Pruning the apple tree

Well it’s done now, for better or worse. There’s no going back.

I have to admit to a degree of trepidation each year when the third week of August comes around and it is time to prune my Suntan apple. It has to be done; in a garden the size of mine there is no question of allowing it to grow unchecked. So I have a quick look at the RHS website to remind myself what I should be doing and then get stuck in.

Three leaves above the basal cluster for laterals, one leaf above the basal cluster for sub-laterals. Clear enough.

No it isn’t! There is no line marked on a shoot to say “the basal cluster ends here”. There is no clear difference between laterals and sub-laterals. In truth it doesn’t matter that much. I know that now because I have been through this for four years now and the tree flowers beautifully. I don’t get a lot of fruit, but that is not because of my pruning.

Suntan-1

Before.

 

The first pass is from the ground, cutting everything I can reach. It’s not a great deal, perhaps a third. Then out comes the stepladder, from which I can just about reach the rest. I end up with a fair sized pile of prunings on the floor.

Those prunings represent reduced leaf area, which translates to reduced vigour in the tree, favouring production of flowers rather than growth. I live in Cornwall and our climate certainly encourages lots of growth, so there is an element of compensating for that in what I do. The timing is important, doing it now should mean little or no new growth before the tree drops its leaves and goes dormant. Doing it later reduces the effectiveness of the treatment.

Suntan-2

Lower half completed.

Suntan-3

After.

The lack of fruit is down to poor pollination. Suntan is a late flowerer and Until last winter I had nothing flowering at the same time. I have now planted Newton Wonder and Lanes Prince Albert, which should in time rectify the situation, as well as providing me with cooking apples. Those I shall try and grow as spindle trees, curtailing vigour by tying down their laterals. I shall also graft a few bits onto my “family” tree, which is behind Suntan in the picture, and possibly onto Suntan itself. Then if they grow too big I can get rid of them.

Prunings

The prunings, which will be shredded and composted.

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