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SPUR THINNING AND WINTER PRUNING ON MATURE APPLES AND PEARS GROWN AS RESTRICTED FORMS.

Posted by sheiladearing on 08 Dec 2010 at 03:29 PM


Fig 1: Restricted Forms of fruit at Rosemoor : espalier and step-over cordon

When growing restricted forms of apples and pears such as fans, espalier and cordons most of the pruning is done in late summer but as the trees mature there is a need to do some winter pruning as well.

The summer pruning has the double benefit of keeping the trees “restricted” into a small space and converting the leaf bud at the base of the pruning cut into a fruit bud, so increasing the overall number of fruit buds on the tree. This bit of magic only happens if you get the timing right; too early and the buds with break into leaf and produce a shoot that will be damaged by the frosts in the winter; too late and the tree will not be active enough to convert the bud.

The timing depends on which part of the country you are in and whether you have high or low rainfall. At Rosemoor we start our pruning around mid to late August. This is done in three stages. First we prune back the medium vigour shoots to one bud, leaving most of the strong shoots as “sap drawers”. The small shoots, less than 9-10 inches, are not touched at this stage.

The “sap drawers” help to prevent the basal buds from breaking into leaf and producing a soft shoot. If all the shoots were cut back in one go the sap would have nowhere to go. In high rainfall areas, where much secondary growth occurs, stop summer pruning and only prune from November to March. Basically the wetter it is the later you prune.

A few weeks later, say around mid October, the vigorous sap drawers can be cut back. The small shoots can also be cut back to one bud. These shoots often terminate in a fruit bud. If these shoots are too weak I prefer to prune them back, as they are rarely strong enough to support fruit the following year. Many growers prefer to keep these as they give extra fruit. In most cases, however, the tree will set far more fruit that it can carry and will require drastic thinning, even after the June drop; if reasonable size fruit is to be obtained in the summer.

When initially creating the spur the first cut is to 3 buds above the basal cluster and then all subsequent cuts in later years are to one bud.

It has often struck me as odd that so much time and labour is spent on obtaining the maximum fruit set only to thin the developing fruitlets by as much as 60-80% to ensure reasonable size fruit. I think it is better to prune back the small shoots to keep the tree neat and restricted unless you know that the tree has poor set.

SPUR THINNING


Fig 2: Step-Over cordon Apple “Sunset” – congested spur system

As the trees mature the spurs can get congested and over crowded. These need thinning out in the winter by removing over-long, overlapping and complicated spur systems. This is what we are doing at the moment at Rosemoor. This will continue throughout the winter as weather permits. It helps to keep the trees healthy and improve the quality of the fruit. Fig 2 is Apple “Sunset” originally planted in 1995.


Fig 3: Spur-System after pruning

Garry Preston

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