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Saturday, November 22, 2014
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Published: Wednesday, 4/16/2014

IN THE GARDEN

Pruning trees into shape for spring

SUB

BY KELLY HEIDBREDER
GARDENING COLUMNIST FOR THE BLADE

The flowering and fruit trees are finally waking up from their winter hibernation and it is time to prune them into shape for the best fruit crop they can produce.

Unfortunately, it looks like it will be a tough year for the peach crop. That is according orchard owners, Ken and Janet Stewart. They have operated Blueberry Hill Orchard and Berry Farm in Manitou Beach, Mich., for over 20 years.

“We have a few acres of our farm planted with different varieties of peach trees and it looks like the buds didn’t do very well over the winter,” said Mr. Stewart. By stripping back a small sliver of the bud on the tree, they can tell if it is still living. “We are not seeing a lot of green growth in the peach and sweet cherry buds, so I don’t expect a good crop this year. But the apples, pears, plums and tart cherries are coming on strong,” he explained.

Time to prune

They are busy pruning all of the trees, despite the health of the buds. “Even though we aren’t expecting a big peach crop, we still need to keep the trees in shape for next season,” said Mrs. Stewart. Their technique on the fruit trees is generally the same. “We always start at the top and take out the vertical shoots first. These are usually full of leaves. We want the tree to focus its energy on producing fruit, so we take out those first,” she explained.

Their next step is to keep the general shape of the larger, fruit producing branches, pruning out some of the smaller side branches. “We take out some of the smaller branches that have fewer buds and keep the larger branches that have strong buds. This will give us less fruit per branch, but it will be larger. That is what we are looking for,” said Mr. Stewart.

Whirling with apples

As the Stewarts prune their apple trees, they prune for the highest fruit production. “You can get two and sometimes three levels of good fruiting with apple trees. We prune the tree to have one whirl of branches at about our waist level, then another whirl up the main trunk about three feet. I use my pruners to measure the location for the second whirl. As the tree grows, we might be able to prune it to create a third whirl of horizontal branches,” he said. “But we don’t want to go too high. We have to keep the tree size manageable for our crew to help us pick the fruit

Bring on the blooms

Once the fruit trees are shaped, the Stewarts get ready for the blooms to break and fruit to form. “We cover our cherry trees with netting to discourage the birds from picking the fruit,” said Mr. Stewart. “So far it looks like the apple, pear, plum and tart cherries will be loaded.”

I can’t wait to bite into one of those juicy apples this fall.

Contact Kelly Heidbreder at getgrowing@gmail.com 



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