Waking and working to an orchard chorus

It’s pruning time, and we are progressing well with the pruning in the orchard, accompanied by the birds

Pruning a spindle bush appleThis morning started with birdsong before dawn, so the days must be lengthening… slowly. This winter has been mild, but not too mild. We’ve had some frosts and cold days which have kept the fruit trees dormant. Just as a contrast, this time last year some of the pear trees had already started to break bud and flower!

The vines were pruned in December because it is best to prune them before the sap starts to rise and, if possible, before the end of January as they may bleed sap if pruned later. Today we have been pruning spindle bush apples. Spindle bush trees are cone-shaped trees with a central stem, a lower tier of branches and shorter upper branches which are replaced in turn. It’s important to keep a balance of both vegetative and fruiting wood.

Apple tree after pruningI’m sure you’ll recall that last year was quite wet through the early part of the summer and as a result there was more growth than usual on our trees. This has given us the challenge of removing crowded branches to improve air movement and light penetration without stimulating too much growth.

We’re facing an additional challenge too because some of the trees have grown too vigorously for the rootstock which they were grafted onto. This is because we deliberately grafted all the trees onto the same rootstock for comparison purposes as they are part of a collection. For example, this is the case with some trees of ‘Blenheim Orange’ which were grafted onto the semi dwarfing rootstock M26.  A better choice for ‘Blenheim Orange’ would be the dwarfing rootstock M9 or very dwarfing M27 particularly when space is limited, such as in a domestic garden.

We like to press on with pruning in January so we will have time to plant fruit trees as the soil conditions improve in February. At the moment the soil is either too wet or cold for planting. It’s good to be planting into improving conditions, so don’t rush to plant now. Be ready to plant when conditions improve and remember that there is still time to buy fruit trees this winter from nurseries or garden centres including the plant centres at the RHS Gardens.

See also

RHS Advice: Winter pruning apples and pears

RHS Books: Pruning fruit trees


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