Pruning Young Trees

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Planting a cider apple and perry pear orchard at Houghton Feb 2013

Orchard Origins went back to the Houghton Project this week to prune the apple and pear trees we planted a year ago. Pruning a tree in its early years – known as formative pruning – helps it to develop a strong, basic branch structure.  As discussed in a previous post Winter or Summer Pruning, formative pruning is best done in the winter when the tree is still dormant.

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Newly planted orchard at the Houghton project Feb 2013

Last February Orchard Origins helped the Houghton project create a new orchard in a gently sloping field just behind the main farm complex.  We planted 240 trees  – a mixture of one, two and three year old cider apple and perry pear.

Two-thirds of the trees we planted were one year old ‘maidens’. This is their first winter after planting and it is now time to prune back any side shoots or ‘feathers’ to 2 or 3 buds. Next year these side shoots will be cut back to the trunk. This two-step process will encourage the tree to grow a sturdy, well-formed trunk. At this stage the central leader is left unpruned.

Pruning back to 2 or 3 buds at a training session

Pruning back to 2 or 3 buds at a training session

In subsequent years any new side shoots will be pruned using the same method – first to 2 or 3 buds and then back to the trunk – until the central stem or leader has reached the desired height.  The purpose of pruning in the first few years is to help the young tree form a strong, upright trunk. Pruning feathers without first cutting them back to a couple of buds encourages a much weaker trunk to develop.
Planting 2 and 3 year old 'maidens' at  Houghton Farm Feb 2013

Planting 2 and 3 year old ‘maidens’ at Houghton Farm Feb 2013

The other trees we planted were two and three year old ‘maidens’.  The central leader on these trees is now at the desired height and is ready to be pruned to establish the trunk. As this orchard will eventually be grazed by sheep and possibly cattle, the trees will be pruned as standards so that the lowest branches are out of the animal’s reach.  We will be discussing how to do this in a future blog post.

One thought on “Pruning Young Trees

  1. Pingback: Heading A Young Tree | Orchard Origins

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