Pruning Appletree whilst the weather is clear
Appletee Cottage is surrounded by apple orchards which we started planting in 2014.
We how have over 360 apple trees and now that the weather has improved and the rain has stopped (for a bit) we've started the annual pruning. This can take place any time between November and March whilst the trees are dormant.
There are four orchards to be pruned - one to the west and one to the south - both of which can be seen from the cottage, One to the east of Shandon Farm buildings which can be seen from the road, and one to the south east, This is the largest (and the first planted) which is on a south facing slope, protected by high willow wind breaks.
Pruning can take a few days. The larger the tree the longer the time taken. The purpose of pruning is to remove dead branches and branches which cross and rub. We also prune to try to make the centre of the tree less dense - to let the light in and reach the leaves. Some advocate pruning the trees into a bowl shape. While this lets in lots of light it does not work for all varieties. With some trees, if the branches are too spread they are in danger of snapping off the trunk - leaving a nasty scar which can let in disease.
When pruning it is essential to have the correct equipment. We use regular secateurs for the small branches, ratchet secateurs for the medium sized cuts and loppers or a saw for major limbs. All tools should be sharp so that a a clean cut is made and there are no splits or 'hairs" remaining.
Canker can be a problem with apple trees along with other diseases so we take care to paint all the cuts with Arbrex. This seals and disinfects the cut - provided it is applied soon after the cut has been made.
Between pruning each tree we wipe the cutting equipment with methylated spirits to prevent any disease spreading. Cleaning equipment (and hands) is more stringent if there is any canker on the tree. Fortunately canker is much reduced by painting cuts with Arbrex.
An interesting fact about apple trees is that if you plant a seed from an apple the plant that grows from it will never be the same variety as the tree it has come from. In order to preserve the variety (and we have 46 varieties in our orchards) the tree needs to be grafted.
In past years we have used the scions (the off cuts with a growing tip) to make new trees. Using a scion about the thickness of a pencil we graft it onto bought in rootstock and plant it in our nursery. The grafts usually have about a 70-75% success rate. However, we have been getting about 90% success in the last couple of years. Could it be the Scottish weather?