Too often apple trees produce a poor crop: the few apples that do form sit high up in the canopy out of reach. Why is this? Understanding where the domestic apple’s ancestors came from sheds some light on the problem.
The domestic apple, Malus pumila, isn’t native to Western Europe but originates from Central Asia. The foothills of the Tian Shan mountain range, on the Kazakhstan /China border, were once covered with vast fruit forests where apple, pear, plum and even apricots grew in abundance. Sadly, only small fragments of these forests remain today.
Traders, who travelled the Silk Roads, the ancient trading routes that linked China with Europe, would have passed through this area and dispersed fruit seeds and seedlings on their onward journey. From the European mainland apples and other fruit eventually made their way to the British Isles probably with the Romans and seafarers.
Most apple varieties, like their forebears in the forest, are still hardwired to grow upwards towards the light. Apple trees, and pear trees to an even greater extent have a natural tendency to produce a central leader. One of the functions of pruning is to stop this inclination to grow vertically and create a shape that is easy to harvest.
Apple trees are also reluctant fruit bearers. There’s no evolutionary imperative for them to produce fruit as they have a long life span. The necessity to generate a large crop to perpetuate the gene pool is limited. Pruning when done correctly puts the tree under stress which helps to stimulate fruit production.
If you would like to learn more about different pruning techniques, Orchard Origins is holding a series of training sessions led by orchard expert, and chairman of the Colwall Orchard Group, Tim Dixon. To find out more please contact us