Monday, March 14, 2011

Late Winter Haircuts

Apple blossoms in April.

Our property came with five apple trees.  By the time we moved in it was May, and the fruit had already set on them.  The apples were sad, pathetic little things.  The trees themselves had blackspot something fierce, too.  We were able to treat the blackspot with Serenade biofungicide (which made the entire backyard smell like stinky feet for two days, but otherwise worked great).  Even without blackspot, it was clear that my apple trees did not look like the ones in the orchard down the street.   And I had no clue how to take care of them.

Enter the Local Agricultural University Cooperative Extension.  My local ag university is Rutgers, and I have found them to be an invaluable resource in my little farming venture.  Through their site, I found great information about general care, pruning, diseases, pests and timetables for care, all tailored for my area.  While I don't follow their instructions to the letter (I prefer to be a little more "low impact" with my disease/pest control), it's still really good advice.

One thing I learned from my cooperative extension: pruning!  Apple trees are high maintenance, the first 4-5 years of their growth should be dedicated to cultivating strong branches and good root growth, not fruit production.  I don't know how old my apple trees are, but the house has only been here for four years, so they can't be that old.  As mature fruit-producing trees, shade is the enemy.  Sunlight is required to set fruit and good air circulation prevents disease.   That means that aggressive pruning practices need to be implemented.   My poor apple trees looked like they had never seen a blade.  No wonder they had fungus!  

The best time for pruning apples is late winter, after a prolonged cold spell.  Pruning too early can cause damage to the tree and negatively affect fruiting.  I have a fool-proof method for knowing just when to prune my apple trees:  I wait until I see workers out pruning the apple orchards around me, then I go home and prune my trees!

My first winter in our house, I diligently removed all the crossed branches, suckers, branches growing straight up or straight down and pruned complex branches to improve air and light circulation.  The trees had no fungus problems and set a pretty good amount of fruit.  I still didn't get any apples, though.  Some sort of bug got to them first.  

Apple perfectly cored by some unknown pest.

Hopefully, this will be the year that I get to eat an apple off my trees.....


  1. Great post on pruning... My family owned an orchard while I was growing up. Harvesting delicious apples requires much work, but so worth it.

  2. I bought a really helpful book on pruning about a year ago and it has made such a difference. I had no idea that you pruned different kinds of fruit differently - and I hadn't been nearly aggressive enough. I'm excited to see what I get this year in terms of fruit!

  3. I need to learn how to take care of my apple trees too. Would you post a picture of a whole tree sometime? I wonder what ate the apple in the last picture:).

  4. Carolyn- Hopefully I'll get some apples this year, I've put enough work into those trees!

    Annette- I didn't know about pruning fruit until I got my trees, either! There is definitley a learning curve!

    Masha- As soon as they bloom I'm going to get a picture of the whole tree. I tried to get a picture after I pruned them, but they didn't show up well in the winter landscape. Gray trees against gray sky and gray landscape just wasn't working!


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