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How Do I Prune to Encourage Fruiting Spurs?
5 Posts
June 8, 2024 - 8:09 am

I have been attempting an apple espalier at my home in inland SC, zone 8a without any prior gardening or growing experience. My Pink Lady apple on semi-dwarf root stock is now entering its 5th season of growth. Though I've seen blooms every year, I have yet to see an apple. Honestly, I love the tree form and the fun of growing it, and I will be happy, even it it never fruits. I'm very patient and my tree has not reached its full form yet so I am not focussed on fruit. I've also only just recently added a Galarina stepover as a pollination partner (have to wait until next spring to see if that changes anything). But this post really isn't about ANY of that. Right now, I really just want to understand if I'm pruning the sublaterals correctly to encourage fruiting spurs.

I've read everywhere, that at the end of June, i need to prune the sub-laterals, leaving only a basal leaf cluster and 4 or so leaves above it. I have done this carefully each year. I'm noticing now that previously trimmed sublaterals tend to throw out one or more new shoots, each with their own basal leaf cluster which is now 8 or more inches out from the lateral branch. It's a bit sloppy looking and of course if i keep leaving the basal leaf clusters plus 4 leaves, my sublaterals will soon ruin the aesthetic goal of my tree. Am I supposed to just cut the sublaterals at roughly the same spot I did before? This seems logical, but will leave behind a leafless stub. Maybe that's ok? Just want to make sure I'm doing it right. Screenshot-2024-06-08-at-11.08.16-AM.pngScreenshot-2024-06-08-at-11.08.23-AM.png

1407 Posts
June 12, 2024 - 7:30 am

My first question was: ‘is pink lady apple a tip bearer apple’?

Answer: “Yes, the Pink Lady apple tree is a partial tip bearer. Tip-bearing apple trees produce fruit on the tips of the previous year's shoots and sometimes on spurs. They also have buds at the ends of their branches and side-shoot growth that's a different color than the tree's thicker branches.

… “and sometimes on spurs”..  So, are you leaving enough “Tip?”  And/ or, is it creating “spurs?”  (thinking out loud here) ..pruning is so cultivar specific with espaliered apples, advice for one not being good advice for another..  

In your bottom photo, the ‘nub’ below the cut sure looks like a fruit spur..  My experience is, fruit spurs and fruit form on & from lateral wood; ‘straight up growth’ is not conducive to fruit production, it’s the trees' way of gaining height/ light..  

Is this a south facing wall?  If not, it’s priority may simply be seeking more light, not fruiting..  

Summer Pruning is an art, perhaps a science; again, specific to each cultivar and learned from trial & observation.  It reads like you’ve done some homework, but from what I can see by the photos (along with a couple others regarding form work), the tree is still attempting to establish itself.  If tip bearing, it’s natural production would take place on mature, full season length shoots; as opposed to being forced to produce ‘fruit spurs,’ against it’s natural inclination.

Researched compatible pollinators could make the difference, as you mentioned having added … when their blossom production comes online..

5 Posts
June 12, 2024 - 8:02 am

thanks for your thoughts, Viron! (Yes the tree IS on a south-facing wall!)

So, I've read in a few places that Pink Lady is a "partial tip bearer." But most sources seem to indicate that it's predominantly spur-bearing (ie, Orange Pippin says it's a "Partial tip-bearer Mainly a spur-bearer." I know tip-bearing is not compatible with espalier so hopefully my research holds up there!

I have not yet developed an eye for a "spur" so I'm delighted you've spotted something that looks like one in my photo.

Yes, the tree IS on a south-facing wall, and YES, I agree it's still attempting to establish itself (indeed, it's only about halfway done filling out the form I've planned for it). I will continue with my pruning plan and plenty of patience. And next srping we'll see if that pollination partner is helping!

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