Friday, October 20, 2006

Pruning apple trees

Now it's time to be thinking about pruning your fruit trees and bushes. Winter pruning encourages growth, and makes for a better crop next year.

If you have an apple tree in your garden, chances are it's dwarf stock, and you won't need much specialist equipment beyond a secateurs to prune it. Hopefully you will be able to reach all the branches fairly easily. If the tree is very old, or has really been neglected, you may need a small saw.

Once the leaves have all fallen off, and you can see the skeleton of the branches, you're ready for pruning. I have pruned any time between November and February and the tree has been fine. The colder the better, this reduces the chance of bacteria invading the fresh cut.

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Stand back and take a look at the tree. You're trying to reduce the size so that it will not overpower your little garden, and you're trying to increase the space between the branches within the body of the tree. You want to end up with an open, well balanced structure.

That said, don't worry if you get it a bit wrong. This is no worse than a bad haircut, time will fix it.

So once you have decided (more or less ) about the shape, start cutting. Cut just above a bud, at an angle. Try to make the cut as clean as possible - sharp secateurs will be the most help here.

After every few cuts, stand back, and see if you're getting it right. This may take some time, but it's a very satisfying feeling when you see a nice neat tree when you're finished.

Keep the cuttings - I found the long straight bits very effective for pea sticks, and for tying strings to mark where I had planted seeds. If you have a fireplace, I have heard that burning applewood smells great, but I have yet to experience this myself.


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