Sit! Stand! Roll over! Your fruit trees can’t do any of these things, but there’s no reason you shouldn’t still train them. Fruit trees can still produce fruit without your help, but that’s no reason to not help them along! Whether you’re a first-time tree owner or a seasoned arborist, it always pays to give your fruit trees that little extra love. These simple tips will put you on the path to training your fruit trees properly. They may not be able to do any tricks, but you will still be pleased with the results!
First off, let’s talk about what exactly it means to train your fruit trees. To train your fruit tree is to plan and selectively prune your tree, guiding branch growth into a specific pattern. It’s all about planning for the long-term growth of your orchard, setting yourself up for success in the long run. Since training is a process that takes time to fully be effective, you should start thinking about it as soon as you can.
Why, specifically, should you train or prune your tree, though? It may be tempting just to let your orchard take care of itself, occasionally pruning and removing pests here or there, but there are significant benefits to training early on. Training a young fruit tree helps build the overall structure of the tree, ensuring you won’t have any problems with limbs breaking under the weight of the fruit.
Proper pruning can prevent having to prop up those heavy, fruit-laden branches later on, as well as helping induce further branch growth. In addition to that, training your tree while young can lead it into production at an early age. The longer you have the trees, the more important careful pruning becomes. Reducing the size of the tree overall makes it more manageable, allowing you to spray and harvest with greater ease. Pruning a mature tree can also give you a more productive tree with better quality fruit. The goal of every orchard owner is assumedly healthy, happy trees bearing excellent fruit, and training and pruning will get you there.
There are some general guidelines to keep in mind for training your trees. It is important to start training at the time of planting, as the longer you wait the harder it will be to implement any system. If you see any unwanted shoots, remove them during the summer while they’re still small. Pruning is an important part of the process, but try to train more by positioning the limbs. Finally, it is crucial that you stay consistent in your training system. The more dedicated you are to it, the sooner you will complete the process.
When pruning your trees, remember the long-term. Make sure to prune at planting time so that the tops are balanced with the roots. In general, the top portion of the tree should be pruned more than the lower portion. Younger trees should be pruned more lightly than mature trees, and mature trees should be pruned more heavily if they do not show any signs of growth. Thinning out shoot growths on a mature tree will also increase the size and quality of the fruit grown on remaining shoots.
Height is an important factor of tree training and pruning. Taller limbs are harder to harvest and can take away valuable resources from fruit production. You can also manage the height of your tree through pruning. If any of the limbs are vertical, bend them at an angle using weights or tree spreaders. Keep them this way for one season, until the branch stiffens. This will help not only with harvesting, but it will also focus the tree’s resources into the fruit as opposed to upward growth.
Once you understand the basic concepts and practices, it’s time to think about what kind of training system is right for your trees. You know best what works for your orchard or garden, but be sure to do plenty of research before you decide what tactic to use. There are a few different training methods, with some variations within those, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.
Open center training focuses on picking three or four main branches to be the supporting scaffold for the tree in the first winter, while trimming and removing any competing limbs early on. Open center training is effective with peach, prune, and plum trees.
You can use central-leader training if there are no large branches at planting time by selecting a vigorous shoot and trimming any competing shoots or branches around it during the spring and summer. As the tree grows, spread any limbs that are too upright. Modified central-leader training involves a similar process, spreading out any competing limbs to create stronger scaffolding branches as the central leader grows. Once the scaffold is formed, however, the central leader is no longer needed and can be removed. Pear and sour cherry trees can be grown with a central leader or modified central leader plan.
Espalier training uses a wire trellis or posts to develop a tree in two dimensions only, creating a shape that is easier to prune and spray for pests. It also saves valuable space in a home garden environment. Select buds to be the branches and secure them to wires stretching out between the posts or trellis. Keep the central leader at the height of your highest branches, and guide any new buds out with training wire before they become too stiff. Palmette is a specific kind of Espalier training, developing branches at progressively sharper upward angles from the bottom. Espalier training is a good choice with fully dwarf apple trees.
So, now you know how to train your fruit tree! As with most plant care, the most important thing is planning ahead. By knowing what kind of tree you’re working with and what they respond to best, you can know what training system and pruning methods will give you the happiest and most bountiful trees.
When in doubt, don’t hesitate to get an expert opinion. Following guidelines on tree training and pruning, along with the help of professionals when needed, will ensure your trees will live to give you fruit for years to come!