Lots of Kitchen Gardeners have talked about pruning their fruit trees with something akin to dread – the things that could go wrong! But pruning your apples and plums isn’t nearly as fraught as you might think.
Meet Rob. Rob grew up on a biodynamic farm long before it was fashionable. He has lots of amusing stories about dealing with the flummoxment of the experts from the Agriculture Department.
He’s pruned thousands of trees, starting when he was just a kid.
We were most grateful he agreed to share what he’s learnt about the care and maintenance of stone fruit, pome fruit and citrus.
This is a very neglected apricot tree, probably not pruned for five years.
It’s grown into an odd shape, and it overhangs a driveway. While it’s healthy, it was not in a particularly good shape for fruit production, easy harvesting or good air-flow, which is important to reduce the likelihood of infestation or fungal infection.
The first principle Rob shared was that you can prune a tree any way you like but there will be consequences. If you take out old growth on a tree that fruits on old growth, you can expect a reduced yield the next season. Likewise if you want your tree to offer you shade, you should expect not to be able to reach the topmost fruit.
This apricot will fruit on new growth, and we could see flower and leaf buds just waiting to erupt.
Rob trimmed the tall branches back to a reachable height, took out boughs that crossed each other and created a funnel shape to encourage air-flow and ease of harvest. That meant taking out quite a bit of new growth, so there will be fewer fruit this year, but next year it should have a much larger yield.
This citrus, on the other hand, is not in a good position. It doesn’t get enough direct sunlight and is competing also for water and nutrients with several other trees.
It has citrus leaf miner (spray with eco pest oil) and aphids (blast off with a jet of water from the hose).
Rob’s advice was to move it to give it the best chance of good growth and fruit.
Some other important things to remember:
- Sterilise your tools between trees so as not to spread any infection. A rag soaked in metho is cheap and easy.
- Keep your tools sharp so your cuts are clean, reducing the chance of open cuts festering.
- Keep weeds and mulch away from tree trunks to discourage collar rot.
- Liquid feeding trees around the drip line is the most effective way of boosting fruit production and general tree health.
- The best way to deal with fruit fly, which is a major problem in Perth, is to individually net fruit once it has set with a drawstring net bag.
- Pruning can be done in winter or late summer/early autumn once a tree has finished fruiting.
Rob has agreed to do another pruning workshop next year, if you missed this one and are interested.