As a company, we have invested billions (approximately) in producing nicely edited videos about planting and pruning fruit trees
Rodney, local movie star and coincidentally our warehouse manager, has been ogled over a million times on YouTube, where his charisma and acting skills steal the show in our best film work to date, how to plant a fruit tree.
And that rotter Steven Edholm on YouTube has ruined everything for us with his blooming brilliant videos on pruning fruit trees, apples and pears in particular.
Luckily, we are not in the leather tanning business or the axe industry, otherwise we would have to update all our content on those subjects as well.
If you are not interested in pruning fruit trees then this post probably isn’t for you, but before you go it raises this general point of interest:
“Some garden practices are inherited from other contexts, like farming. But farmers working their orchards are on the clock and need to make a profit while managing acres of trees, so they like shortcuts! In the garden, we can give our few fruit trees much more personal attention when pruning and training.”Ashridge, Somerset, 2024
You’ll have to watch his and our apple & pear pruning videos to see what we’re on about, but like every other tree nursery in Britain, our formative pruning advice for fruit trees is based on a style that Steven calls “prune and pray”, which cuts the head off the young tree, giving you very little control over where the branches will form.
He also promotes notching: a simple, powerful orchardist’s technique, an alternative to making heading cuts (which cut off a lot of wood early in the tree’s life) in order to direct the growth of new shoots.
Notching causes new branches to break from dormant leaf buds. This gives you much more control over where new branches form and leaves more of the tree intact, so it can grow quicker.
In short, Steven’s goal is to replace exactly the kind of unexamined fruit tree pruning information that we have been disseminating!
Here is the essential information on starting with a maiden size apple or pear tree – this advice is not for cherries, we’ll make another post about the KGB hard pruning method (applicable to almost all stone fruit, with a few exceptions), which is a great way to maintain a low bush form tree that suits both gardens and high density plantations.
And this is the follow-up on the trial tree, as it becomes a form that could be a bush or half-standard (depending on the trunk height), so if you are starting with either of those sizes than the info here will be more relevant to you, but do watch the video above first as well:
Steven’s fruit tree pruning practices are rooted in years of practice and study that he distils for us.
His work invites us to embark on our own project of invention and discovery, or be less ambitious – careful now – and simply copy him.
There is a charming little book in Steven’s story, A Study of the Framework of the Apple Tree and Its Relation to Longevity (available in several formats here, or go straight to PDF). The data and conclusions of that venerable study are wrought into Steven’s work, so let’s have a look at the main causes of apple tree death that it lists.
The study uses American tree from that period & in their climate, so while Britain will be different, the overall picture will be similar:
- Canker (15)
- Collar rot (will be less common for home growers – over irrigation is a major cause) (14)
- Neglect of fertilizing, pruning, cultivating, and spraying (9)
- Blight (8)
- Diseases and insects not named, (probably includes neglect) (5)
- Unfavourable soil (5)
- Root rot (4)
- Bad crotches (3)
- Heavy pruning (2)
- Wood rot (2)
Now let’s table those up with three practices every home grower can employ to reduce or eliminate them, with some degree of probability about how likely they are to help:
- Polyculture – interplanting different species to reduce disease & insect transmission.
- Woodchips – applying a woodchip mulch to smother grass.
- Pruning – according to the methods Steven promotes.
- Other – notes on other ways to avoid the problem.
|Mainly cut out promptly & cultivar selection for region
|Neglect: fertilizing, pruning, cultivating, spraying
|Fireblight (Not common in UK)
|Prune out promptly
|Other Diseases & Insects
|Organic controls exist for most pests
|Soils that waterlog too much are a major cause
|Bad Crotch Angles, Broken Branches
|Wood Rot (various fungi)
|Prune out promptly