The Suburban Orchard

For a regular suburban block, Tamar Cottage has quite a few fruit trees … a suburban orchard one might say. It is important for a short person to be able to reach their fruit. To do this, the fruit trees need to be pruned to a manageable short person size, so I’ll be going through a few short person pruning tips. For someone who is vertically challenged, it is always a good idea to get some help from almost husband ….  

Summer pruning deciduous trees is important in a small garden to slow down growth. The main reasons fruit trees are pruned for:

  • Shape – ensures a strong framework of branches to support a heavy crop and pruned into a convenient size and shape for access, netting and harvest.
  • Fruit – pruning deciduous trees while still in active growth promotes new fruiting wood to grow within reach.
  • Longevity – removal of deadwood, diseased parts and reducing stress on a tree.

Deciduous fruit trees found at Tamar Cottage:

Apricot Tree
Nectarine – given a hard prune early this season due to leaf curl issues and sheer size.
Trixzie Peach
European Plum
Japanese Plum
Apple – Pink Lady
Trixzie Green Pear
Cherry – 2 different types here, attempting to espalier on the veranda rails ….

Deciduous trees drop their leaves in autumn and become dormant over winter. Branches tend to grow upright. The strongest growth comes from the top bud (apical dominance) on the branch. If this bud is removed, other buds further down the branch have more opportunity to grow and produce fruit. This can be exploited to change the size and shape of the tree. Dormant buds can be encouraged into growth by training branches into a more horizontal direction.

Winter vs. Summer Pruning

Most deciduous trees benefit from a structural prune in winter. The disadvantage of winter pruning is that it takes cut surfaces a lot longer to callous and heal in cool weather, creating the perfect disease entry point. In summer, pruning cuts heal quickly and a barrier is formed which keeps moisture in and disease out. Summer pruning helps facilitate the next crop of fruit, allowing the tree time to grow new wood.

Winter pruning of deciduous trees is useful for initial shaping of young trees and for renovation of an older tree (removing large branches) when the tree is bare, however regrowth tends to be more rigorous and less productive, so follow up with summer pruning.

How-to Guide to Pruning

  1. When pruning, consider overall tree shape, productivity and aesthetics.
  2. There are 3 basic shapes; central leader, vase and espalier.
  3. Keep several main branches that have a 450 angle from the trunk, to ensure strength for carrying a heavy load of fruit. These scaffold branches should be ideally spaced 10-15cm apart on the trunk. Fruit buds are plumper than leaf buds and are clustered together in groups of 2-3.
  4. New branches form from leaf buds. Pruning stimulates the branch to send out new branches, resulting in the fruiting area multiplying.
  5. Remove dead and diseased wood, cross-crossing branches and spindly growth.
  6. Open the centre of the tree for ventilation and light to reduce disease and improve ripening.
  7. Trim back most of the new growth by approximately 1/3 or bring tree down to preferred height. Shortening thin branches makes the tree sturdier as fruit is heavier when further out on the branch.
  8. Generally, cut just above a bud that is facing in the direction you want new growth to go (usually outward facing). Several buds below this will also produce new growth, so it is important to note what direction they are pointing to.
  9. If converting a central leader to a vase shape, cut the main stem just above the selected scaffold branches.
  10. For a small branch to form a fruiting spur, cut just below the bud to encourage a new spur and discourage vegetative regrowth. Make clean cuts, slightly angled, ideally parallel to new growth.
  11. If removing a heavy branch, shorten and lighten the branch first, then undercut to prevent tearing, then complete the final cut from above. Cut to the collar and don’t leave stumpy branches.
  12. Where several branches shoot out from a single origin, with tightly clustered upright growth, remove middle ones where possible to open the angle between branches. Don’t cut all branches off at the same height or the regrowth will collide.
  13. If a branch needs to be removed, do so while small.

When to Prune

Peach and nectarine trees are pruned immediately after harvest in late summer to early autumn. These trees fruit on the last summer’s wood, so branches that have fruited and are no longer needed to form the shape of the tree can be removed. Peaches and nectarines can be given an all over haircut, with each branch reduced by a third to a half. Another option is to shorten only those growing laterally from main branches, leaving the main branches intact.

Apricots are best pruned in April when sap flow has slowed to reduce exposure to fungal spores. Apricots fruit on a combination of old spurs and the previous summers’ growth. Plums fruit on mature wood and Japanese plums also fruit on new wood. Prune after harvest. It is better to give these trees a general tidy up rather than a heavy pruning.

Apples, pears and cherries are spur bearers. Prune to encourage more spurs and remove excess upright growth. Thin out spurs when too closely spaced in older trees. Apples, pears, cherries and other spur bearing trees benefit from having lateral branches pruned heavily. Take them back to just a couple of leaf buds in length — these buds will shoot, and hopefully form a fruiting spur.

Evergreen and citrus fruit trees found at Tamar Cottage:

Kalamata Olive
Outback Lime
Finger Lime

Evergreen trees such as citrus can be pruned at any time of year but avoid pruning heavily before harvest. Pruning mainly to lift the skirt and remove deadwood. Citrus tend to fruit mainly at the outer canopy so a light prune all over maintains a compact fruiting area.

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