Apple Tree Rehabilitation

This winter, I undertook my first attempt at hard pruning a fruit tree. We have an unknown variety of apple tree in the yard, which was here when we bought the house. Examining it for the first time, I saw that it was 2m tall, with a trunk diameter of 15.5cm, but I didn’t know what rootstock it was or its age. I could also see that it was really pretty mangled and a very strange shape due to how it had been pruned.

‘Original’ shape of the tree we inherited

I took a tree pruning course with Apple Tree Man (aka Andrew Lear), and he thinks the tree is on M26 rootstock. On the course we learned how to calculate the age of a pruned fruit tree by identifying and counting growth sections put on each year. That knowledge has helped me establish that our apple tree is 10 or 11 years old.

The ideal shape for many fruit trees is a spindle shape, with a clear ‘leader’ (main tip/top of the trunk). Our tree did not have a leader, nor did it have any branches growing laterally. All leaf and fruit buds were clustered like fingers at the top of vertical branches. I sought advice from Andrew Lear and he said that it might be possible to hard prune the tree so that it then regrows lower branches. We discussed bringing the two side branches way back and pruning the remaining branches as I would for fruit this year. Next year or the year after, the plan will be to hard prune that remaining section. This will of course reduce the apple harvest for several years but it means I have a chance of returning the tree to a ‘tree’ shape!

After hard pruning

In January, I reread my course notes, grabbed my pruning saw, and psyched myself up to make the cuts. I remembered to saw through further up from where I wanted the final cut to be and then do another cut further down without the weight of the full branch to damage the cut. The end result looks drastic, but I’m hopeful that it’s one step closer to allowing the tree to reach a more natural size and gently pruned shape.

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