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To prune or not to prune?

Posted by Ethan Gouge 
To prune or not to prune?
September 26, 2020 07:50PM
My MM111 trees were put into the ground feathered in 2014. Now nearing the end of their 7th growing season in my ground they are approaching mature size. Other than year 1 crow's foot training I have done no pruning in hopes of the earliest possible first harvest. In some cases this has allowed crowded or near vertical branches and bushy looking trees. Am I taking this 'limit pruning for earlier production' thing too far? In the early years a stray shoot here or there didn't seem to make a difference, but looking at some of those 'shoots' 4 years (and several inches diameter) later seems to be hindering the spread and interior light of the tree.

Last year was my first small crop on half the 20 varieties with the other half still not bearing. This year a late frost made for a smaller harvest than last season. Based on that, I would like to expect my first marketable harvest next year (year 8 in the ground).

Should I:
1) Prune more aggressively this year to begin working out some of the over crowding and vertical growth? or
2) keep sitting on my hands another year or two until the crops are bigger?

Roan Highlands Farm 6b, Roan Mountain, TN elevation: 3200 ft.
Re: To prune or not to prune?
September 29, 2020 04:13AM
My 2 cents... start pruning out verticals and some of the crisscrossing branches and maybe a few scaffold branches if you have too many. good luck.

Pat

Brampton Lake Orchards

Zone 4a Upper Michigan
Re: To prune or not to prune?
January 31, 2021 03:41AM
Ethan -- what did you end up doing? I'm always struggling with pruning decisions but Pat's advice seems right on.
Also worth mentioning is that pruning cuts on larger branches often don't heal over well and leave exposed raw wood surfaces. In my area those spots usually/eventually get colonized by some fungal rot. So, if the branch has to go, better to do it when it's smaller rather than bigger.

Josh Klatt
Ohio River Valley
Zone 6b
Re: To prune or not to prune?
January 31, 2021 11:54PM
I think I'll take out large laterals that have gone vertical and are acting as a second central leader. I'm betting that since a late freeze got my crop last year the trees will be ready to put out apples despite a little pruning.

Roan Highlands Farm 6b, Roan Mountain, TN elevation: 3200 ft.
Re: To prune or not to prune?
February 12, 2021 07:57AM
Hey Ethan, here's my opinion. We planted 1 year old feathered saplings in 2013 on M-111. I pruned every winter, very lightly the first few, and we had crops starting at year 5. Years 6-8 our trees had so much fruit many needed branches tied or braced. I'm now pruning scaffolds back to strengthen the limbs, especially those that got bent down by the weight of the fruit, thinking about 2-4 years in the future (I just hate to cut out any buds/potential fruit! ) I'm no expert, but keeping the top as open for light as possible and keeping the height under control has worked well for our production on this rootstock. Also, for large branch cuts, I wait until a long stretch of dry weather before cutting those to help minimize fungal pressure. I'm hoping the frosts pass you by this spring!

Vista Ridge Orchard
Zone 8a in Washington
235 Cider and heritage apple trees, 72 varieties,
Re: To prune or not to prune?
March 24, 2021 04:19AM
Thanks Karen, that's helpful. I've been pruning this week and wishing I'd pruned on your schedule. I planted in 2014 on feathered mm111 and am only seeing a trickle of fruit. I think some strategic cuts every year would have helped keep shape, control growth better and apparently switch the tree into fruit production faster. Now that I'm pruning, I'm having to make some tough decisions to take out what could have been (3 years ago) nice scaffold branches that went vertical and are competing as the leader.
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