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Knowing the cropping habit of your apple and pear trees and identifying which buds produce leaves and buds will enable you to tailor your pruning for optimum harvest. It also allows you to decide if the cultivar is suitable for the training form that you have in mind.
Fruit and wood buds on an apple branch
Fruit buds can be identified from mid-summer, but are particularly apparent after mid-autumn.
Fruit trees produce two types of buds:
By identifying which buds are which, you can avoid excessive removal of potentially fruiting wood and ensure a good crop.
By November a plump, round bud will have formed which carries the flowers in April and May. The bud scales on fruit buds are typically downy, especially on apples, pears, peaches and nectarines.
In summer, fruit buds are often 'supported' by a surrounding cluster of leaves, perhaps the rosette of a spur, or the tip of a shoot.
Wood or growth buds (i.e. buds carrying leaves but no flowers) are easily distinguished from fruit buds by being slender, pointed buds borne in a leaf axil. These buds are usually much smaller and more insignificant than fruit buds.
Before pruning apple trees, it is helpful to identify fruit buds and the cropping habit of the tree.
Apple and pear cultivars fall into three groups according to where the fruit bud is produced and the fruit carried; spur-bearers, tip-bearers and partial tip-bearers.
There is a number of tip- and partial tip-bearing apple cultivars, though most are spur-bearing. The majority of pear cultivars are also spur bearing.
Any form of pruning that involves shortening shoot tips will reduce the yield of tip-bearing apples, and to a lesser extent, partial tip-bearers. Therefore tip- and partial tip-bearers are best avoided when restricted forms such as cordons or espaliers are wanted and spur bearing cultivars should be chosen instead. Some partial tip-bearers such as ‘Discovery’ may be still be trained into reasonably successful restricted forms.
Occasionally unusual swellings occur on the tips of apple trees. These are known as bourse shoots (sometimes called cluster bases or knobs). They are swellings at the base of a flower cluster and are not harmful to the tree. These unpromising-looking shoots will bear normal flowers and leaves in subsequent seasons.
Bourse shoots are formed when a bud elongates. The phenomenon may appear on any apple or pear.
Infestation by woolly aphid can also lead to knobbly swellings on apple that should be removed if possible at pruning time.
While looking closely at branches it is also a good time to check the health of your trees for signs of apple canker or blistering on young shoots caused by apple and pear scab.
Apples: choosing cultivarsApples and pears: winter pruningApples and pears: pruning made easyApples and pears: pruning new treesApples and pears: summer pruningApples and pears: renovating old treesApples and pears: winter regulated pruning
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