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A spur system of fruit buds will be formed at base of these shoots which will bear fruit. These spur systems will need to be thinned out, as they begin to crowd tree, in order to encourage new growth and reduce amount of blossom. Some laterals growing towards outside of tree may be left to extend naturally; these will form fruit buds and bear earliest fruit while spur system is being formed.
Some varieties bear fruit on ends of shoots, tip bearers, as they are called, and it is essential to make provision for a certain amount of unpruned wood. These unpruned laterals may be cut back to fruit buds or spurs, when their length demands. In short this method on how to prune apple trees aims at a compromise between hard spur pruning and leaving some laterals unpruned.
How to prune apple trees - Renewal System
From spur pruning, a further method has been evolved, called Renewal System. This method which may at first appear complicated to amateur is, in fact, a successful way of controlling wood and fruit formation to best advantage. It consists of shortening a proportion of annual growth in order to produce more wood, leaving some unpruned to form fruit buds. These should be well spaced out over branch length, to ensure that fruit will not be crowded. The number of laterals, or new growths, to be shortened, depends on variety and growth of apple trees.
A strongly growing tree can carry more fruit, therefore perhaps half of laterals could be shortened and half left untouched. On a weaker tree, which tends to form fruit buds at expense of new growth, 2 in 3 of laterals may be pruned. In this system individual characteristics of tree need to be catered for; there is no hard and fast rule. Laterals which are pruned to 2 or 3 ins. in length, will form new wood, which is treated as before, either to be left, or shortened in due course.
How to prune apple trees - Cordon Trees
Basically, these are Spur Pruned; that is, all young growth, each year, is shortened back to within 2 or 3 buds of base, where fruit buds will form and a spur system is built up. Space, or lack of it, often dictates that this hard cutting back has to be done, to keep trees within limits.
A modified system is to leave some of longer laterals full length and curl them round in a circle, tying them firmly with fillis string to make a loop. These loops will form fruit buds along their length in subsequent years, and may be left intact so long as there is room for them. As others are retained, oldest may be cut out. Espalier trees may be treated in same way as Cordons.
How to prune apple trees - Biennial
Bearing Some varieties of apples tend to produce a heavy crop one year and a light one next. If one has several trees, this tends to balance out, as all trees may not have same "on or off" tendency. If one has only 1 or 2 trees however, biennial bearing could cause a total loss of crop one season, and trees would be likely to produce a heavier crop than usual next year, and a lighter than average following season.
Where this is happening, before expected cropping year, pruning of new wood should be very light, and spur systems should be reduced. A proportion, say one third, of blossom should be removed at flowering time. In other words aim at reducing over-heavy crops. Finally, when you have learnt how to prune apple trees, all pruning should be done when trees are dormant, i.e. in autumn or winter.
Paul Curran is CEO of Cuzcom Internet Publishing Group and webmaster at Trees-and-Bushes.com, providing access to their nursery supplier for a range of quality plants, trees, bushes, shrubs, seeds and garden products.Visit their fruit trees section to find a great selection of apple trees for your garden