once a year, because in between, I forget. There are different methods for different fruits. Apples and cherries prefer a central leader, with several scaffold layers of branches nicely spaced out as you go up the trunk. Peaches prefer an open vase style, in which there is no central leader, but the center is opened up to give good sunlight to the flowers and fruit. But it is far beyond the power of any book to give what a wise friend can give–especially for gathering the courage to actually do it. (It seems counterintuitive to do all that cutting of new branches.)
This kind of pruning at this season of the year is meant to encourage growth in the right form and direction. Mihku suggested cutting about 1/3 off from the long branches, and once again staking the cherry branches to make a better “crotch angle” (where the branch angles from the trunk.) They tend to grow almost straight up, and should be reaching out to form a 45-60 degree angle. Flat cuts at the end of branches will also help them to thicken up. Header cuts on the central leader, will encourage lower branches to grow–which was especially important for our Lapins cherry, which had a big gap between lower branches and higher shoots. I was excited to see that there were some new branches starting to form at a better height.
After I did the cherries, I went to the peach, picked off the blossoms, and cut away branches that were growing inward, to favor those that were growing outward. And those that I wanted to keep got about 1/3 headed off to help them become stronger, choosing a spot just above an outward facing bud.
Finally, I checked our semi-dwarf apple tree, which is still quite small, and found that there were three branch shoots reaching upward at the central leader–just like Michael Phillips suggested there would be, and I chose the strongest to be the leader, and snipped off the other two.
Pruning accomplished for the season! Thanks Mihku! (Disclaimer–I am a beginner in all of this–to learn more I recommend getting Michael Phillips book Holistic Orchard for much more information, or come to workshops at the Hub by Aaron Parker of Edgewood Nursery.) This post first appeared at findingourwayhome.blog