Page 28 - Forest Row Local January Edition
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28 January 2021 • Forest Row Local
 Winter Pruning of Apple and Pear Trees
Now that the busy days of autumn tidying are behind us, the month of January is a good time for winter pruning of fruit trees. Without their leaves, the trees in their stark beauty allow us a chance to look closely at their structural form and prune accordingly. This article will concentrate on apple and pear pruning, as all stone fruits - plums, cherries and gages - should not be pruned in winter as they are susceptible to ‘silverleaf’ – a serious fungal disease transmitted through moisture in pruning cuts.
Fruit trees, like all plants, have a desire to propagate themselves and if left unchecked will try to produce as many fruits as possible. In the case of an apple tree, for example, they will try to revert to a wild crab apple - many dense branches bearing sometimes hundreds of small fruits. As gardeners we are trying to find a way to balance the wish of the tree for propagation and self-perpetuation with our wishes for good quality fruit, tree health and aesthetic enjoyment:
an inevitable compromise will have to be reached, personal to each of us and our understanding of what a tree is for. There are three basic rules to pruning of apple and pears, under the headings 1) light and air, 2) size and 3) renewal of fruiting wood. If we follow these rules then we have gone a long way to helping the tree reach the balance suggested above; further detailed, smaller scale pruning is still possible but is outside the scope of this article.
1)Light and air. To increase the health of a garden tree compared to their wild counterpart, it is helpful to allow more light and air into their crown. Both light and air are vital to the health of a tree and their
fruits: a very dense, unpruned tree will have many twiggy dead branches and often the fruits will not ripen well; one senses a kind of ‘matted stagnation’
in the crown, a feeling of ‘stuck’ air flow and loss of light. To obviate this we can remove a number of large crossing, old, or dying branches using a good pruning saw. Try to look at the tree from a distance and prune those branches which will not only create a more open framework, but with their removal might also make the shape of the tree more aesthetically pleasing. Cut decisively and generously, choose thicker branches over thinner and don’t leave short stumps which will die back, but rather cut as close
to the stem as possible. (NB it is important to cut above the branch bark ridge which is a raised, angled ridge visible at all branch junctions and is needed to help healing of the cut). As a general rule prune out
a maximum of an eighth of internal branches in any one year: more in a very neglected tree, less in a well- pruned one. Once we have finished with the saw there may be other smaller branches requiring removal
with secateurs, again crossing, old or dying branches should be chosen.
2) Size. The ultimate size of a fruit tree is dependent upon its root stock, so it is important to choose the correct root stock when purchasing a tree; a good nursery or garden centre will help with this. For those of us who have inherited large trees which feel too big for our garden we will have to make compromises. If the tree has a very vigorous root stock, no matter how much we prune them for size
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