The orchard at Houghton Farm had been neglected for a number of years. To bring the trees under control, they were pruned hard last winter. Orchard Origins spent a day last week cutting out some of the unwanted shoots that had sprouted up in response. They were crowding the canopy and the centre of the trees and were preventing light from reaching the ripening fruit.
Pruning an apple tree hard in winter can cause the tree in spring or later in the growing season to push up thin, whiplike shoots known as water shoots or water sprouts. These succulent, fast-growing shoots do not produce flowers or bear fruit and only sap the tree’s energy. Their tendency to grow vertically also restricts air circulation and blocks light to the rest of the tree. Pruning them out will improve the tree’s vigour and health.
It is best done in late spring or summer, although care must be taken not to damage or knock off any fruit that are forming. Try not to remove more than a quarter of the canopy, including any branches pruned out in the winter.
Suckers, which are similar in appearance to water shoots, appear below the graft union or from the roots. If left, they will steal nutrients from the rest of the tree.
Water shoots and suckers should be pruned at the point where the shoot emerges from the branch or trunk, known as the branch collar. This helps the wound to cover over with new tissue.
Shoots that are surrounding an old cut are likely to come back if all of them are removed in one go. It is better to leave a couple of the stronger shoots and cut them back to an outward facing bud that could, once awakened, become a viable new branch. It will also help to suppress the growth of a new batch of shoots.