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Central Leader Flop

Posted by Sam Lindenmuth 
Central Leader Flop
January 23, 2021 12:46AM
Hey Folks!

Was looking to see if anybody had some insight on a situation I’ve come across in my orchard. Last season I pruned all of my Apples, Pears, and Asian Pears to what I thought was proper (central leader, scaffolds every 2-3 feet, etc.). By summer many of them seemed to flop over about 2-3 feet from the top of the leader. Some sent out water sprout just below the bend seemingly to replace what had toppled over. I’m wondering if anybody could maybe hint at what caused this to happen? I thought it could have been heavy rain and high winds combine but it would seem that all of my trees (some being much smaller and much more tender) would look the same. Additionally, I must now figure out what to do with them. Do I prune of the main leader and allow one of the water sprouts to take its place? Find a way to bend the tree back into position and hold it there? Any advice or information would be greatly appreciated. These trees are young and were just beginning to kick into gear so I’d love to take the best step forward to fix this.

Thanks in advance!

Blackmore Farm
Hawley, PA

Zone 5b
Re: Central Leader Flop
January 26, 2021 04:05PM
Hi Sam,

Your situation sounds so familiar, but I doubt it has the same cause as ours. We have struggled for years with native morning glory vines on any young trees. The vines are so vigorous and plentiful that they are capable of climbing a tree, pulling it down with the vine weight, and tethering it to the ground. We lost lots of central leaders (and trees, outright) in our orchard because we were swamped with other work at a time when we needed to be bushwhacking morning glory vines. While they are still a huge problem in the orchard, aside from watching any re-plants closely, the loss of central leaders is no longer a huge issue for us now that the trees are in their 12th year out there.

As you described, in cases where a central leader has been pulled down, the tree will put out some vigorous new growth, sometimes a water sprout, sometimes not, right where you'd want a central leader if you weren't still mourning the loss of your old one. In the past we've either pruned to favor that new central leader sprout or given up the central leader system altogether and pruned to create a double leader tree, etc. However, a couple years ago, we started playing around with tying up and tethering the old central leader on some of our older trees where we had just sort of let that leader go, cattywampus, no longer particularly central, but growing dominantly enough that we couldn't bear to prune it out. We use 12-foot t-posts to do this, and so far, it's worked great. Since you're dealing with young trees, it should be even easier for you to get back on the right path.

As I said, I can't imagine that morning glory vines were your problem (you would have known it), so I'm scratching my head at your potential cause. Don't know how many trees you have -- could it be an animal issue (something too heavy for the tree climbing it or perching on it for prolonged periods)? Otherwise, my vote would be for wind. There's nothing much between us and the Blue Ridge Mountains but a barbed wire fence, and we've got the wind. We don't/didn't stake our trees, but try/tried to plant "into" the wind (position the tree such that even the slightest deviation from straight is pointing into the wind to help compensate being blown back in the opposite direction with the typically prevailing wind). We also have a fair amount of windblown trees in our orchard where, again, lack of time, meant we didn't correct their growth in any way before it became permanent, and we do have some pretty good leaners out there that we've worked with over the years, to try and correct to some extent. But to your statement that you'd expect all the trees to have been blown similarly, I would say, logically, yes, that's what I would have expected, too, but you'd be surprised. Depending upon your topography, the wind direction may be changing more frequently than you'd think, and in the end, some trees go one way, others go another.

Kordick Family Farm
Westfield, NC
Zone 7a
Re: Central Leader Flop
February 18, 2021 11:31PM
Thanks a ton. This info will really help me out moving forward. And good luck with the morning glory battle, seems like a struggle but i wish you the best!
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