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Suggestions needed for shaping a young apple tree
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ET
Junction City, Oregon
19 Posts
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1
May 1, 2020 - 5:12 pm

My neighbor asked me for advices on a young apple tree he has. 

As shown in the photo, it is a young Liberty apple on M7 rootstock. He asked me about how to get the branch on the right (marked with orange color, about 24 inches long now) to grow, but I think this tree has some other more important issue(s).

4170891_2_DxO.jpg4170891_2_labeled.jpg

I guess this tree was not properly pruned when planted: there was no heading cut made to develop a better upright frame. Nearby there is a Pink Lady tree which provides pollens and this Liberty tree has been producing abundant apples (which I would have removed if this were my own tree) in the past 2 years, and (I assume) the weight bent the trunk to the left (marked in red color) as it did not have a proper support.

So instead of worrying about the little right branch (orange color), I wonder what is the better way to shape this tree, especially getting the trunk to grow stronger. (BTW, this photo was shot to the north, and the prevailing wind is from the north.) This is something I have never dealt with, I’d greatly appreciate suggestions. Thanks!!

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John S
PDX OR
2593 Posts
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May 2, 2020 - 7:31 pm

Are you planning on pruning to a vase shape, central leader, or semi--central leader? That makes all the difference.

Generally if one branch is going off too strongly to the side, that one will be pruned, so that the rest of the tree grows proportionately. 

John S
PDX OR

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Viron
1400 Posts
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3
May 5, 2020 - 3:46 pm

Usually a stunted tree will over-set, as this one has; feels it’s going to die, so produces seed.  It may also send up ‘water-suckers.’  I would thin nearly all of it's fruit set (with scissors), forcing it’s energy into sending up new shoots, hopefully from it's trunk, and nearer the top.  

Allow two or three shoots to compete for a while, if more than one form.  Then ‘tip pinch’ all but the best candidate mid-summer for a new top (tip pinching allows the leaves below to help feed the tree yet stops their upward growth - cut them flush with the trunk next winter).  Allow the selected shoot to grow straight up for this season.  Head it where you’d like it to branch, in February, and thin the fruit set less aggressive next season Wink

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ET
Junction City, Oregon
19 Posts
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May 7, 2020 - 11:03 pm

Thank you, John S and Viron, for comments/suggestions.

John S said: “Are you planning on pruning to a vase shape, central leader, or semi--central leader? That makes all the difference.”

The idea is to make it open center form and keep the tree relatively small.

Given that the skinny trunk was bent over to the left (in the picture), I wonder, will it be OK in the long run to have the now bent over part become sort of a side branch? Will there be any apparent negative consequences?

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Viron
1400 Posts
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May 8, 2020 - 10:17 am

will it be OK in the long run to have the now bent over part become sort of a side branch?  For now, but be sure not to allow sucker shoots to grow from the apex of it’s arch.  That would not make a well formed or balanced tree. 

Looking back ...if it were mine - I’d have lopped off that entire branch 4 to 6 inches below where it’s attached to the trunk.  The tree’s stored energy would have activated numerous latent buds near the top of the cut at the trunk, and sent up 3 to 6 new shoots … that could have been spread to form it’s new & balanced scaffold limbs.  

Now, with the bulk of it’s energy having gone into flower and leaf … the limb would best be left to feed the tree.  You could thin the fruit, eat what it produces this season, then lop it off next Winter.  Orcharding is a slow process Wink

As is, (if following my original suggestion in prior post) allowing a centralized trunk-replacement shoot to develop, with eventual limbs (the following year) spread to a vase shape, what’s now the main limb will likely be shaded out.  If that’s the route you take, do prune it heavy to keep it from drawing additional energy from the form you’re planning to develop.

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ET
Junction City, Oregon
19 Posts
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May 15, 2020 - 8:54 pm

Yeah, and it would be much easier if the tree were my own. Every time I pruned my trees I smiled and thought about what Lord Farquaad of the animation movie Shrek said - when he summoned his knights to rescue Princess Fiona for him (with the voice of John Lithgow): “Some of you MAY die, but that’s the price **I** am willing to pay.”

To my neighbors ... , some winced when I did the cuts they were not willing to make themselves.

"Orcharding is a slow process."

And I am glad I learned, besides by killing my own trees Wink, also for many years reading the old HOS forum - a lot of knowledge I could not find in books. So, hey, thanks again, not just for this one. Laugh

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Viron
1400 Posts
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May 16, 2020 - 7:10 pm

Had one experience, with friends/ former neighbors who’d known my orchard, how I’d tended theirs … and had the courage to turn me loose on their newest project.  A joint venture, including 200 acres ..and their new & totally neglected hodgepodge of fruit trees.  They’d even invited an audience!  And, were paying me well Wink

Likely 30 various trees around the age of your neighbor’s above.  But I felt free!  Would ‘talk it out,’ then say, “I’d lop it off right here.”  Describe the presumed results, then hear, “Do it.”  ...the audience would gasp, whence ..and spin with pain Cool  Several were taking notes, asking excellent questions, and were part of the team of owners - they took it from there.  

Trust…. hard earned Wink

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Reinettes
Lewis Co., WA
375 Posts
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May 17, 2020 - 5:22 pm

I'd have to say that -- reading through this thread -- what Viron is saying is what I'd be inclined to recommend just because of the way that I prune my own trees.  It seems clear to me that Viron's pruning philosopy is comparable to my own.  

Pruning of trees falls into the range of the ineffable realm of art and science.  ...And it will differ based upon the type of plant that you're pruning.  Each plant has a particular form of branching, and it is up to the one doing the pruning to try and grasp what that pattern is, and then work with it in order to form the plant as one wants.  

The pruning process really requires that a person be observant and thoughtful about the specific plant before them, and what it needs in order to be properly reshaped -- even if the pruning has to be harsh.  Sometimes that's what it takes to properly train a tree that was not judiciously pruned and shaped from the start.

If the plant is someone else's, it can be hard for the tree owner to accept what you propose.  However, while the tree is reasonably young and resilient, that is your opportunity to properly shape it for future success.  

The best way to prune fruit trees is to get familiar with their individual growth habits, and work with shaping them effectively from the outset of planting.  Even within apples, for example, there are differing growth forms.  

Reinettes  [My 2 cents....]  : )

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John S
PDX OR
2593 Posts
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9
May 17, 2020 - 8:36 pm

I agree with the above and my general sense of pruning is this: Listen to all the basic expert ideas, but then you have to get out there and start doing it.  Observe how you pruned. You will get how else you could have done it and how you are doing at it.  It's a doing thing.

John S
PDX OR

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Reinettes
Lewis Co., WA
375 Posts
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10
May 19, 2020 - 4:30 pm

This Forum thread inspired me to go out and prune some of my young apple trees yesterday that I have "mentally pruned" each time I've seen them, but hadn't actually gotten around to pruning.  Thanks!  It put a little fire under me!  Ya gotta do it while the trees are young and malleable, because it you wait too long the remedy is the kind of severe pruning that makes all observers cringe!  The first 4-5 years of strategic pruning are critical.

Reinettes (Tim)

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sweepbjames
NE Portland, OR Cully Neighborhood
212 Posts
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11
May 20, 2020 - 2:19 pm

Viron said
will it be OK in the long run to have the now bent over part become sort of a side branch?  For now, but be sure not to allow sucker shoots to grow from the apex of it’s arch.  That would not make a well formed or balanced tree. 

I think what I might do, while contemplating the next dormant seasons move, lop that dominant branch (red) back to the branch headed to the right (the one at ten or ten thirty o'clock, dark green foliage behind it) just before the bend downward. That leaves a less vigorous run (hopefully its near 1/3 the thickness of the main stem for successful redirection of the sap flow/energy)  with a terminal bud  at the highest point of the branch the hormone to suppress further upright - water sprouts vying for the "boss bud" position; that's the theory I'm working with. Or if that cut-to branch too is weighted down- clip it to a flower bud, the terminus of the branch upward ....  that may cause the branch to runt out. If so, it's a little more juice for the orange branch.

And maybe train/prop that orange branch upward to a 30º or slightly more angle, for this seasons growth. (I'm having some success using bamboo stuck in the ground with the branchlet crotches either upward or downward facing depending on which direction I'm wanting to hold the branch until it sets. Nice to have access to bamboo to cut.)

See if this seasons growth suggests anything to you, while you consider the next move.

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John S
PDX OR
2593 Posts
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12
May 21, 2020 - 9:56 pm

Viron is the pruning guru.
John S
PDX OR

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