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VIDEO: Pruning the High Density Orchard
Posted on : January 10, 2018

In this video, Beverly is joined by Angela Chandler of the Garden Academy. They discuss the best ways to prune your high density orchard trees.

[Beverly] Hi, I’m Beverly Welch here at The Arbor Gate in Tomball, Texas. And I’m here today with my good friend, Angela Chandler…- [Angela]

Good morning, Beverly.

– …of The Garden Academy. So it’s January, and it is time for pruning.

– It’s time to prune fruit trees for sure.

– It is. And so today, we’re going to work on our peach trees that if you go back and check past YouTubes, were little tiny guys, not even 18 months ago.

– That’s right.

– And now look at this.

– They’re gorgeous.

– They are gorgeous.

– And they had beautiful peaches last year.

– They really did. We’re working on peach trees which would include your peaches, your plums, your nectarines, right?

– Right. Everything in that family is ready to prune now.

– And this is our little high density plot that we did. Our purpose in pruning is multifold. We want to increase production. We want to get out any dead wood, open up for air flow, but mainly to control the growth, right?

– Yes. What we want to do is we want to remove excess vigor which has a tendency to move towards the top of the tree, and push that energy down into the tree for our peach production. So one of the goals with anything that’s in that peach family is that we want to remove old wood that has a tendency to become less productive over time and encourage the tree to respond by producing new fresh wood that is more productive for us.

– So our first step then, from what I understand you saying, is we’re going to bring down the height a little bit, right?

– We are. We’re going to do that for a couple of reasons. Number one is to bring the fruit down in to where it’s reachable for us. And then number two, it’s going to remove the vigor that the tree is sending up to the top. It’s really what we call excess vigor. We don’t want that. It’s folia growth, vegetative growth, and what we want is fruit production.

So we’re going to push that energy back down into the center of the tree.

– Okay, so what’s the height we’re looking for?

– Well, I always gauge it. Its kind of an individual thing, but I always gauge it by, what can you reach? And in my case, I’m 5″4′. So I try to keep my trees where I can reach them easily, so about seven feet is the maximum that I would be looking for. And it might be anywhere between six and eight feet depending on what’s comfortable for you and your family.

– So we’re gonna go through first and just kind of make a blanket cut and bring that height down.

– We are, indeed.

– All right, let’s go.

– All right. So we want to cut here so that we have all this nice growth up here.

– Okay, perfect. And we’re just going to go limb by limb?

– Limb by limb. And what I’m doing is cutting to an outside-facing branch. And I may even tip that back so that we do keep everything down within about our seven foot range.

– Okay, so on the outside-facing branch, is that going to encourage more outward growth?

– It is. What we want to kind of replicate is a big goblet, what we call an open vase. That’s what we’re looking for.

– All right. So I’m going to grab these loppers and meet you on the other side.

– Sounds good. All right. So we have started from the top working down to about a seven foot height. And wow, what a collection of branches we have?

– We have. We’ve removed a lot.

– We have. Now, we did have to make one large cut there, didn’t we?

– We did. You know, occasionally, you’ll have some of the side branches. Remember that we wanted to stimulate juvenile wood all the time. So one of the side branches was a little too large, and after a while, it would become unproductive . So we decided to remove it. And a good tool for that with fruit trees is a bowsaw. We want to make a quick undercut first.

That way, while we’re cutting the branch, if it does break, it won’t tear the bark on the tree.

– Perfect.

– Then we made a clean cut right outside the branch collar.

– So easy.

– Pretty easy.

– So top down, now we’re going to go from the bottom up.

– We are. I like to say we keep their skirts clean.

– I love it.

– So we have some shrubby growth here that we want to remove in the bottom, maybe 18 inches or so, to keep the base of the tree clean. And then we’re going to go through and we’re going to remove suckers, and suckers are any growth that’s coming up from below the graft. Whether it’s from the ground up or whether it’s on the bottom of the tree between the graft and the soil oil. We need to get rid of that.

– And again, we’re just removing anything that’s taking energy from production.

– That’s correct.

– All right, let’s get with it.

– All right, let’s do that. So you actually went down below soil level to cut this out.

– In the soil level. Nice thing about this loppers is I can plunge them into the soil by a sucker and make a cut and get a good clean cut below the soil.

– Perfect. So we have a few over here. Now, on these branches, we’re just going to come…are these some that you want to remove?

– I don’t think that one. That one looks like it’s going to be productive this year. We have some fruit buds, so we’ll probably just tip it back.

– Okay. But we’re going to get closer into the branch.

– We are.

– Okay. And then this…it looks like a water sprout coming up from the center.

– Yes, yes.

– Okay.

– Okay. So now, we’ve gone from the top down, the bottom up. So now we’re going to open up the center.

– We are a bit. You know, we’re going to look for the things that we know are pruning issues for everything, and that is dead, damaged, and deceased wood.

– The three Ds.

– Right. And we’re going to look for crossing branches because crossing branches will lead to future damage. They don’t really have to be big, and they don’t have to be touching all the time. Anytime branches are close enough that when the wind blows, they rub against other, they can open a wound that’s just an entry point for disease and insect problems.

– So I notice we have one over here that’s going to be like that. So these two right here, like you said, aren’t particularly touching right now but in the wind, they get really rubbed. So what do you think about this?

– Well, this is a good example for that and for the fact that a lot of times when you have two branches coming from close to the same point and growing the same direction, one of the two needs to be removed. So when we look at this, we would normally say that we would remove this one in a thinning cut which is all the way back to the tree trunk. But we see these beautiful blooms here and we want those peaches.

– And that means peaches.

– So what we’re going to do for now is we’re going to cut back and you can get that.

– Right about here?

– Right about there. And we’re going to keep those peaches. Now, we’ve safely removed it from rubbing on this branch. And so during our summer pruning, we’ll come back and remove that branch completely.

– And you mentioned the summer pruning, so this is our January. This is our big pruning for the year. But we do want to maintain our fruit just like with any other plant throughout the year, right?

– We do. With backyard orchard culture, we know we’re going to do a major dormant season pruning, but we’ll do probably two more with vigorous fruits like peaches, and at least one more with less vigorous fruits like apples and pears. And what we’ll do is we’ll come back immediately after harvest and give it a little haircut. Again, trying to keep that energy and to making sure we have great buds for next year.

– Especially.

– And then we’ll look at it again in late summer to see if it needs an additional little sort of thinning and haircut back as it goes into winter.

– Perfect. So another key to look for is the different…as you would almost say, color of the wood, right?

– The color of the wood in peaches for sure. It doesn’t apply to every fruit, but it definitely applies to peaches and nectarines. And that is that we know we need to remove about one-third of the total wood every year to generate new wood growth. So making the decision of which wood to remove, we look at the older wood which starts to turn gray.

And also when you press into that wood, you’ll notice that your thumbnail can’t pierce the outer skin. And then we want to look at…- And here with the mahogany wood, this brighter wood, is very easy to pierce – Very easy. You can pierce it easily and has this beautiful mahogany color. So what we’ll do is remove the majority of this older graying wood. Maybe not all if it has some good buds on it, but the majority of it.

And then this younger wood, we’re going to tip it back so that all of our fruit wood is about 12 to 24, maybe 18 inches long. And what this does is when we set our load of peaches, this branch will be strong enough to hold it in really good shape to be able to take that load.

– So by going through and doing this method, we pretty well will open this tree up, and like you said, take about a third of the inner branches out.

– About a third will be removed. And then younger branches will replace that this coming year, and we’ll do the same thing next year.

– Perfect.

– And then one of our other goals is that we always want to make sure we have sufficient sunlight into the center of the tree. And when we prune in that open-vase shape, whether it’s a single tree, or whether it’s a high density cluster like this, we always want to keep an eye towards how much sun is getting in the center of the tree. For this year, even though we have some branches that are in the center, they’re really just enough to give us some protection from the sun so that we don’t overbake anything in there either.

And we’ll revisit those again in our summer pruning to see if any of that wood needs to be removed.

– Now, I see one of our Ds over here. I see a damaged branch.

– We do, and this is right along a parking and walking area, so we kind of expect things to happen here. And in this case, a branch has been broken all the way back. And any of these little wounds, again, just…- Just an invitation.

– Just an invitation. So we want to remove that. And also, this is graying, and I don’t see any productive buds. So we’re going to do a thinning cut all the way back to the trunk. And then we come out here and here’s another one.

Could have come from a bump. And this one actually is what we call a hanger. It’s coming from the bottom of the branch. Later this summer, we’ll probably remove this whole thing. But for now, we’re just going to take it back to the new young wood.

– Okay. So anything hanging or growing low or misdirected, we need to prune as well?

– Generally, that’s the case. If it’s hanging underneath the main branch, it’s generally less productive. So I do step back every once in a while before I make those decisions and just sort of look at the shape of the tree because we want to prune for productivity but it’s in our landscape and we want it to be pretty too.

– Absolutely. All right. Well, let’s get started.

– All right. So now we finished our pruning and that was a lot of fun, I have to say.

– It really was.

– Yeah. So I see that our tropic snow is starting to bloom a little early being in January. But because of our selection too, we’ll have fruit anywhere from March until June.

– That’s the wonder of planting in these clusters, that we can plant different varieties, gorgeous bloom. You take care of them as though they were one tree, but then you get that extended harvest and different flavors.

– So now, when do we start feeding?

– Actually, a really good time to start feeding your peach trees is going to be in February. If you’ll just kind of remember, about the same time that Valentine’s Day when you start pruning roses, think about, okay, I need to feed the peaches. That’s a good time to start.

– Okay. As always, we use Arbor Gate Blend.

– Arbor Gate Blend. We actually have a really good guide on the website about how to feed peaches. People can read up on that. They’ll know the schedule and everything to use.

– Perfect. Well, thank you so much, Angela. I’m looking forward to that peach pie.

– Oh, me too.

Written by The Arbor Gate
The Arbor Gate staff enjoys contributing to the blog along with our talented writers. As much as we enjoy contributing to this blog, we are the first to admit that we’re much better with a shovel than a keyboard!

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