So, today we spent some time in the front yard in the beautiful afternoon sun, pruning our rose bushes and apple trees. Really, we only made the first dent, but at least we have begun. Each day, we will now chip away at getting the gardens and plants in shape for spring and summer glory and enjoyment.
For gaining knowledge of proper tree pruning, I grabbed our volume of Pruning and Training off the gardening bookshelf. This is an American Horticultural Society book by Christopher Brickell and David Joyce. Other contributers are also listed on the back flap of the dust jacket.
I learned that since our trees are mature apple trees, we should follow a pattern of light and hard pruning. We are to look for the weak growth and old, dead growth to prune hard. Hard pruning means that you take more of the limb off, so some limbs are trimmed closer to the tree than others. Then, we will find the strong shoots and prune them very lightly or not at all. Light pruning might consist of only tip pruning certain of the strong shoots (limbs). (Pruning and Training, pp. 100-101.)
Correct pruning cuts should be at a light diagonal just above a bud, and sloping down and away from the bud. The cut should not extend below the bud (any closer to the tree trunk) because this causes the surface of the cut to heal more slowly. The cut should be clean and not jagged. Jagged edges allow disease to attack the tree. If a cut is made straight across instead of in a diagonal, rain water does not roll off as easily, and collected water on the cut surface can allow mold and disease to grow. (Pruning and Training, pp. 96-7.)
Our apple trees have not been fully maintenance-pruned in a few years, so I am finding that we may actually want to do some Renovation pruning. The Pruning and Training book addresses this topic, but I also found a great supplemental article from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. Our trees have too much spindly, twiggy cross growth that is causing a lack of air flow and an abundance of very small fruit. Renovating is a specific manner of pruning over about a three year period to get the tree back into top shape. Some would just recommend taking out old trees and planting new, but that is not an option for us, so we will renovate.
Amateur tree pruners should tread lightly in this arena, and REALLY be committed to doing their homework before cutting. Or, call in a professional Arborist. We are DIY'ers and are very interested in learning new self-sustenance techniques and information, so we will be undertaking this task ourselves. Plus, we do not want to create a Baby Come Back situation for our apple trees!
Wish us luck and success!