Those that are not in the know, seem to think that as the leaves are off the trees and the garden is ‘asleep’ there is nothing more to be done other than putting your feet up in front of a fire and enjoying a seasonal tipple and waiting for the grass to grow in the Spring. How wrong they are, there are lots of January jobs in the garden and one of those is the pruning of top fruit.
Particularly if you have an older tree, this is essential to keep the tree in good health removing diseased stems and branches. keeping a nice open crown to help prevent the build up of pests and diseases. Also to keep your tree with in the size you want for picking and most importantly of all to rein in all that strong growth and get your fruit tree thinking about producing fruit instead.
Choose a dry day if at all possible, particularly if you are venturing off the step ladder and up into the crown. Arm yourself with a good pair of secateurs and loppers, pruning saw and long armed pruner for the more out of reach sections.
1) start off on the ground, remove any vertical growth coming up from ground level,next to the main trunk. Remove any lower branches that are going to be in the way of mowing or will have the apples/pears lying on the grass.
2) Walk round the tree, look at it’s shape decide if there are areas that need the crown ‘pulling in’ to reduce the over all size and improve it’s shape.
3) All pruning whether a tiny twig on the top of the tree of a branch, must be taken back to either the bud with a slight sloping cut, or back to a branch joint. NOT cut halfway a long a branch, enabling die back and an unsightly stump. So with bigger branches make your decisions carefully.
4) Work from the ground up into the tree, using good strong step ladders where needed ( if the ground is uneven then it is essential to enlist a ‘ladder holder’ with a firm foot on the bottom rung) Always make sure the ladder is stable before going up it and never stand higher than the top rung or lean out to get that last little bit how ever tempting! Most ladders come with instructions, use them!
5) Remove all damaged and diseased wood including apple canker. Remove any rotting old fruits that are left on the tree how ever small.
6) Reducing last seasons growth, your tree at this time of year may have a vertical hair style of straight stems, these need to be reduced down to 2 or 3 buds in length back to the main network of the tree, this will help encourage your tree into fruiting.
7) Once pruned then it is worth helping your fruit tree into the next growing season, Codling moth larvae is the enemy of the Apple tree grower, with perfect fruit being cut into to show a rotten eaten core centre, but putting grease bands round the lower trunk of the tree, just above grass level should help to reduce their impact. Also spraying with winter cold tar wash, the new version dose not have tar in and it is approved by the soil association for organic growers, it helps to kill off some of the pests and disease that are over wintering on the branches. Use as per manufactures instructions with full protective clothing including suit, gloves and most importantly a face visor, for spraying higher branches. Only spray on still days and it must dry before a frost. It is also good to clear vegetation if possible from under the tree and mulch well to help with moisture levels in the summer months.
The RHS book, Pruning and Training by Christopher Brickell and David Joyce, is a good practical guide with photos and illustrations to help you. However if this is all sounding rather daunting, and a little beyond your gardening skill, then never fear I know a woman who can, give me a ring 01273 470753 and let me carry out your fruit tree pruning for you.