Practical Permaculture – Rehabilitation of Fruit Trees

I promise I'll take more photos of apples this year... I have been saving this for photos, but now is the time to prune so I'm posting it... Enjoy!..

I promise I’ll take more photos of apples this year… I have been saving this for photos, but now is the time to prune so I’m posting it… Enjoy!..

Older fruit trees that have been neglected are usually huge and impossible to maintain. In many cases, these old trees can be brought back to a more manageable state. The typical method of rehabilitating older trees is through carefully selected pruning cuts. Apple and pear trees are the most easy to rehabilitate. Cherries can also be rehabilitated, but to a lesser degree and with less success. Peaches are not recommended for rehabilitation, and are not normally considered. Once a peach tree has grown out, they are never the same… .

You should ask yourself a couple of questions before you begin the daunting task of rehabilitating an old fruit tree. The first and most important question you should ask yourself before starting is whether or not your tree is even worth saving…

Does the fruit taste good? Most of the large and overgrown trees I come in contact with are seed grown trees, rarely does one have even relatively good apples that I would consider worth the time and effort that is often required to bring the tree into a manageable size. To give you an idea of how rare it is to get a good tasting apple from seed… The odds are in the ballpark of 1 in 100,000… That’s why we graft…

Is the tree healthy and structurally sound? Do the trunk and main branches appear capable of supporting a massive load of fruit? Look for signs of insects and fungus.

Is the tree in a suitable location? All to often I encounter massive apple trees situated in small, urban yards. These trees are often so massive that grass doesn’t even survive underneath them… In my eyes, regardless of quality, the tree should come down…

The first step is to check out the trunk and trunk ends of the major branches. They should be reasonably strong and free from dead or rotting wood. Although much of the trunk and parts of the major limbs are nonfunctioning, they do provide structural strength to the entire tree. If the trunk and parts of the major limbs are hollow, it is not likely attempts to save the tree will be successful. A thin green line, visible when the bark is peeled back gently with a knife, indicates a healthy branch and tissue.

If you end up finding serious problems you can always take scion wood for grafting, then cut the tree down. Remember that you can fit 4 dwarf fruit trees in the same area that a mature own-root fruit tree will fit, weigh your options. Keep in mind that what you are about to do is very stressful for the tree, if it is already stressed out, you will most likely kill it… Save yourself some time…

If you decide to rejuvenate the tree, prune out all dead and broken branches right away, this should be done without a second thought. Cut away the sucker growth around the bottom of the trunk. Once the dead and broken material has been removed, the general form of the tree can be seen.

The second step is to decide how big you want the tree to be. Remember that you can never make a seedling tree into a dwarf tree no matter how much you prune. A dwarf tree can be maintained at about 6 to 10 feet tall, a semi-dwarf at about 10 to 16 feet and a standard at about 16 to 20 feet tall. Trees that have not been pruned in many years should not be reduced to the desired height in a single cut. To prevent excessive growth and excessive sunburn on previously shaded portions of the tree, you should plan on reducing tree height over a period of three years by removing no more than one-third of the tree in one season.

To reduce tree height, selectively cut to branches growing more horizontal to the ground. Thin out excessive branches as well. Do not indiscriminately cut all the shoots in half. After the desired height and limb spread have been decided, look closely at the major branches to determine where they could be cut to bring the tree into conformity.

It is very important that no nitrogen be applied immediately after the initial heavy cutting. Nitrogen should not be applied because the root system under the tree is large enough to provide water, oxygen, and stored food reserves to all of the above ground portions of the tree before any cutting was done. In effect, the first years pruning means that the same amount of root system is supplying fewer growing points. Adding more nitrogen fertilizer would stimulate excessive vegetative growth that would further complicate next year’s pruning.

During the summer after the first winter pruning, remove the numerous water sprouts that will grow on the heavily pruned tree. Water sprouts are rapidly growing vegetative shoots that develop around the pruning cuts.

Also during this time, or from late May to early June, thin the fruit down to one fruit per cluster and space the clusters about 5 or 6 inches apart. This practice will ensure that the remaining fruit will attain the largest possible size.

In the late winter or early spring of the following year, before growth begins, prune the tree again. This time, however, limit the pruning to thinning out the bearing wood. Take time to look carefully at the tree. Notice where the 1, 2, 3, and 4-year old wood pieces are located. This is important because the best fruit grows only on spurs that are 2 to 3 years old. To promote better flower formation and good light penetration into the tree, separate these bearing surfaces by about 18 to 24 vertical inches from any other layer.

Another way to visualize this type of pruning is to imagine the removal of 65 to 70 percent of the bearing surface. This is accomplished primarily through thinning out cuts; that is, removing branches back to their point of origin.

Following the last year of rejuvenation pruning, apply a light application of fertilizer. A good rule of thumb is to apply one half pound of 5-10-10 for each inch of trunk diameter, measured 18 to 24 inches above the soil line. Apply fertilizer at any time from December until April. Scatter it under the limb spread of the entire tree, but keep it at least 6 inches away from the trunk.

peace – chriscondello

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Apples – The Forbidden Fruit

Urban Apples on Whitney Avenue

Apple trees don’t get the respect they deserve, a quick way to become my enemy is to say “Just an apple tree”. When it comes to storied fruit trees, the apple is king! I am going to try to convince you to plant apple trees, and I am going to do it without ever mentioning the cool fact that you can eat them. All you have to do is tell me something is “forbidden” and I’m on board, but other people take a little more convincing.

Apple Tree – Malus domestica – Rose Family

The modern-day apple finds its roots in the mountains of central Asia where it can still be found growing wild today, Turkey is commonly thought to be the center of diversity. Cultivation of the species has progressed over a long period of time and permitted a secondary introgression of genes from other species into the open-pollinated seeds, including such a large amount of gene exchange with the crabapple, that current populations of apples are more related to those of crabapple than to the more similar progenitor Malus sieversii.

The apple tree was perhaps the earliest tree to be cultivated, and our modern-day fruits have been chosen through thousands of years of selection. Alexander the Great is credited with finding dwarf apples in Kazakhstan in Asia, those he brought back to Macedonia might have been the progenitors of dwarfing rootstock.

Apples were brought to North America with colonists in the 17th century, and the first apple orchard on the North American continent was planted in Boston by Reverend William Blaxton in 1625. Apple varieties brought as seed from Europe were spread along Native American trade routes, as well as being cultivated on colonial farms. Prior to this the only apples native to North America were crabapple, which were at one time called “common apples”.

Apples appear in many religious traditions, often as a mystical or forbidden fruit. One of the problems identifying apples in a religion, mythology and folktales is that the word “apple” was used as a generic term for all foreign fruit, other than berries, but including nuts, as late as the 17th century.

The apple was considered in ancient Greece, to be sacred to Aphrodite, and to throw an apple at someone was to symbolically declare one’s love; and similarly, to catch it was to symbolically show one’s acceptance of that love. This is thought to be the precursor to our modern-day tradition of a ring being used in modern marriage proposals, imagine if all you had to buy was an apple…

Though the forbidden fruit in the book of Genesis is not identified, popular christian tradition has said that it was an apple that Eve coaxed Adam to share with her. This was probably the result of Renaissance painters adding elements of Greek mythology into Biblical scenes, though it is much more likely to have been a pomegranate. As a result, in the story of Adam and Eve , the apple became a symbol for knowledge, immortality, temptation, the fall of man into sin, and sin itself.

In Latin, the words for “apple” and for “evil” are similar (mAlum “an apple”, malum “an evil, a misfortune”). This may also have influenced the apple becoming interpreted as the biblical “forbidden fruit”. The larynx in the human throat has been called an Adam’s apple because of a notion that it was caused by the forbidden fruit sticking in the throat of Adam.

Some of the old world apples are beginning to be rediscovered, many of which have been in cultivation for hundreds, if not thousands of years. If you are looking to grow an exotic species of fruit, Google “Victorian Apples” and consider one of the old world varieties that have been recently brought back into cultivation. Many of the apples of the past, though they may not have had the shelf life of todays apples, were actually much better tasting… The chance of them ever being cultivated in mass is pretty slim, so it will be up to “us”, the home gardeners and micro-farmers to keep them alive…

grow forbidden fruit – chriscondello

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