If you can brave the cold weather and are prepared to forgo a nice warm duvet for a spot of outdoor hacky-choppy-action, now is the time to give your dormant apple trees a good prune before new season growth starts to emerge. The benefits from this are two-fold; to encourage and nurture a strong, disease free tree and more importantly, to ensure a healthy crop of apples from which to make cider in the autumn months.
Pruning is often considered a dark art; something that should be left to a professional arborist, but just think of it like giving your tree a splendid haircut*, only the type of haircut where you might consider loping off an ear and maybe a couple of fingers for good measure. We’re talking Sweeny Todd here, not Nicky Clarke.
Tools for the job:
You’ll need a pruning saw for any serious branch work, a pair of sharp pruners for smaller twigs and a pair of decent loppers for medium sized branches. When choosing the latter, go for a pair of cross cut loppers like these. Anvil loppers are super for crunching through dead wood but will leave living limbs mangled and at the mercy of diseases, and you really want to be making the cleanest cuts possible.
Points to remember:
- When pruning, you should be looking to sculpt the tree into a goblet shape – one that has a nice, open middle to allow sunlight in through the canopy to ripen and colour the fruit.
- Begin by removing any dead or diseased branches with your pruning saw. Don’t bother smearing any tree paint over the wounds to help with the healing process – as long as you cut is nice and flush against the leading branch it will bark over naturally without any man-made interference.
- Look for and remove any branches that cross each other and remove any over crowded spurs
- If your tree has reached the desired height, cut back any new growth at the ends of the branches by around 2/3rds. Leave young laterals to develop fruit buds.
- If you want to encourage a stumpy tree to grow taller, leave leaders and hack back any lateral branches.
Afterwards, (as any half decent barber will tell you), clean your equipment thoroughly and if required, smooth out any burrs on your pruner blades with a whetstone. Finally, clean off any resin residue with WD40 and a healthy squirt of elbow grease.
* I often talk to my trees whilst pruning, just like an intrusive hairdresser. “Would sir like a bit more off the sides? Where is sir going on holiday this year? Would sir like something for the weekend?”…That kind of stuff.
We obtained our pruning tools from Homebase. Look see, here.
(Note: Homebase kindly provided the tools for review. Hand, ring and collection of twigs, models own)