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Pruning bare root trees-advice needed

Posted by javi_mari 7 TN (My Page) on
Fri, Feb 27, 09 at 21:18

Yesterday I planted an an apple whip, a peach and a sour cherry, all bareroot and need to do some of the initial pruning newly planted trees need. My question is if pruning these trees with sub-freezing temperatures on the way might be harmful in any way. Should I wait until this cold spell passes before pruning?
I also have good information available for purning the peach and the apple, but not for the cherry. I think it has more branches on it than it's root system can support. How much should I remove? Are cherries pruned to an open center or trained with a central leader?
Thanks for the advice!


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Pruning bare root trees-advice needed

Javi:

I might prune back the apple whip if it is very tall and spindly, say over 3 feet, but if not I would leave it alone.
Let it gather some strength and feather out a little before you start to prune. It may not even be necessary to prune next season, though some branch spreading could be helpful. If your apple tree tries to grow multiple leaders in the center, always remove the strongest and leave the single weakest until your scaffold is established. At some point, you may decide to remove the center branches entirely, as I have done with most of my apples.

I can't see your trees, but bareroot stone fruits are seldom shipped with more branches than they can support. Root systems grow in quickly in good conditions, so give them good conditions. I favor an open center with spreading branches for peach trees, and the same for cherry trees, though cherries can support more branches than peaches and still produce good fruit. I prune peaches after they have set fruit and I have done one or two thinnings (I thin peaches in a number of stages, each time leaving the largest healthy, undamaged peaches). When the peaches begin to grow up, I may prune the trees again if too much bushy growth begins to shade the fruit. Keep your peaches in as much sun as possible with good air circulation and they will grow up bigger and healthier.

So unless your stone fruit trees really have an exaggerated number of branches on them, I would leave them alone for this season at least. There will be plenty of time for pruning. If your peach tree blossoms and tries to set some fruit, remove them all for at least one season. The following season you can leave a few as the branches grow stronger. If your cherry tree has a few cherries, don't bother to try to remove them. If you are trying to grow sweet cherries, that will be a tough row to hoe, but tart cherries are easy and usually trouble free.

Don Yellman, Great Falls, VA


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RE: Pruning bare root trees-advice needed

In my opinion the one rule most oftened ignored that is crucial and easy to follow (not emotionally but intelectually) is the 1/3 rule. Remove all branches more than 1/3 the diameter of the trunk at the point of attachment. This way scaffolds wont choke out the vigor of the central leader and will form strong attachments to the trunk.

I believe in maitaining a central leader tree for at least the first 2 years of development, although peaches are not always handled this way.

Peaches can be pruned after they start to bud out which is said to discourage canker. The rest are usually pruned in late winter or very early spring.


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RE: Pruning bare root trees-advice needed

I appreciate the advice. However I am still somewhat confused regarding the cherry tree. Much of the literature I've read indicates the central leader method but not universally.
Don, you state the open center method for cherries. Any specific reasons?
Thanks again.


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RE: Pruning bare root trees-advice needed

My pruning book says cherries are naturally tall growers, and will grow weak crotches if allowed to keep the top growth. It recommends cutting the whip at 25 inches when planting, and developing 3 to 4 strong scaffold branches with good crotch angles the first summer.
from How to Prune Fruit Trees by R. Sanford Martin c 1944

Carla in Sac


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RE: Pruning bare root trees-advice needed

Javi:

You have not told us about the type of cherry you are growing, or the rootstock beneath it. There are significant differences in cherry rootstocks and their growth habits.

Cherry trees on traditional rootstocks like Mahaleb or Mazzard will grow to become quite large. I favor controlling them, principally in the center, to keep the branches within reach when picking from a 7-foot orchard ladder, which is what I work with. I don't see a reason to grow cherries I cannot reach, although you might be growing yours for the birds. For me, a lower, spreading tree is more productive. Cherries on dwarfing rootstocks require far less pruning attention. Genetic dwarf cherry trees like Northstar also need only minor pruning to keep branches from crowding.

Please note that I do not oppose pruning of apple, peach, cherry, or any other tree, but, unless the nursery stock is badly out of balance, I don't think you need to do it immediately after planting. Next year, after the tree has begun to grow and you can analyze its weak and strong points, you can decide how to train it.


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RE: Pruning bare root trees-advice needed

Oh God! It can be frustrating to read people giving advice based on books they've read. There has been so much bad advice given on pruning over the years it is boggling to the mind and a lot of it is published and written by pedigreed specialists.

Fortunately things are getting better in the information coming from places like Cornell if you search for advice for commercial growers- the stuff for the home grower tends to be quite uneven.

Different cherries have different growth habits and cherries are amongst the most difficult trees to prune to the most productive shape. I struggle to achieve good productivity from a reasonably compact tree but at least the first years don't have to be complicated.

It is most likely that your tree will become an open center tree even if you try to maintain it as a central leader, but if you train it originally as a central leader for the first 2 years using the ratio formula I've suggested you will have a leg up producing a productive and compact tree. If you want an open center from the get-go, just plan to cut the central leader to a scaffold after 2 years. Cherry trees usually only need 3 scaffolds to harvest the full 360 of available light.

The real goal of pruning any fruit tree in my opinion is to produce a tree with the maximum amount of well lighted fruiting (small) wood and the least amount of structural (large) wood. Basically harvesting the most light with the least "infrastructure".


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RE: Pruning bare root trees-advice needed

The variety is Montmorency. Unfortunately I don't know what it's grafted on to.
I've tried to research a number of different academic/extension service publications on the matter. Pruning advice for apples and peaches seems plentiful and consistent, but with cherries I have had less success.
As far as Montmorency, is there any specific pruning recommendation? Should I just leave it alone for the first year or two? It has al least four good branches that will make good scaffolds and a pretty decent central leader.


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RE: Pruning bare root trees-advice needed

Javi:

Yes, by all means leave it alone for a year or two. I probably wouldn't prune it until it starts to fruit, and even then not much. Just don't let it get so tall that you can't pick all the cherries 7 or 8 years down the road from now. Picking cherry trees clean (as well as winter cultivation around the base) is important to control the life cycle of the cherry fruit fly.

Don Yellman, Great Falls, VA


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RE: Pruning bare root trees-advice needed

Montmorency is a whole nother animal. Really pretty easy to handle. You can still stick to my former advice which you haven't acknowledged. Why do I waste my time- people take me so much more seriously when I charge them steeply for my consultation. G-sperts (my word for google experts) clutter up the the net with non-experiential advice and the beginner can hardly tell the difference. Don and I actually have a wealth of hands on experience. Don, do you grow Montmorency? They grow nothing like sweet cherries. I wouldn't completely leave it alone if it starts to grow oversized scaffolds that distort the form of the tree.


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RE: Pruning bare root trees-advice needed

Harvestman:

Yes, I had a Montmorency for 25 years; it was on Mahaleb or Mazzard, whichever of those two is normally used for tart cherries. Bacterial canker finally caught up with it, branches began to die back, and I removed it and replanted with a Meteor.

Many time the advice I offer is based on mistakes I have already made, and this is one of those cases. Although the tree had a nice spread, I allowed it to become too large, and while it produced many gallons of wonderful cherries over the years, it got to the point that I was near the top of my 3-point orchard ladder to pick the higher fruit. That is not a position I enjoy, the more so since I am now older and more brittle. I don't mind going a little more than halfway up the ladder.

I think that if I had dormant sprayed this tree with copper, which is my standard practice now, that tree might still be alive.

There are occasional psychic rewards here, but I don't expect them, and therefore am never disappointed.

Don Yellman, Great Falls, VA


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RE: Pruning bare root trees-advice needed

If you had stayed on it you could have kept it shorter too. I have killed sour cherries when trying to bring them down in size- the only species that I find impossible to reduce in height once they get to a certain point. At least I think I've killed them- death was a bit slow and scale played a role as well. Scale's often an unwelcome guest after reductive pruning. Now I'm on top of that and I am also cautious about removing much wood from sour cherries.


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RE: Pruning bare root trees-advice needed

Thank you all for your valuable insights. I think I have a much better feel for how to manage these young trees. I find myself "out of my element" when it comes to temperate fruit trees as I grew up in the tropics and orcharding (gardening as a whole) is a completely different deal in those latitudes. I plan on really enjoying this new experience with its successes and failures!


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RE: Pruning bare root trees-advice needed

  • Posted by bboy z8 WA USA (My Page) on
    Thu, Mar 5, 09 at 23:37

Give it more study before you decide what pruning to undertake. In addition to those darned pruning books you can get information from web sites, videos and seminars - if any are to be held near you this year.

Hormones triggering new root production are produced by the opening dormant buds at the branch tips, so if you don't head back bare-rooted stock at planting time that should help the root system.


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RE: Pruning bare root trees-advice needed

Actually those tips are usually pruned by the grower before shipping, but I guess a few will remain lower in the tree- not sure that will eliminate the staggering but the most important thing is that BRs are in the ground ASAP. Possible being when the soil can be worked and hard winter is over.

I doubt that the staggering of pruned shoot tips is a big issue with a tree that has been ripped out of the soil and put in a refrigerator for several months but maybe research can prove me wrong.


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RE: Pruning bare root trees-advice needed

I read a couple places to wait until it's hot to prune sour cherries but that hasn't been mentioned in this thread so far. Is it a myth? I have a Balaton sour cherry on order. They asked if I wanted them to prune it before sending it and I said no. I was thinking that I should wait until summer.

I found some information about pruning that is specific for Balaton. It's from '01 and I haven't found anything more current. I'm still learning terminology so some of this doesn't make sense to me yet. I don't think the article below says to wait until summer to prune. It does say "Always whip the trees at planting." Does this mean I need to cut off ALL the branches when I plant it?

I'm a bit discouraged after reading that it's important to remove all the cherries each year. I'm a short person and even with a ladder, it will be hard for me to reach across. Hope the birds will clean up the ones I miss. I'd like to keep my Balaton small even if it means less cherries. What will encourage it to be shorter?

Here is a link that might be useful: Balaton Tree Training


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