Book of Ours

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Chuck Rhode
Posts: 52
Joined: Tue Dec 20, 2011 11:25 pm

Book of Ours

Post by Chuck Rhode »

Officially it's too late to winter-prune apples. I say this because I finished today. You need to get your buns in gear now if you haven't already, or you could wait for ice and deer to do the job.

Here's a topic, "The Book of Ours," about what's coming up next this growing season.

Ever think about pruning? I take a spin around my back yard when I have some time before leaving for work. I admire the strong branches and wish there were more of them in better positions. I look for weak branches and consider whether they can be repositioned and encouraged. I wonder where to begin. On my way back I make sure to stomp HARD on snow drifts where all the lovely little rodents are no doubt cozied up for the lean season. Even if I don't collapse their tunnels, I make sure they know I'm around. I hope they smell my presence when I'm not.

... so what's up with pruning? Why do it? Pruning reduces biomass and canopy and can't be anything but growth inhibiting. Generally hobbyists want their trees to grow big in order to produce bigger crops. Well, the answer is that shape is important. People have to be taught to accept smaller trees that produce a finer crop. Yes, you, too, can get your trees to produce more on the same land with limited sunlight, water, fertilizer, herbicide, fungicide, and insecticide by whittling them down a little.

What you're after is balance -- the tradeoff between vegetative growth and fruit. You have to have both. You NEED vegetative growth to renew and nourish the tree and support the fruit. You WANT the fruit.

Here's the paradox: Other things being equal, pruning back the vegetative growth tips the balance in favor of future vegetative growth to the detriment of future fruit. The tree struggles to repair the damage caused by pruning.

Many (most?) apple varieties are prone to biennial bearing. They lapse into a cycle when a bumper crop every other year alternates with riotous vegetative growth and very little fruit in the odd years. You can moderate this tendency by pruning back hard during the odd summers and during the following winter-pruning because ... pruning tips the balance back in favor of steadier future vegetative growth, which you want instead of a bumper crop in the even years.

Other things aren't equal, though, so pruning can be used to favor future fruit production, too. Apple trees don't know how to grow. Just look at them. They grow every which way. Different kinds have completely different habits, none of which (all of which?) have been naturally selected by survival of the fittest. Your job is to leave the branches that are just right by cutting away the branches that are just wrong.

One of the things that is just wrong about the way apples grow is water sprouts. These are the long, skinny whips that grow straight up from other branches. Cut them off! Look at apple trees and flowering crabs that have not been pruned. They are choked with water sprouts, which consume water and nutrients, shade the better branches from the sun, and yet produce hardly any blossoms or fruit of their own. They are a nuisance, and, once you clear them out of the way, it's easier to see what else needs to be done.

Go easy on trees that have not been pruned before, though. Don't take out more than about 1/5 of the canopy in any one season -- most of which will grow back. Renovating a neglected tree takes years.

Don't mistake fruiting spurs for water sprouts. Some varieties of apples bloom from little half-inch pegs on the tops of branches and then send up water sprouts from them the next year. It's hard to whack them the second year and not the first. Generally you're concentrating on the ones on the tops of inner branches, and, if you whack one now and then, it's not the end of the world. Probably you'd have pinched back all the fruit from it anyway because it wouldn't have had enough sun and would wind up poor even though using nutrients that ought to have gone to fruit further out on the branch.

Later on you're going to stake and tie down (up) branches so that they grow at exactly a 60° (equilateral triangle) angle from vertical (the trunk). This angle produces the ideal balance between next year's (not this year's) fruit and vegetative growth. During winter-pruning, reach up and tug branches gently toward you temporarily to see about where you think they'll go. Don't pull hard; they're brittle in the cold. Anything growing up (or in toward the trunk) from such a branch is going nowhere. Unless you think you will tie it down to the side at a more productive angle, cut it off!

Anything growing down from such a branch is going nowhere. It will be in the shade. Cut it off!

There! That wasn't hard, was it? If we could just get trees to do it for themselves.... However, there are a couple of edge cases to consider.

If you leave only lateral branches growing at 60°, you will wind up with tiers (whorls) of branches that get good light. In older trees these tiers close in, so you need to sacrifice the weaker of subsidiary branches that are colliding with one another. Also, you need to prune back the top tier(s) so it doesn't shade the bottom tier(s). Sacrifice the stuff farther from the ground. It's not only harder to reach but also less productive.

Young trees tend toward vegetative growth. Their branches race upward without themselves branching. You can encourage longer branches to fill in by leaving the terminal buds intact on lower subsidiary twigs while pinching back the terminal bud(s) at the tip of the branch leader(s) to an outward facing lateral bud.

My backyard is full of dwarf trees. I don't intend to have to use a ladder on them, so the last thing I do is whack anything I can't reach. Sometimes I'll leave one weaker water sprout up there and tie it upside down later in the spring. This frustrates the tendency of the tree to concentrate vegetative growth at the vertical leaders.

I think that about covers it.

Oh, and be sure to smear on some sunscreen before going out to do your winter-pruning. The sun's reflection off the snow is just brutal. Don't ask me how I know.

Oh, and pick up those water sprouts you've pruned off. Chop them into six-inch sticks, pop them in a zip-lock bag with a damp paper towel, and label that bag with the kind of apple tree they came from. Take them quickly to a local scion-wood exchange meeting. You can refrigerate them, but folklore has it that ethylene gas from ripening fruit in the refrigerator will ruin them, so it's better to bury them in a snow bank I suppose.

That's it for winter-pruning. I'm done.

26° — Wind Calm — Sky mist.

appledude
Posts: 429
Joined: Sun Jan 06, 2008 12:24 pm

Re: Book of Ours

Post by appledude »

Chuck Rhode wrote: ... so what's up with pruning? Why do it? Pruning reduces biomass and canopy and can't be anything but growth inhibiting.
Hi Chuck!

Summer pruning in August certainly tames my trees down a bit, but winter pruning merely invigorates them the next season. Reason for this? I usually do not prune the roots of said tree, thus all those pent-up energy reserves come roaring out the following season.

I tend to get less suckers the following season if I do plenty of August maintainance.

The reason farmers of old did pruning in winter, aside from fruit being already harvested and being able to see the tree framework easier, is because there were fewer competing chores in the winter on the average homestead.

Chuck Rhode
Posts: 52
Joined: Tue Dec 20, 2011 11:25 pm

Re: Book of Ours

Post by Chuck Rhode »

appledude wrote:Summer pruning in August certainly tames my trees down a bit, but winter pruning merely invigorates them the next season. Reason for this? I usually do not prune the roots of said tree, thus all those pent-up energy reserves come roaring out the following season.
Yes, I think pruning is one of those things that goes on all the time. Water sprouts need to be removed in midsummer before the tree devotes too much energy to them. You can get rid of them without tilting the ratio of fruit to foliage too much toward foliage because the fruit is already set. You're right about winter pruning: It tilts the balance of fruit to foliage heavily toward foliage, but sometimes that's what you want.

In the summer I believe it helps to pinch back the tips of outer branches to favor subsidiary side growth in young trees. I'm hoping I don't have to keep doing this forever.

I'm told you want to stop fussing with your trees toward the middle of August so any last-minute growth spurts harden off before frost. Young trees don't seem to know when to settle down and set terminal buds.
appledude wrote:The reason farmers of old did pruning in winter, aside from fruit being already harvested and being able to see the tree framework easier, is because there were fewer competing chores in the winter on the average homestead.
There is that. Apples dovetailed with subsistence farming in several ways: (1) balanced nutrition, (2) shelf-stable fermented drink that resisted freezing and substituted for sources of ground water, which were problematical in winter and impure in spring, (3) starch that could be stored and blended with other dishes in a variety of ways, (4) scraps and surplus for livestock feed, (5) cultural link to parents, grandparents, forefathers and the deep past, (6) and diversion for short days when there was little else to pay attention to. The last point is particularly poignant to me this time of year.

Yet another reason to prune in the winter is that the wounds don't weep.

Chuck Rhode
Posts: 52
Joined: Tue Dec 20, 2011 11:25 pm

Bark Slipping

Post by Chuck Rhode »

Bark will be slipping before you know it. Look in the newspaper, on the library bulletin board, on your community college Web site, in junk mail from the Cooperative Extension Service. Ring up the Master Gardeners in your area. Find a seminar you can attend on grafting.

Expect to pay a small registration fee.

Not everyone needs to know how grafting is done. You can buy your apple trees already grafted on root stocks from a nurseryman, which puts me in the mind of the Jess Birdwell character in The Friendly Persuasion (1945) by Jessamyn West (who was a second cousin of Richard Nixon, I see), but that's just a story.

However, knowing how grafting is done makes you self-sufficient. You can add twigs of different strains to existing trees to expand the variety if not the quantity of harvest you can get out of a confined space. It's easy and fascinating.

You can read up on it, but the best way to learn it is to see the tools and materials it takes, put to use by someone who knows how and who can do a creditable job of demonstrating how.

42° — Wind WNW 13 mph

Chuck Rhode
Posts: 52
Joined: Tue Dec 20, 2011 11:25 pm

Top Dressing

Post by Chuck Rhode »

It has reached me, O Reader, that young trees can benefit from a little granular fertilizer scattered by hand as "top dressing" in the drip zone. This time of year is best. Before a heavy, blanketing snow is best. As the snow melts, it gently carries the nutrients down into the root zone. Sap begins to rise before the frost is gone from the soil, so the roots are at work long before buds on the branches begin to swell. New trees can benefit by having some fertilizer available for the spurt of spring growth. I use a double handful of 10-10-10 per tree (that is, some, but not a lot). Trees need a little nitrogen (N) but not a lot, so, if some of it dissipates before the carrier dissolves, it's bad for global warming but not a big loss for the trees. As trees age and develop a larger canopy of leaves, delivery of some soluble fertilizer in your summer cover sprays becomes more efficient, and you can dope that with a little calcium (Ca), too. Winter "top dressing" then becomes unnecessary. Thus, "foliar application," is also a timely way of getting fertilizer into your trees, albeit for a different time of year. But that is yet another story for yet another time.

35° — Wind E 7 mph — Sky overcast. Mist.

Randy SGF
Posts: 20
Joined: Wed Feb 29, 2012 7:59 am
Location: Baxley, Georgia
Contact:

Re: Book of Ours

Post by Randy SGF »

I have the first apples on my summer apples already.

Most of my pruning evolves around keeping an open structure for drying and spraying. I keep all of my trees in an open vase shape so it is easy to keep the height down for spraying.

I went to an electric, ten gallon pump sprayer this year to make spraying a bit easier.

I prune in the winter and in the summer. Fireblight pruning is almost daily when the weather is right.

Like Chuck posted, a daily walk through the trees is good for the trees and good for the soul.

Randy
http://georgiahomeorchard.blogspot.com/

Georgia

Apple Trees:
Anna, Golden Dorsett, Jonagold, Fuji, Pink Lady, Golden Delicious, Winesap, Mutsu, Granny Smith, Williams Pride, Arkansas Black Cox Orange Pippen

Cherry Trees:
English Morello, NorthStar

Chuck Rhode
Posts: 52
Joined: Tue Dec 20, 2011 11:25 pm

Re: Book of Ours

Post by Chuck Rhode »

Randy SGF wrote:I went to an electric, ten gallon pump sprayer this year to make spraying a bit easier.
Ooh, do tell. I may be in the market. Is this a backpack? I see some huge capacity backpacks that I imagine OSHA would have a fit over.

Randy SGF
Posts: 20
Joined: Wed Feb 29, 2012 7:59 am
Location: Baxley, Georgia
Contact:

Re: Book of Ours

Post by Randy SGF »

Chuck Rhode wrote:
Randy SGF wrote:I went to an electric, ten gallon pump sprayer this year to make spraying a bit easier.
Ooh, do tell. I may be in the market. Is this a backpack? I see some huge capacity backpacks that I imagine OSHA would have a fit over.

Chuck I will start a new Sprayer thread to keep from pushing your thread off topic.

Randy
http://georgiahomeorchard.blogspot.com/

Georgia

Apple Trees:
Anna, Golden Dorsett, Jonagold, Fuji, Pink Lady, Golden Delicious, Winesap, Mutsu, Granny Smith, Williams Pride, Arkansas Black Cox Orange Pippen

Cherry Trees:
English Morello, NorthStar

Chuck Rhode
Posts: 52
Joined: Tue Dec 20, 2011 11:25 pm

Re: Bud Break

Post by Chuck Rhode »

Today is bud break.

1/4-inch green and first cover spray is just days away.

Buy twine.

Haul garden hose out of the basement to warm up.

61° — Wind S 8 mph

Chuck Rhode
Posts: 52
Joined: Tue Dec 20, 2011 11:25 pm

Re: First Pink

Post by Chuck Rhode »

Weather has been cold! Consequently, there has not been a lot of progress. 1/2-inch green has come and gone, and I have not done my first cover spray. There has not been enough dampness when it was warm nor enough warmth when it was wet to worry much about scab. However, I notice that today there is pink in the buds. I should spray soon.

I've put out my nest box for solitary bees, and I've been re-hydrating the cocoons in the refrigerator. I think (hope) I'll re able to release them just days from now. There has to be something blooming first though, and there just isn't much, yet.

I've stuck my irrometers in the ground, and there's plenty of moisture, so I've been lazy about unrolling the garden hose, too. That ought to be done any old time.

Before the last rain I dug flowers that had come up volunteer (mostly oriental poppies, gaillardia, cone flowers, and hollyhocks) and moved them into the aisles between the trees. Flowers that come up inside the drip line of trees are goners. I don't dig them for fear of damaging the trees' roots, but I did move a peony bush away from one of the trees, and then I mowed. My goal is to not do that; just nuke whatever comes up under the trees with Roundup. Meanwhile a mix of annuals and perennials in the medians should provide diverse habitat for (beneficial) insects.

After the first freeze last year, I chipped the tall flower stalks and mowed down the rest, so the snow covered the whole lot evenly.

47° — Wind NE 12 mph

Chuck Rhode
Posts: 52
Joined: Tue Dec 20, 2011 11:25 pm

Re: Notching Trees

Post by Chuck Rhode »

I located my trusty, cheap hacksaw blade in the plastic handle and sallied forth into the orchard, so called, to see whether I needed any extra branches. I thought I might notch some trees.

Notching above a bud on the trunk in early May before bloom will stimulate vegetative growth. On young trees you may not have branches developing on one side of the trunk at the correct height. This time of year there may be an opportunity to fix that. Look for a live bud at the desired location and use the blade to cut a notch through the bark above it.
Notching was accomplished using an ordinary hacksaw blade. Buds were notched by placing the blade immediately above a bud and drawing the blade horizontally across the branch. In this way a strip of bark about 1/6-inch wide above the bud was removed on about 1/3 of the circumference of the branch. It is important to remove all bark down to the wood in this strip.

Rarely would one choose to have a bud on the top of a scaffold develop a shoot, because it would be vigorous and unproductive. Even if desired, very few buds on the lower side of a branch will grow after being notched. Therefore, if later branching is desired on scaffolds, notching should be confined to buds on the sides.

Greene, Duane W., and Wesley R. Autio. "Notching Stimulates Shoot Development." Fruit Grower. Apr. 1992. 42.
This year I didn't find any such opportunities. I did note three of four buds I had notched last year had put on considerable growth. It's a dangerous procedure to be performed only on healthy stems and branches two or three inches in diameter. It creates a wound that must dry quickly so don't try this in wet weather for fear of introducing disease.

Notching below a branch between pink and petal fall will stimulate the set of fruiting buds for next year. This is a technique I've not felt the need to try. Usually I have to thin the crop.
Limb or trunk scoring will induce flowering in trees that are old enough to produce flowers. Using a sharp knife, make a single cut to a depth of about 1/4-inch all the way around the trunk or branch. Scoring accomplishes two things: It induces ethylene production, and ethylene (a plant growth hormone) will encourage trees to induce buds. It also interferes with movement of carbohydrates out of the upper portion of the tree to the roots, making more sugars available in the upper portion of the tree. Timing for scoring is critical. The proper timing is from full bloom to about three weeks after full bloom. Later scoring will not be effective. Scoring will encourage flowering the following year.

Roper, Teryl. "Why Some Apple Trees Don't Flower." Dane County Madison [Wisconsin] Area Master Gardeners Newsletter [2004.]
My trees are ahead of the season here in Sheboygan, WI. It was warm in March, but April was colder. I would have put out my orchard mason bee cocoons today, but it was windy, there's rain in the forecast every day for the foreseeable future and anyway there isn't much blooming except the neighbor's plums and my dandelions -- not even any mustard yet -- insufficient food to keep the bees interested enough to stick around. The plants seem to know the weather ain't fittin'.

59° — Wind SSE 9 mph

dmtaylor
Posts: 58
Joined: Thu Mar 15, 2012 8:12 pm

Re: Book of Ours

Post by dmtaylor »

This world is way too small. Chuck, here I am in Two Rivers, WI, and I must be as much of an apple nut as you are. I first tried notching last year and it worked wonderfully. I even put up a video about it on YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LXdexMgFobA I must confess I really have very little idea what I am doing, but I can't help but tinker with my trees, so I have done it yet again this year with a couple more branches, plus I notched around almost the whole top of my Honeycrisp tree in an effort to devigorate it. So we'll see what happens.

No blossom yet here, although the Foxwhelp and Cortland is finally showing a little pink and getting very close. Maybe another week.

Chuck Rhode
Posts: 52
Joined: Tue Dec 20, 2011 11:25 pm

Re: Book of Ours

Post by Chuck Rhode »

dmtaylor wrote:This world is way too small. Chuck, here I am in Two Rivers, WI, and I must be as much of an apple nut as you are. I first tried notching last year and it worked wonderfully.
I liked your video and your learning from observation of dog damage. I recommend Tony Dembski's (Maple Valley) course, which he teaches in January at the Extension Service in Green Bay, for the less observant.

52° — Wind S 6 mph

dmtaylor
Posts: 58
Joined: Thu Mar 15, 2012 8:12 pm

Re: Book of Ours

Post by dmtaylor »

Funny you should mention Tony Dembski... I attended his pruning class in March and near the end of the lecture, he opened it up for questions, at which time I specifically asked him about notching/scoring/girdling as a means of controlling vigor, and he replied in his usual booming and disappointed voice, "You missed my last class. That question was answered in the other class." And that was the end of it. He's quite a guy, I've got to say.... you can never tell if he's joking or dead serious, and I get the feeling that somehow he is able to do both at the same time! Very knowledgeable. If I ever win the lottery, I might just spend a season or three up there to soak up some of that knowledge and wit.

Chuck Rhode
Posts: 52
Joined: Tue Dec 20, 2011 11:25 pm

Re: Book of Ours

Post by Chuck Rhode »

dmtaylor wrote:You can never tell if he's joking or dead serious, and I get the feeling that somehow he is able to do both at the same time!
He's a phenomenon. Not many have the knack of getting others to accept them on their own terms. For what it's worth, I, too, have tried to divert his classroom presentations to no avail.

60° — Wind SE 9 mph — Sky mostly clear.

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