Formative Pruning, Vase Form – How to Prune Young Fruit Trees in the First Three Years

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Fruit trees are trained into particular shapes to make them more productive, easier to manage and better able to support heavy crop loads.

Formative pruning (also referred to as framework pruning) is carried out in the first three years of planting a young tree to create or ‘form’ the shape, and establish a framework of main branches.

When a young tree is first purchased, it may already have some branching, or it may be a ‘whip’ which is basically a long, straight stem with no branches at all. Occasionally a garden nursery will carry out the first year’s pruning to begin establishing a tree shape, either a vase form or a central leader form.

The vase form is the most common tree shape used for most fruit trees, especially in backyard gardens. Being cup-shaped, it has increased branching towards the top, and more space below, allowing for the planting of small shrubs such as berries, taller herbs or companion plants beside the tree. The vase form is universal as it can be used with any fruit tree.

By comparison, the central leader form is the classical ‘Christmas tree’ shape – conical, wider at the base and narrower at the top, with less space below and more space above. Pears, almonds and occasionally apples are grown in this shape.

So, where do we start when looking to select a young fruit tree?

 

Selecting a Young Fruit Tree

There are three important things to look for when selecting a young fruit tree, as no two trees are alike.

  1. A nice thick straight trunk (bud-grafted trees will always have a ‘bend’ at the graft junction, that is perfectly normal).
  2. A good framework of branches (except if the tree is not an unbranched ‘whip’, which is common for fig and mulberry trees).
  3. An appropriate shape – either a central leader form, a vase form, a flat growing branched shape for espalier training or a whip which can be trained into whatever shape is desired.

Once a tree is selected, it will need to be pruned over a tree year period to establish its shape and form.

 

The Structure of a Vase Tree Form

The diagram below illustrates the shape of a vase tree form. The trunk is typically between 60cm-1m (2’-3’) tall, with 3-5 main scaffold branches arising from the trunk, which branch further into various levels of sub-branches.

 

tree-form-vase-shape

 

How to Prune a Fruit Tree Whip

When purchasing a young fruit tree from a garden nursery, it may already have branches, but if it’s just a tree ‘whip’, with no branches whatsoever, then it will need to be pruned in winter when it’s dormant to establish new branches.

To get a tree whip to start branching:

  1. Determine the height of the trunk where the branches will appear, this is typically 60cm-1m (2’-3’) for backyard vase-shaped fruit trees. If growing larger trees that a person can walk under for example, select the appropriate trunk height.
  2. Find a group of buds at the chosen trunk height.
  3. Prune above the top bud of the group of buds, make the pruning cut at a 45-degree angle, 6mm (1/4”) above the bud, angled so that water runs away from the bud, and not onto it.
    (For more information on making pruning cuts, please see article  – How to Prune a Fruit Tree, Step By Step)

 

pruning-cut-45-degrees-above-bud
Make pruning cuts at a 45-degree angle, 6mm (1/4”) above an bud

 

Once the tree ‘whip’ is pruned to height, the buds near the top of the whip will shoot to form branches, which can then be pruned to length in the following year next winter.

If left unpruned, a tree ‘whip’ will continue to grow in height and begin branching at whatever height it decides to, which will result in an overly high tree with unreachable fruit!

how-to-prune-tree-whip-into-vase

 

Once the tree has branches, it possible to commence training the tree into a vase form.

 

How to Prune a Fruit Tree into a Vase Form in the First Three Years

Training a fruit tree into a vase shape is a three-year process, which is described in detail in the steps below. Formative pruning (framework pruning) is carried out in late winter each year, for the first three years. New growth is pruned back to create further branching.

 

pruning-to-form-vase-scaffold-branches

 

First Year

  1. In winter, select 3-5 branches to serve as the main branches, remove all others.
  2. Shorten these branches to a length of approximately 30cm (12”) from the trunk, and prune to an outward-facing or downward facing bud (a bud facing away from the tree trunk). These will form the scaffold branches which will support all other branches.
  3. Spread the branches to the best positions and angles to form a vase shape. When a tree is first purchased, or when a whip is pruned and grows branches, the branches may be growing straight up or bunched up close to each other. To achieve the desired 45-60 degree angle from the vertical, the branches can be tied with soft tree-tie material to a timber stake, or a brick, and gently bent into the preferred position. Plastic branch spreaders are also available for the purpose, they are essentially a short rod with Y-shaped ends, and these can be purchased or home-made. Once a branch has set into its new position, there will be no more tension on the tree-tie cord, and the branch can then be untied, or bent further. Gently bend branches only, never force them as they may break, ruining the shape of the tree!

framework-pruning-fruit-tree-vase-form
Tree form after three years of formative pruning, each year’s growth shown in different colours

 

Second Year

  1. Select 2 or 3 of the stronger outward-growing branches on each of the original scaffold branches to extend the branching framework.
  2. Prune back all new growth back by half, to an outward-facing bud, making the cut at a 45-degree angle, and 6mm (1/4”) above the outward-facing bud. (For more information on making pruning cuts, please see article  – How to Prune a Fruit Tree, Step By Step)
  3. Remove any branches growing into the centre of the tree to maintain an open vase shape.

 

Third Year

  1. Repeat the Second Year process.
  2. Continue forming the framework branches over the next few years, as described in the article How to Prune a Fruit Tree, Step By Step)

 

After formative pruning has been carried for three years, the tree will be trained into a nice open vase shape, which can then be maintained with what is termed  maintenance pruning (detail pruning). This type of pruning will keep the tree to a manageable size and renew fruiting wood to keep the tree copping consistently.

 

 

 

 

 

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Garden Arches, Vertical Gardening for More Growing Area in Small Spaces

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Small-space gardening is becoming increasingly popular as outdoor spaces and gardens get progressively smaller in urban areas. There are many ways to maximise the use of limited available space, and one of the best ways is vertical gardening, growing upwards rather than outwards!

Gardeners are very resourceful, and in the gardening world there are many techniques which have been developed to take advantage of vertical spaces, such as espaliered trees grown flat against walls, even more compact columnar ‘cordon’ tree forms, and methods which rely on structures such as trellises and arbours.

Some of the best vertical gardening solutions can be so deceptively simple that it’s often overlooked! One of the least appreciated ways of growing edible climbers is over an arch, mainly because people don’t realize how much growing space is available on a relatively small archway.

 

How Much Growing Space Can Arches Provide?

An arch at first glances would appear to offer very little growing space. How much growing area can a small 1m (3’) wide x 2.5m (8’) high arch, a little taller than a house doorway, actually provide? If we do the math, we might be in for a bit of a shock.

Most people ignored maths at school, and glossed over geometry. Where will I ever use this stuff? Well, life is full of surprises…

To calculate the total length of an arch, we can simply use a tape measure, but when was the last time anyone did that? Arches are often dismissed as being small and insignificant, and without first considering the value of arches, there is no inclination to seek them out for measurement!

Calculations are useful for design purposes, we can use them to work out the size of an arch required to support a certain length of edible vine such as a grape of berry, or we can determine how much growing space an arch of a given size can provide.

 

The short answer:

The formula for calculating the total length of an arch = (2 x length of vertical side sections) + (3.14 x 0.5 x width of arch)

The diagram below shows how an arch consists of two main sections, the pair of vertical sections at the sides, and the curved section at the top, and how their lengths are used in the calculation.

 

calculating-garden-arch-length

 

If we use the earlier example of a small 1m (3’) wide x 2.5m (8’) high arch and put these figures into the formula:

  • total length of an arch = (2 x length of vertical side sections) + (3.14 x 0.5 x width of arch)
  • total length of arch = (2 x 2m) + (3.14 x 0.5 x 0.5m)
  • total length of arch = (4m) + (1.57m) = 5.57m

What this tells us is that an arch not much larger than a house doorway can support a vine over 5m long, and it only occupies a very small area on the ground where the vine is planted, which can be as little as 50cm x 50cm (around 20” x 20”). That’s a very efficient use of space!

 

The long (and possibly unnecessary) mathematical explanation:

How was the formula above derived? This is for those curious about the maths, otherwise just skip this section!

An arch consists of two main sections, the vertical sections at the sides and the curved section at the top. To calculate the total length of growing space of a garden arch, we need to add the length of the vertical sections at the sides to the length of the curved semicircular top section.

  • The length of the vertical side sections are known.
  • The length of the curved portion can be calculated using the formula for the circumference of a circle (the length around a circle).

To explain how the formula given earlier was derived mathematically:

  • For a whole circle, the length of the circumference: C = 2π x r , where π = 22/7 or approx. 3.14, and r is the circle radius (half the width)
  • For a half circle, we halve the formula: length = 2π x r x 1/2 = π x r  = 3.14 x r
  • Since the radius is half the width of the arch, the simplified formula therefore can be expressed as:
  • total length of an arch = (2 x length of vertical side sections) + (3.14 x 0.5 x width of arch)

 

Permaculture Small Space Intensive Gardening Using Arches

The Permaculture design principle known as the ‘Edge Effect’ is concerned with the use of edge and natural patterns for best effect. In Nature we see extensive use of folding to maximise functional area in a small space. The human intestines, both in terms of their outer form and the structure of their internal surfaces for the absorption of nutrients, are both a perfect example of this.

Now consider how long a 5m (15’) long vine really is, that’s quite a decent productive length of vine by anyone’s books, and a trellis this long to support it would occupy a considerable amount of space. If we do what Nature does and fold the support structure in half into the shape of an arch, the growing space ends up concentrated into a much smaller area no bigger than a doorway.

If the arch is situated to span across a path, it converts unused walkway into growing space without obstructing access. A free standing arch in a garden multiplies space, as the the area underneath the arch can also be planted up, creating a double-level planting.

The photograph at the start of this article is of a loganberry arch in my backyard Permaculture food forest garden, which has proven to be extremely productive. This arch sits over a path, one side sits in the garden, the other beside the back fence. The arch is quite narrow, only around 30cm (1’) wide, and I train around 6-8 canes over it, and allow them to grow right over the arch, where they reach the fence. I then run the canes along the fence for an extra metre or two.

Considering that this loganberry arch has 6-8 fruiting canes, each around 5-7m long, is it any surprise that it’s extremely productive? The loganberry only occupies a very small area in the actual garden bed, the footprint is minimal, approximately 30cm x 60cm, around two square feet, yet it supports a total of 30m-56m (98’-183’) of productive canes.

The same loganberry vine is pictured below, during harvesting time. It’s no exaggeration that people have picked enough berries to fill bags and the plant looked untouched due to the very heavy cropping. Daily harvesting becomes necessary with this much production. To protect the berries from birds, it’s easy to toss a length on 2mm insect exclusion netting over the arch, the fine mesh doesn’t get tangled on the brambleberry thorns and also provides 20% shade for the berries during hot, windy weather, preventing them from over-ripening and burning.

 

picking-loganberries-20141211_104409-1-2

 

Arches are a simple way to increase vertical growing space, they work very well for all brambleberries (loganberries, boysenberries, blackberries, etc) and can also be used for grapevines, kiwiberries, indeterminate (vining) tomatoes, climbing beans and peas and many other vigorous edible plants which require supports to climb on. A gardener is only limited by their creativity!

 

 

 

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Should You Put Gravel or Rocks at the Bottom of Plant Pots for Drainage?

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There’s an old gardening myth that it’s best to put a layer of gravel or rocks at the bottom of a plant pot to improve drainage, but how true is it? Can the practice actually harm plants more than help them?

The main reason for wanting to improve drainage in pots is because most plants don’t like having ‘wet feet’, otherwise known as waterlogged roots, because this leads to root rot, which can kill a plant.

Pots, planters, tubs and containers designed to hold plants always have drainage holes in their bases to allow any excess water to drain out freely, preventing water accumulating at the bottom of the pot.

If pots drain because they have holes in them, then why the need to increase drainage? Well, it’s because the potting medium in which the plant grows is designed to retain moisture, to a certain degree at least…

To figure out what’s best for plants, lets look at the science!

 

Potting Mediums, Striking the Perfect Balance

Too much water and plant roots rot, not enough water and plants dry out. A good potting medium (potting mix) has to strike the perfect balance between sufficient moisture retention and good drainage for plants to thrive.

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Since any decent quality potting mix must retain some moisture, it needs to contain material which will absorb and retain moisture, much like a sponge does. This wicking or absorbent property of any potting medium is the critical key to understanding the behaviour of water in pots.

 

The Science of Plant Pots and Perched Water Tables

Water naturally runs to the lowest point under the influence of gravity, and will all run out from a container with drainage holes in the base unless there is something else present to hold it there.

Absorbent materials, such as a wet sponge sat upright or a wet bath towel hung from the line, behave the same way. The water will move downward, some of it will drip away, and some of it will be retained. The top of a wet sponge or bath towel will dry the fastest, and the bottom portions will remain damp for the longest period of time.

Potting mediums, being absorbent materials, behave much like any other when wet.

To get into some basic physics, two opposing natural forces are at play within a wet potting medium in a pot.

  1. Gravity, which exerts a downward pull on the water, causing it to be drained away through the drainage holes.
  2. Capillary action, which exerts an upward pull on the water, causing it to be retained, saturating the potting medium.

Both these forces have limitations though:

  • The capillary action can only wick the weight of the water upwards to a limited height against gravity, and no higher.
  • The gravitational force can only exert a limited downward pull on the water against the upward pull of the capillary action, and no more.

At some point these two opposing forces balance each other out, and when this happens, a layer of water-saturated potting medium is formed at the bottom of the pot which cannot not drain away, this is termed the perched water table because the water is literally ‘perched’ there and cannot move.

 

perched-water-table-plant-pot

 

It’s important to understand that the perched water table does not drain, the water stays there unless plant roots draw the water up, or it evaporates away when the potting mix dries out, in which case the plant won’t survive!

Also, be aware that all pots filled with any kind of potting mix, potting medium or growing  medium, call it what you will, have a perched water table.

The size and shape of the pot makes no difference, it doesn’t matter if a pot is tall and narrow or wide and shallow, neither if it’s big or small, if the growing medium/potting mix is the same, the perched water table will always be the same height.

Different growing media will have different perched table heights, the more absorbent materials will have higher perched water table, and the less absorbent ones will have lower levels.

 

Understanding Capillary Action

In this section we’ll go a bit deeper into the science if you’re interested, if not, please skip to the next section. I like to teach from first principles, as I believe this way we can really come to a deeper level of understanding, but then again, I’ve got qualifications in the biological sciences, so I’m biased!

Gravity is self-explanatory, it’s the ever-present force on this planet which pulls everything down!

Capillary action is created by the cohesive and adhesive forces of liquids.

Cohesive forces are forces of attraction between molecules of the same type.
For example, molecules of water are able cling to each other.

Adhesive forces are forces of attraction between molecules of different types.
For example, molecules of water are able to cling to other materials.

Capillary action by definition is the tendency of a fluid to be raised (or suppressed in the case of mercury) in a narrow tube (capillary tube) due to the relative strength of cohesive and adhesive forces.

 

To explain how this further, we need to understand the nature of water.

Water (H2O) is considered a polar molecule because it has a negative charge on one side of the molecule and the positive charge on the other. Its bent V-shape which gives it a partial positive charge on the side of the hydrogen atoms and a partial negative charge on the side of the oxygen atom.

Polar molecules act like magnets with north and south poles, the (+) positive charged atoms and (-) negative charged atoms of these molecules are attracted to one another.

When the positive side on one water molecule comes near the negative side of another water molecule, they attract each other and form a hydrogen bond, and this creates the strong cohesive forces between water molecules, and this explains why water clings to itself.

Water molecules will exhibit strong adhesive forces that allow them cling to other materials if those materials are even more polar (have a stronger electrical charge) than water itself, as the attraction will be stronger than the attraction of water molecules to each other.

 

The upward motion of liquids against gravity, known as capillary action, is a combination of:

  • The forces of attraction between water molecules and another material above the water’s surface which doesn’t already have water clinging to it already (adhesion), causing the water molecules to climb upwards a little.
  • The forces of attraction between water molecules to each due to the hydrogen bonds they form with each other (cohesion), causing them to pull each other up.

To put it another way, capillary action is a combination of the effects of adhesive and cohesive forces displayed by water.

Now that we know why water moves upwards and creates perched water tables in growing media, we can now re-examine our opening question from a more scientific perspective!

 

The Effect of Placing Gravel at The Bottom of a Pot on the Perched Water Table

Would it make any difference if we placed a wet sponge upright in the sink, or on a layer of gravel in the same sink? Now that we understand how the forces of adhesion and cohesion within liquids create capillary action, leading to the formation of a perched water table at the bottom of an absorbent medium, we can see that it won’t have any effect on these forces in any way at all.

Remember, the downwards force is due to gravity, which we can’t increase, a lower layer of another material won’t change the adhesive forces between the growing medium and the water molecules, nor will it alter the cohesive hydrogen bonds between water.

 

So what effect will adding gravel at the bottom of a pot below the growing medium have?

It will reduce the volume of potting medium, and push the perched water table higher up into the pot, as shown in the diagram below.

gravel-in-pots-perched-water-table

Adding gravel a the the bottom of a pot will create two potentially serious problem:

  1. Pushing the saturated water table layer upwards, closer to the plant roots actually increases the risk of root rot, as the roots will stay wetter, longer.
  2. Reducing the volume of growing medium available to the plant roots will reduce root growth space and overall root volume, as well as available moisture, thereby decreasing the plant’s drought tolerance and potential maximum growth size.

There is no benefit to be gained by adding a layer of gravel or rocks to a pot when we examine the matter from scientific first principles!

That said, now lets play some mind games!

 

The Permaculture Design Approach, Turning Problems Into Solutions!

If we look at the Permaculture Attitudinal design principle – “Everything Works Both Ways”, we see it states that whether we see something as positive or negative, as a ‘problem’ or as a useful resource, depends on our attitude.

So how can we turn the problems created by adding gravel at the bottom of pots into solutions? This is a real exercise in lateral thinking, or more accurately, Permaculture holistic solutions thinking.

If we do a Permaculture functional analysis of the outcomes our outputs, we see that the technique reduces soil volume and raises the saturated perched water table.

One of the problems gardeners encounter often is unknowingly planting a tiny plant into an overly large pot. Small plants don’t have enough roots to take up huge quantities of water, and in large pots the potting mix stays too wet for too long, causing root rot once again. The growing medium wont be as saturated as the perched water table, but it will still be wet enough for way too long to be detrimental to the plant. There is wisdom in the gardening advice to plant up to the next size pot when repotting, and increase pot size gradually rather than plant into the biggest pot available at the outset.

A shallow rooted plant in a tall narrow pot will have similar issues, there will be too much overly wet potting mix which the roots will never be able to reach, and if the potting mix stays too wet for too long it will break down much faster, and sink down, dropping the level of the plant in the pot. Filling the bottom of the pot with coarse scoria, which is light in weight, will eliminate the unusable space in a tall, narrow pot and effectively reduce pot size to a more suitable volume.

The only kind of plants which love a saturated growing medium are marginal aquatic plants, and there are plenty of useful edible ones such as watercress, taro, kangkong and water chestnuts for example. With these plants it’s much better to remove the drainage altogether and saturate all of the growing medium though, or sit the pots in a saucer of water.

 

There are always exceptions to the rules, as we’ve discussed in this section, but in general, it’s best not to place gravel, stones, pebbles, scoria, terracotta pot shards or any other materials at the bottoms of pots below the growing medium.

Give plants as much space to spread their roots out, relative to what they can use or need. The more moisture retentive growing medium/potting mix available, the less often a plant will need to be watered, as long as the pot is not too big. Nearly all plants prefer a natural wet-dry cycle, as that’s what they experience in nature.

Most people will place a stone or pebble over drainage holes in pots, especially the large central ones at the base of terracotta pots, to prevent the potting mix falling out and making a mess. The point is not to block the hole, but to simply create a loose-fitting barrier to prevent the loss of growing medium while still allowing water to freely drain out.

As a final thought worth pondering, it’s curious how gardening has as its foundations the applied sciences of horticulture and agriculture, yet it’s filled with so much dogma and myths, very strange indeed…

 

 

 

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Gardening Calendar (Australian Temperate Climate) – September

It’s September, the beginning of spring, the time of new life and renewal! The weather is starting to warm up, but there are still cold days, rainy weather and winds to contend with.

Early spring is the best time to mulch garden beds, as the soil is still moist and is slowly warming up.

This month is the last chance to plant bare rooted deciduous trees and shrubs, as they need time to establish before the summer heat arrives. Container grown ones with well developed roots can be planted right through spring.

 

Things to Do This Month:

  • Plant evergreen shrubs and trees (this includes citrus trees).
  • Relocate evergreen shrubs – they can now regrow their roots during the mild weather.
  • Last chance to plant bare-root deciduous trees, shrubs and vines (otherwise wait till autumn).
  • Feed all fruit trees if you didn’t do so last month.
  • Clean up old growth in perennial herbaceous plants to make room for new growth.
  • Propagate plants by taking cuttings or layering (both ground layering and air layering).
  • Divide perennials, such as chives.
  • Tie canes of brambleberries to wires before the vigorous growth commences in early spring.
  • Plant passionfruit.
  • For seedlings raised indoors in August, harden off by slowly increasing sun and exposure to outside temperatures for 7 to 10 days before planting out.
  • In ponds, begin feeding fish small amounts of food often, so food is not left over to pollute water.

 

Vegetables and Herbs to Sow:

Sow in September Harvest (weeks)
Amaranth** ds 7-8
Asparagus d 2-3 years
Asparagus Pea d 8-11
Basil s 10-12
Beetroot ds 7-10
Broccoli ds 10-16
Burdock d 17-18
Cabbage ds 8-15
Cape Gooseberry ds 14-16
Capsicum s 10-12
Carrot d 12-18
Celeriac s 14-28
Celery s 17-18
Chicory d 16-24
Chilli s 9-11
Chives ds 7-11
Climbing beans** d 9-11
Coriander d 30-45
Corn Salad d 5-8
Cucumber d 8-10
Daikon d 8-10
Dill d 8-12
Dwarf beans** d 7-10
Eggplant s 12-15
Endive ds 10-11
Fennel d 14-15
Globe Artichokes s 42-57
Horseradish d 16-24
Jerusalem Artichokes d 15-20
Kohlrabi d 7-10
Leeks ds 15-18
Lettuce ds 8-12
Luffa s 11-12
Marrow* d 12-17
Mint s 8-12
Mustard greens d 5-8
NZ Spinach s 8-10
Oregano s 6-8
Parsley ds 9-19
Parsnip d 17-20
Peas d 9-11
Potato d 15-20
Pumpkin* ds 15-20
Radish d 5-7
Rhubarb d 12 months
Rocket d 21-35 days
Rockmelon* ds 10-16
Sage d 18 months
Salsify d 14-21
Shallots d 12-15
Silverbeet ds 7-12
Snow Peas d 12-14
Spring onions d 8-12
Squash* d 7-8
Sunflower ds 10-11
Sweet corn** ds 11-14
Tomatillo s 10-14
Tomato ds 8-17
Turnip d 6-9
Winter Savory s 6-10
Zucchini* ds 6-9

Key:
d = sow directly into ground
s = sow in seed tray
ds = sow directly into ground or seed tray
*= frost tender
**= sow after frost

Download printable PDF version of Gardening Calendar (Australian Temperate Climate) – September

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Fruit Trees with Special Pruning Requirements – Figs, Persimmons and Pomegranates

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Most fruit trees are pruned the same way, making winter pruning a fairly straightforward task, but there are a few exceptions.

With some fruit trees, the ends of their branches shouldn’t be cut off, otherwise they won’t fruit, because they either fruit from the ends of the branches, or only produce fruiting branches from the uncut ends of older branches.

In the previous article How to Prune a Fruit Tree, Step By Step we discussed the general rule for pruning fruit trees, which is as follows:

Cut back all new growth back by half (or as little as 1/3, up as much as 2/3 depending on length), to an outward-facing bud, making the cut at a 45-degree angle, and 6mm (1/4”) above the outward-facing bud, to shorten the fruiting branches back to a manageable length.

That’s a general pruning rule, which applies to most fruit trees, but in this article we’ll look at the exceptions – figs, persimmons and pomegranates.

 

Winter Pruning Figs

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Brown Turkey fig produces two crops each year.

 

Some fig varieties produce two crops a year in temperate and sub-tropical climates.

  • The first crop (known as a breba crop) is produced on the tips of the previous season’s growth (year-old wood).
  • The second and much larger main crop, is produced at the base of the current season’s growth.

The best way to prune figs is to cut back the longer branches by half, sacrificing the early breba crop, while leaving the shorter branches untouched to produce the early breba crop.

After a year, the shorter branches will grow into longer branches, and the pruned longer branches will produce many short side-branches which will carry a breba crop. The cycle repeats, year after year, alternating the long and short branches, so in any year, the fig tree has a mix of short and long branches, producing both a breba crop and main crop.

how-to-prune-fig-tree

 

Winter Pruning Persimmons

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The Nightingale persimmon is small growing tree, which is an astringent variety producing very large fruit.

 

Persimmons have very brittle wood, and if the branches are allowed to get too long, they are prone to breaking under the weight of the fruit. If they’re not pruned, persimmons trees have a tendency to biennial cropping, where they produce a large crop one year, and almost nothing the next. They definitely must be pruned!

Persimmons fruit from new growth that arises from the last few buds of the previous season’s growth. If the ends of all the new branches produced last season are pruned off, this will effectively remove all the fruiting wood.

To prune a persimmon tree, leave some shorter new growth unpruned, this will produce the fruit. The longer new growth can be pruned back to a few buds from the main branch.

After a year of growth, the short branches will grow in length to become long branches, and the pruned branches will produce many short branches, which will be the new fruiting wood in two years time.

how-to-prune-persimmon-tree

Winter Pruning Pomegranates

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Pomegranate producing large fruit that’s almost ripe.

 

Pomegranates are vigorous growing trees, if left unpruned they can grow quite dense and crowded with lots of old, unproductive wood. They also sucker readily, producing many shoots from the base of the stem which rob the main tree of vigour. If left unpruned, the suckers will grow to produce more main trunks, resulting in a multi-trunk tree!

Pomegranates fruit on short shoots near the ends of branches, which remain productive for 3-4 years. If the ends of all branches are pruned off, no fruit will be produced for the year!

To prune a pomegranate tree, leave the younger 1-3 year old wood to produce fruit. Prune out unproductive older 4-5 year old wood back to a younger side branch at harvest time to renew fruiting wood.

Pruning is carried out at harvest time, which is not in winter, because it’s much easier to distinguish fruiting wood from non-fruiting wood. Any tangled branches and suckers which weren’t pruned earlier can be pruned out in winter.

how-to-prune-pomegranate-tree

 

Another option is to hedge pomegranates in winter rather than prune them, they can easily be pruned into edible hedges! How can a hedged pomegranate possibly fruit? In the first year it may not, as all the end of the branches may get clipped off, but over time, hedging creates lots of regrowth in random directions, and any branches which aren’t growing outwards will keep their branch tips intact and produce fruit.

 

 

 

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Book Review – My Garden by Sandra Verhoven & Joyeeta Neogi

My Garden

(You can click the image or link above to view product details or purchase this book from Amazon and support Deep Green Permaculture!)

 

My Garden by Sandra Verhoven & Joyeeta Neogi is a beautiful children’s book, and a sheer delight to read!

The product description on Amazon describes the story as follows:

“Nona has never worked in a garden before, but she would like to give it a try. When her parents rent a small plot of land across the street from their house, Nona and her best friend Toby transform the empty space into a magnificent vegetable garden. And Nona’s dream of becoming a farmer comes true! My Garden shows that modern occupations aren’t the only path to success. Happiness and achievement can also be found in traditional occupations such as farming and working the land. My Garden is a charming story that opens the door to dreams and to a future that each and every child can enjoy.”

Paperback: 32 pages
Publisher: Dixi Books Publishing OOD (28 Aug. 2018)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 6197458039
ISBN-13: 978-6197458039

This title is also available to purchase online at Goodreads.

 

As a sustainable gardening writer and educator, I teach adults how to garden, and aim to inspire them to live more in harmony with the Earth. It’s interesting to observe that after getting their hands dirty for the first time, so many adults wish they had discovered gardening much earlier in life. When I read this wonderful little book, I realised it’s potential to inspire children to embark on a joyous and rewarding  lifelong journey into the world of gardening!

It may be a children’s book, but it’s amazing how powerful the message within it is. The story touches on so many valuable themes – the happiness which comes through connecting with nature, the importance of community, and the rewards that come from pursuing personal goals when we’re passionate about them. Reflecting on my own childhood, I found I could relate to so many elements of the story.

This thoroughly enjoyable book has so much to offer! Much to my delight, I discovered it’s quite educational too, masterfully weaving useful gardening information into the storyline. What a lovely way to introduce children to the basics of gardening!

Such a brilliantly written story, I’ll admit it’s very entertaining and engaging, it had my attention captivated and from cover to cover. I felt the Illustrations really brought the story to life with their rich visual imagery and beautiful colours. I really loved the inclusion of the ever-present striped orange cat too, this book had me looking for Nona’s pet cat with the turn of every page.

It’s so inspiring to see a children’s book that is well written, educational, entertaining and instils positive values in children, this little gem is highly recommended!

Deep Green rating for “My Garden” by Sandra Verhoven & Joyeeta Neogi is 5 stars!

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If you are interested in submitting a product for review, please contact us via email at deep_green@optusnet.com.au , thanks!

 

 

 

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How to Prune a Fruit Tree, Step By Step

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Fruit tree pruning is both an art and a science. The art to fruit tree pruning is not something that can be taught in a short article or video, but basic pruning technique is quite easy to understand, and once grasped, almost anyone can maintain a fruit tree, and do so successfully, year after year.

This article explains the technique of fruit tree maintenance pruning or detail pruning in it’s most simplified form. In the following sections, we’ll learn how to make pruning cut, and what to cut, to keep a tree to a manageable size and consistently fruiting.

 

NOTE: Care must be taken when making pruning cuts to remove branches, for more information please see the article  – Tree Pruning, How to Remove Tree Branches Correctly

NOTE: This article assumes that the tree to be pruned has an established form and structure, basically it has branches and shaped either a vase or central leader form. For new trees less than three years old that need to be shaped, please see the article – Formative Pruning, Vase Form – How to Prune Young Fruit Trees in the First Three Years and Formative Pruning, Central Leader Form – How to Prune Young Fruit Trees in the First Three Years (coming next week).

 

Pruning a fruit tree involves three distinct steps, each serving a different purpose.

 

1. First Steps in Fruit Tree Pruning

Before any pruning cuts are made to a tree to make it smaller or change its shape, there are a few pruning steps which need to be carried out first:

  • Remove any dead, diseased and broken branches.
  • Eliminate crossing branches by pruning out one of the branches.
  • Remove suckers, water sprouts and most competing branches growing straight up into the tree.

 

prelimimary-fruit-tree-pruning

 

The purpose of removing diseased branches is for the purposes of good plant hygiene, to prevent diseases spreading further and killing the tree, or infecting other trees.

When branches rub against each other, the bark gets stripped away at the point of contact, creating a wound that can serve as an entry point for pests and diseases, as can broken branches. Trees are better able to seal off wounds and heal over when clean pruning cuts are made.

Suckers arising from the rootstock of grafted fruit trees must be removed, or they will sap a tree of its vitality. Being very vigorous, the suckers will overgrow the original tree, often causing the main graft to die off. The rootstock suckers are never the same variety as the graft, so they are not productive varieties, and are therefore inedible.  Rootstock varieties in grafted fruit trees are to either reduce the trees size or because they impart other properties, such as handling particular soil types.

Suckers arising from the soil can be cut off at soil level, while any coming from the stem can simply be rubbed off with a push of the finger when they first form as buds or soft green shoots, or pruned off if they are older.

Water spouts, also known as water shoots, are overly-vigorous new shoots that grow at an alarming rate vertically straight up towards the sky. They are easy to identify as they stand out from the rest of the tree’s usual growth. If left unpruned, water shoots will grow to become an extension of the main trunk of the tree, and ruin the tree shape. Prune out water sprouts completely or cut them back to a few buds to use then to create new growth.

 

2. Pruning to Maintain Tree Shape

Fruit trees are trained into various shapes, such as a vase, standard leader, espalier. etc. Once trained into a chosen form, the tree shape needs to be maintained.

The next step of pruning involves removing competing branches that disrupt the trees shape:

  • Remove inwardly growing branches on a tree pruned to a vase shape
  • Remove additional leaders growing on a central leader shaped tree.

 

removing-competing-growth-fruit-tree-pruning

 

It’s important to keep the centre of a vase-pruned tree fairly open to allow light in for more even fruit ripening, and to reduce the likelihood of fungal diseases which result from poor air circulation when leaves stay wet overnight.

Maintaining a single leader on a central leader shaped tree is critical for easy maintenance.

 

3. Pruning to Renew Fruiting Wood and Maintain Tree Size

Once all the damaged wood is removed and competing branches are cleaned up to preserve the tree’s shape, then the third step is to prune the branches to renew the fruiting wood, and reduce the size of the tree to make it more manageable when spraying, netting and harvesting.

  • The simple rule for pruning fruit trees is to cut back all new growth back by half, to an outward-facing bud, making the cut at a 45-degree angle, and 6mm (1/4”) above the outward-facing bud.

Depending on the length of the new growth, it can be cut back by as little as one-third, or as much as two-thirds to the fruiting branches back to a manageable length.

Why prune at all? When fruit trees are not pruned, many display a pattern of biennial cropping, where they produce lots of very small fruit one year, and almost no fruit in the following year, to prevent them exhausting their energy reserves.

If the fruit is thinned out when it is just beginning to form, a tree can direct its available energy reserves into far fewer fruit, which allows the remaining fruit to grow much larger, and be of higher quality. Having plenty of energy reserve left over, a tree can then produce a similar crop in the following year too.

The practise of fruit thinning, cutting off individual fruit from the tree as they begin to form, is quite tedious and laborious, but there’s a much easier way to overcome biennial cropping! By pruning back new growth back to half its original length, future fruiting wood is reduced by half, which in effect reduces the fruit that will be produced by half, thereby thinning the fruit. Pruning also causes cut branches to shoot and produce more side branches, which renews and increases the fruiting wood for following years.

basic-fruit-tree-pruning-cut

The reason for cutting above a bud at a 45-degree angle is so that the water runs off, away from the bud. If the bottom of the sloped cut directs water into the bud, it may cause it to rot.

The cut is made at a distance of 6mm (1/4”) above the bud (which is a little less than the thickness of a pencil, that’s 7mm thick) to give the branch room to heal above the bud. Cutting too close to the bud will cause the bud to dry out and die off.

The reason for cutting to an outward facing bud is to direct new growth outwards, away from the trunk of the tree. New branches grow from buds, and they grow in the direction the buds are pointing. If buds are pointing inwards, branches will grow into the tree, crossing into other branches and ruining the shape of the tree.

 

pruning-cut-45-degrees-above-bud
Make pruning cuts at a 45-degree angle, 6mm (1/4”) above an outward facing bud

 

How should branches be cut if they’re not vertical? The whole point of angling the pruning cut is to direct water away from a bud, so if the branch is horizontal, make a vertical cut 6mm above a downward or sideways facing bud.

pruning-cut-angle

Cutting new growth in half to an outward, sideways or downward facing bud:

  • Directs the growth outwards each year, away from the trunk of the tree.
  • Thins the fruit, ensuring consistent cropping year after year.
  • Keeps branches shorter to allow them to bear heavier crop loads without breaking.
  • Regenerates the fruiting wood by inducing the growth of new branches.

Each cut branch will produce two or more branches, which are then cut to produce two or more branches, and so on, increasing the branching of the tree, and the potential fruiting-bearing wood.

Below is an illustration of how branches are shortened each year to an outward, sideways or downward facing bud, and how the growth extends a little further each year.

Only the growth of the leading bud is shown in this example for the sake of clarity, in reality, many of the buds would shoot to form new branches, and branching will progressively increase with each passing year.

Once branching extends out too far, the main branch can be headed back to a new leader by cutting back to a smaller branch to replace it, as shown in the picture on the right-hand side.

 

pruning-outward-bud-year-progression

 

If branches bend downward too low beyond 90 degrees (below the horizontal level), they lose vigour and produce only a few small fruit. In such cases, the portion of the branch hanging down below the horizontal can be pruned off to renew the fruiting wood.

 

Trees with Special Pruning Requirements

Apricots should NOT be pruned in winter. Pruning cuts are made in cold, wet weather act as an entry point to diseases and apricots are particularly susceptible to gummosis, recognisable by a characteristic bleeding of orange sap.

Apricots can be pruned from late spring (after the cold wet weather has passed), all the way through to early autumn (just when trees begin to lose their leaves). Select a dry and preferably windy day, where no rain will fall the following day either, to allow pruning cuts to dry and seal off well, to prevent infections entering.

 

Some trees can’t just be pruned the regular way, by cutting off the ends of all new growth, because they either fruit from the terminal ends, or sprout shoots from the terminal ends which produce the fruit. Some fruit trees which need to be pruned differently are:

  • Figs
  • Persimmons
  • Pomegranates

For more information on how to prune these fruit trees, please see article – Fruit Trees with Special Pruning Requirements – Figs, Persimmons and Pomegranates

 

 

That’s all that’s required to maintain deciduous fruit trees at a manageable size, and keep them productive. They’ll crop consistently if they’re pruned each winter, and fed with a balanced fertilizer at the start of spring and autumn.

 

 

 

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