Pruning is one key aspect in an orchard. I’ll hang on to every words that Earnscy says when he come around the orchard to look at the trees. Once every few months. There’s many thing to say about pruning, cut here, cut there, tip here, tip there, bench cut, flesh cut, direction, etc etc. I wonder is that what experienced pruners do to intimidate new comers with all these medical-like jargon. I’ve managed to isolate the patterns, what you want is to promote good air flow to lower risk of disease, and maintain a good shape to promote sustainable fruiting year in year out.

Ruthlessness is key. The best way to promote good air flow is to cut off every branch, reducing it to the trunk. Of course then you won’t get any fruit off it and I’ll be sacked by my boss. The key here is spacing, each scaffold branch should not be so close to each other that they end up as layered cake. There’s plenty of diagram on the internet about different shapes to prune to, all you need to do is ask Google, and you shall receive. When I’m out pruning in the orchard, I don’t go by it with mathematical precision down to 99.99% confidence level, 3 scaffold branch a tier exactly 120 degrees from each other, 3 tiers each exactly 50cm apart, that’s too anal. The trick is to get in touch with the tree, have a feel, what is it trying to tell you, does it feel constipated, and go with your feelings. If you still can’t get it, try again after pruning another hundred trees.

Sap flow/Shape. Experts always talk about the understanding of tree physiology. I don’t exactly know what physiology means but I think I know what it means. In lay man English, trees grow up, towards the sun. The foliage growth, is more prone to an upward angle, probably influenced by sap flow. Think of this, a young man out of Harvard, and all he want to do is to climb the corporate ladder, up up and up he goes, all he think about is being the CEO one day reaping in big bonuses by manipulating share price taking the shareholders for fools. You got to slow him down, then he will think about settling down and start his own nest, have a family. You can do that to trees too! If you want a branch to start fruiting, prune the tree so that it will throw out a horizontal shoots, or just tie down branches to horizontal level to slow down the sap flow which promote the formation of flowering buds instead of leaf buds that turn into new shoots. If you want a branch to grow faster, just train it upright and watch it reach for the sky!

How anal can one get? In the orchard, we only want to train the lower two third of the tree by tying them down with twines. What about the top? Just cut them away after the peak of their useful life, 3 years? At the Orchard Cottage, I’ll be so anal that I will train every single branch with mathematical precision. They are pretty much restricted to their 2m height compare to 3.2m-3.6m in the orchard.

Does this then only apply to fruit trees? Air flow. Shape (flowering buds vs lead buds). I don’t think so. However, you will also need to know what type of wood does flowering buds form on, new shoot, one year old, two year old, etc. If its a tree, or a bush, and you can cut it with a pair of secateurs and hack at it with a saw, the concept pretty much applies. I would say, be in touch with the tree and make every cut consciously.

My precious seedlings in the cloche. Protected from all the elements except from the most bitter frost. I also setup some possums traps the other day and caught 3 possums in a single night! That’s the one that stripped two of my flowering plums of their leafs, and munted all 9 of my roses, and gave a #1 haircut to 2 of my strawberry plants.

*10 Apr 2012 – I neglect to mention about harvesting light, anything that the sun touches, grows! A canopy too dense will eventually dulls the main trunk to stop producing new shoots to replace old branches. Some fruits need sunlight to matures too! That would make 3 key points. Air flow. Sap flow. Sunlight.