At a regular working bee, we were fortunate enough to have Peter the Orchardist come along to guide us through many aspects of summer pruning.
The following (in no particular order) are notes taken from what he said.
There are three reasons why we need to prune the fruit trees in early summer.
*help create sizable fruit and good crop this year, and
*ensure a better return crop for the following year.
Fruit trees’ natural rhythm is to produce a good crop every second year. By doing summer pruning this can be altered to a good crop every year.
Apples – It is best to thin bunches of apples to no more than two per bunch – one is best. Hold the head of the fruit and peel it off the stem – try to leave the stem.
Pick out the smaller fruit and any that have evidence of codling moth. Bunches of 3 or more create dark havens for codling moths. Throughout a season there are three generations of codling moth. By reducing the first generation the second two will be greatly reduced. All fruit removed goes into the green bin.
All trees – Remove shoot growth growing back into the tree – buds that develop new fruit need sunshine and it also keeps the pests down. In 5 minutes you can have a big impact in opening the tree up. Now is the perfect time (late November) as there is not as much return growth over summer. Cut shoots right at the junction with the branch.
Thinning is one of the few ways to get trees to bear fruit annually as trees work in a two year cycle.
Once trees are opened up and fruit is ripening trees need to be netted as birds can get in more easily.
Stone fruits – earwigs hide in bunches of fruit. They hate light. Therefore by thinning fruit out there is more light around each piece. There is much less likely to be damage from earwigs which often occurs just before the harvest and the skin softens. Keep the bigger fruit.
Heavy fruit on the end of a thin branch bends the branch over. This fruit will not mature very well. It also creates the wrong hormonal flow and therefore growth for the following season is not good. Cut the end of the branch off so that it is upright and fruit lower on the branch can ripen. It depowers the tree if fruit is pulling spindly limbs down and none of the fruit on the branch will ripen.
Get bunches down to 1 or 2 fruit gets rid of earwigs. If earwigs have created holes in the skin, when it rains the fruit will rot.
In winter you do not cut back to the older wood but it is fine for this time of year, but definitely not if rain is forecast in the next 3 days. Dry weather is the time to prune.
If you can’t pick fruit because it is too high off the ground, why grow it?
If you need to remove an unproductive tree take as many roots out as you can when you remove it.
If it has been dry for some time water 2 weeks before the fruit comes to maturity. As soon as a tree becomes water stressed leaves lean over, the processes don’t work as well and fruit won’t ripen properly.
Early fruiting trees are good as bugs can’t keep up with them and they tend not to dry out as much over summer.
The trees at the garden are improving and the manure and compost is definitely helping. Late winter is fine for applying food as it takes a little while for the nitrogen and other nutrients to become available from organic fertilisers.
The next pruning is a heavier ‘winter’ prune. For the apricots and nectarines this could be in late March/April after the fruit has been harvested.