View Full Version : Orchard maintenance

Apr. 13, 2011, 01:06 PM
My farm has about 20 established fruit trees -- apple, pear, peach, plum. What on earth am I supposed to do to them? We did cut off the suckers (those little "tree" stalks that come out of the base of the trees) last weekend but I haven't done anything else. I probably should have pruned them over the winter but I haven't the slightest idea how.

To keep it horse-related, the horses ADORE the apples and pears. I toss a handful or two over the fence every day during the season, which is most of the summer and fall. They love it, and they are delicious.

Apr. 13, 2011, 01:14 PM
Have a nursery specialist show you how to prune fruit trees.
It's not magic, but applied logic.

I think for most parts of the world it's a bit late to prune, as most trees are done when they are dormant in winter.
But you can apply fertilizer (fruit usually needs higher phosphorus amounts, the second number on the fertilizer bag), those do come in handy spikes you put near the tree in the ground.

You might want to put collars around the tree trunks of sticky material to catch bugs that eventually make their way up there to feed on the fruit.

Your local library should have something on there.

But if in doubt, leave it. :)


Apr. 13, 2011, 01:25 PM
You can probably still prune: remove branches that rub together as the rubbing will cause wounds in the bark and you will lose both branches instead of just the smaller of the pair. Also remove water sprouts - those soft stems with large leaves that grow upwards from branches and at odd spots on the trunk - as they just suck nutrients and make giant leaves, never any fruit. Water sprouts can be nipped off at any time without stressing the trees.

Try this: http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/430/430-456/430-456.html

Apr. 14, 2011, 01:50 PM
Google is your friend.

I looked up how to prune my young peach tree and did it just once, probably 4 years ago.
Tree has grown into the proper Open Vase shape over the last 7 years.

Last year produced an incredible load of fruit - too much in fact.
Several large branches snapped from the load! :eek:

What I learned from this:
Pick off about 2/3 of the immature fruit to end up harvesting the largest possible peaches.
I imagine the same holds true for any fruit-bearing tree.

You are supposed to spray for insects too, but I never have and still end up with a huge pear harvest.
The apple trees didn't do so well last year, but they are probably near 40 years old.

Apr. 14, 2011, 02:18 PM
you can support heavy branches with simple braces made from 2x4s or similar lumber or poles.Kind of like one pair of legs to a saw horse that cradles the wood. :)

Spraying is optional. There are a lot of alternative methods out to minimize bugs, but they are a bit labor intensive.

Also, how heavy the trees bear can depend on the weather during bloom. If it's too cold or too wet the pollinators don't fly (bees and bumble bees) and your crop is smaller.

Also, the root stock your trees are crafted on determin the size and - if I remember right - influence the longevity. Most trees are crafted on stock that keeps them small, you can hadly get any full size trees anymore.

Apr. 14, 2011, 11:46 PM
Thanks, this is helpful! I did mow around them yesterday -- they look very pretty, even if they are otherwise neglected. We ignored them last year and had a ton of fruit, but perhaps I can do even better with a little effort.

Apr. 15, 2011, 12:52 AM
Prune out deadwood first, then do crossing branches & last the branches that grow inward toward the tree. Make all cuts cleanly with no jagged places for bacteria & fungal spores to rest. Angle all cuts with the longer point of the angle at the bottom of the cut to encourage moisture to roll off. Be careful not to cut the branch collar (the wrinkly part where the branch meets the trunk). Don't worry too much about shaping until they are dormant again so you won't be pruning off the buds that will become fruit.

Apr. 15, 2011, 11:34 AM
It's been so long since I looked a fruit tree in the eye...

Anything dead you can prune any time, or those sucker shoots (they come off the root stock and drain the flow to the crafted part), as well as damaged stuff.

The heavy pruning is best done in dormancy, which varies greatly from north to south. Around here, the blooming is about done, leaves are coming out...

Apr. 16, 2011, 01:04 PM
I found it took me 3 times as long to prune the orchard myself as to get some young arborist up there in the trees like a monkey.(Decisions, Decisions! I never could make one!) He spends an afternoon, is ruthless and efficient and leaves our trees looking lovely (once they leaf out the next spring). Well worth the $$ he gets, to keep me off a ladder with sharp implements! He comes in the late fall after the leaves are mostly off and cuts the "water shoots" and shapes the trees for the next season.

If you don't prune them properly each year, you will end up getting erratic crops- one year, bumper, the next nothing. Or lots of small fruit.

If you are doing it yourself, and find areas of fungus or fireblight or the like, hang a small can of kerosene or turpentine from your ladder and dip the cutting tools in it after any cut of a diseased branch- it kills any germ. Do not put those diseased branches in your compost, and be careful about burning them- the spores can fly up on the wind from the fire.

To keep it horse related, pile up lots of horse manure or horse manure compost around the foot of each of your fruit trees. Its a good thing to mulch around the fruit trees to the width of the branches above to keep down competing weeds and feed the roots, which generally stretch out at least as far as the brnaches do. Now is the perfect time to feed the tree and we also do another layer as the fruit begins to appear in June. For good measure, we try and do a third mulching in the fall. The fruit trees absolutely love the nitrogen from the manure and they won't get burned even if its fresh out of the horse butt!

Apr. 16, 2011, 09:50 PM
Although they're WI specific, the UW Extension publications have a lot of good information in them.


You don't have to purchase them, if you click on them you can look at most of the pdf files online for free.