Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Pruning Time

Today, being a bright, sunny, not terribly cold day--highs around twenty degrees with a mild wind making it feel like the teens--was a perfect day for getting one of my late January/early February chores crossed off the list:

Pruning the orchard.

I equip myself with a pair of loppers and a pair of anvil trimmers, and out to the orchard I go. I start at the far end, and work my way back to the house, trimming and pruning the fruit trees.  First off come the suckers sprouting near the base of the cherry and apple trees.  The pears never have any, and the peach trees don't usually either.  Next is anything growing lower on the trunk than I want.  After that, it's time to step back, examine each tree, and get artsy.  Or skillful. Take your pick.

I need to see any dead, damaged, or diseased branches.  They need to go, for the health of the tree.

After that, I need to find any branches that are growing in a direction that will interfere with more useful (ie fruit-bearing) branches.  Such as those that grow toward the center of the tree.  The center needs good airflow and sunlight, so I don't want branches that point inward.  Also any branches growing straight up or straight down that will end up rubbing on laterals above or below them.

Once those have been taken care of, I step back yet again, and take a good look at each tree from all sides.  Are the branches too dense anywhere?  If so, I need to thin a few, choosing which ones are better fruiting than others and cutting off the ones that will be less productive.  I also need to consider which branches are fine now, but with another year's growth might become problems. It's easier to cut them now when they are smaller, than next year.

Most importantly, though, I don't want to cut off more than a third of any one tree in a year.  Taking off more wood than that is stressful for the tree and might make it more prone to disease than if I'd left it alone.

The one exception to that rule though, is a peach tree that in 2013 had such a heavy fruit load two of it's main branches cracked under the weight of the ripening peaches.  At the time it happened, I splinted the branches, coated the wounds in beeswax, and staked them up.  Then in January 2014 I did not prune that tree at all, unsure if the two split branches (incidentally, the best thickest branches on the entire tree) would heal or die.  Turned out that the winter was so harsh, one of my other peach trees did die, and the wounded one had a lot of damage to it's healthy branches.  Because of the very cold winter, none of my peach trees even set blossoms in 2014 (here in the northern end of Zone 5, I'm kind of pushing the envelope with growing peaches--they aren't fond of really cold weather).

So, today, when I was pruning, I cut off all dead wood from the 'wounded' peach tree, no matter how big or small.  One of the split branches had died, and I took it off entirely.  The other one was forked, with one half being dead and the other having beautiful healthy wood at the end. I think I ended up cutting off about 60% of the tree, but since it was all wood that was all ready dead, I think it will be okay.

healthy new growth on the 'wounded' peach tree

buds--will I get peaches this year?

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