March 1st Pruning Apple Trees on a Cold Sunny Day

We have two apple trees. I kick myself for not planting more fruit trees over the years. I think it is one of the best things I could have done so think about it folks. If you are going to be where you are for a while, plant some fruit trees. In addition, plant some nut trees. Maybe some hickory nuts or pecans but, they take longer to get anything back in the way of food. About 20 years ago I went back in the timber and dug up a couple of oak trees, a sugar maple, and what I thought was a shagbark hickory tree and planted them in our yard. All of the trees have done well but to my disappointment the shagbark does not seem to be what I thought it was. At least it is not a shagbark hickory. It may be a regualr hickory but so far it has produced nothing except shade and taken in some CO2 from the air.

Well, anyway, March 1st we were out pruning our fruit trees. We only have four trees of varying ages, two apples, a pear, and a plum. The first apple is about 6 or 7 years old and it had some apples on it last year.

I have not had a lot of experience pruning fruit trees so we were looking at a book about how to do it. I guess the worst thing that could happen is you just make such a mess of it the tree is rendered unproductive. Or, you could remove the wood and branches that are going to produce the fruit. After looking at the tree pictured above for a while we started in on it in a methodical manner. My understanding is to keep the tree open so light gets to all the branches and allow air movement through the growth during the growing season. What I really wanted to do also is keep the tree from getting so tall you cannot reach the fruit. We wound up with what you see below. It is hard to get a shot of tree branches because there are so many trees in the background but maybe you can see something.

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Next we worked on a little apple tree that I planted two years ago. There was not much to it and not much cutting to be done. I would like to show what I do when I plant a tree though. It is necessary to put something around the trunk for a few years to keep rabbits from chewing the bark off and damaging the tree. You can see the hardware cloth around the base of this tree. Leave plenty of room around the trunk so the wire does not rub the bark off.

Finally after we were done pruning we went around and put some weights on some of the branches. Like any plant, a fruit tree wants to grow up towards the sun but we want the branches to grow out. We tied bricks and a concrete block on one limb to bend them down so they will grow that way. Below are two pictures of limb weights. One is a pear tree that has been in the ground for three years and one is a plum tree I planted about 4 years ago.

A word of caution though. In the first picture of limb weights you can see a white spot on the trunk of this pear tree. I accidentally broke off a good sized limb by pulling on it too hard. I had been working on those apple trees which were really flexible but the pear was not nearly so.

It will be interesting to see how these trees are affected by our work on this cold March afternoon. We had been waiting for a break in the weather. It has been cold and cloudy and windy the past few days. You want to get out and do this work before the sap starts to rise in the trees. Around here the last week of February is a good time to prune.

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Fruit trees are not cheap by any means. What I have done the last couple of years is wait late into the season. Lots of places will dramatically mark down fruit trees just to sell them. You can get them cheap if you get there at the right time. Plant them and keep them watered while it is hot and you should have a successful planting.

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