Shaping your fruit tree properly will help it to produce more fruit. Here, we’ll focus on the creation of the bush type tree, which has a crown of between six and eight main branches, evenly spaced with an open centre. This is very common for trees and soft fruit bushes, allowing good air and light circulation, which helps to ripen fruit and minimise disease build-ups.
Year 1 (Winter)
If you have a one-year-old tree and you plant in winter, all you need do is prune it to a bud at a height right for the rootstock: A dwarf tree, 50-60cm; a larger tree, 80cm to 1.3m. The top three or four buds at the top of the remaining stem will form vigorous branches. You shouldn’t need to prune anything more until the following winter.
Select the strongest three or four branches to develop. Cut them back to about half of their length to a point where there are two leaf buds, both pointing in directions facing up and away from the centre of the tree. If you have any laterals or lower branches left on the trunk leave them until the following winter.
You should now have a tree with six to eight identifiable leading branches, plus several side branches (laterals) and possibly the odd fruit bud here and there. You should prune all your new leaders, half of them by another 50 percent to outward buds and the others by perhaps 30 percent. You want to keep new growth coming upward and out from the centre of the tree, but allow each to maintain its own distinct space with good air and light circulation.
Aside from these formative techniques it’s always necessary to prune out very weak or diseased growth as a priority. Canker-infected stems should be removed whenever you find them, regardless of season.
If you follow these guidelines, and remember to ensure that every branch has its own distinct space and equal access to air and light, you will have established the foundations of healthy growth for the more mature, productive phase of a fruit tree or bush’s life.
Parts 1 and 2 of Hans Wieland’s mini-series on growing fruit is available at mayonews.ie/living/outdoor-living. The Organic Centre is running a course on growing and pruning fruit trees on Sunday, July 3.
Hans Wieland is training manager at The Organic Centre, Rossinver, Co Leitrim, which offers courses, training and information on organic growing and cooking, and runs an Eco Shop and an online gardening store. For more information, visit www.theorganiccentre.ie.
Gardening questions or comments? Contact Hans at firstname.lastname@example.org.