Saturday, March 20, 2010

An experience pruning apple trees

A week ago, I went to a training on how to prune apple trees sponsored by The Ecological Landscaping Association. The training was held at a small orchard on private land in Concord, Massachusetts. Attendees included some landscape designers who wanted to add edible fruit to their repertoires, a few other folks who had either inherited fruit trees and didn't know how to care for them or who wanted to plant some fruit trees, a head gardener or two, and some landscape contractors.

The most important thing I learned was how to recognize the "fruiting spur" buds and to distinguish them from the "branch buds" that would not bear fruit. Unexpectedly, this property also contained several espaliers in the small gardens near the house(s) (did I mention that the place was a spread?) Having just become experts on apple tree pruning, we all freely criticized the pruning job on the espaliers -- the landscape contractor running the training was not hired to maintain the espaliers, just the orchard. Actually, we didn't see any fruiting spur buds on the espalier we examined -- perhaps it was a different variety whose fruiting spurs looked different or had a later bud development than the other varieties, or maybe we were right about the butchery.

The most disturbing thing I learned was that although it is easy to produce a healthy vibrant apple TREE using organic methods, it is very difficult to produce much fruit that way (will have to verify this with some other sources). So, we were recommended a series of "natural" sprays (from plants), non-toxic coatings (clay dust), and some other applications that sounded like I probably wouldn't want to use them. I wondered if I would soon learn what each of the pests mentioned (moths, insects, fungus?) actually looked like myself when they swarmed my cherished and lovingly pruned fruit trees and made sure that every blossom bud was cored and therefore sterile. I would have to hope that the "rumor of my fruits' death had been greatly exaggerated" and find more information. I had also managed to attract a large number of different types of birds to my yard through planting several types of native shrubs I had bought from The New England Wildflower Society nursery -- maybe one or more of them would love to eat some apple moths. Cross your fingers. (BTW: crossed branches will rub on each other and distort each other's growth and therefore should be pruned so that one healthy branch remains.)

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