Pruning Dwarf Apple Trees
|July 9, 2011||Posted by admin under Trees|
Dwarf apple trees are a definite advantage for smaller urban landscapes where some home fruit production is desired. Even for landscapes where there is plenty of space, dwarf and semi-dwarf trees are easier to care for when pruning, providing pest control or picking the crop. Dwarf trees will be more expensive initially, but the efficiency of management and satisfaction after many years will be well worth the investment.
At this time of year, pruning may be a major concern for fruit tree care. The pruning and care of dwarf trees is slightly different from that of normal-sized, or ‘standard’ trees. Since growth is slower and shorter, pruning is more limited.
Most dwarf apple trees contain either dwarfing roots or a dwarfing interstem as well as branches with specialized growth called ‘spurs’. A spur is a short, compacted shoot. It is a very condensed twig which contains both leaf buds and flower buds. Spur growth is much slower than standard growth, and a fruiting spur should be able to produce flowers and apples for at least 10 years. That is why most of them should not be pruned off during the pruning process of dwarf trees. This type of growth, in addition to dwarfing rootstocks or interstems, makes trees smaller and able to fruit at a younger age. Spur type growth also exists on some varieties of apples on standard trees.
A fully dwarf apple tree grows to a height of from 8 to 10 feet. Most of the younger, smaller dwarf trees need some support. Under the weight of a full load of fruit, they may be bent to the ground and broken off. Dwarfing roots are also fairly limited in size, so trees may be blown over during storms. They may be supported with individual stakes or by a trellis.
Dwarf trees may be pruned in several ways, but generally pruning to a central leader will be most efficient. This central leader, or main trunk, is easily given support by the post or trellis. The central leader should be allowed to develop to the full 8 or 10 feet. At planting, dwarf apples trees may be cut back. The most vigorous shoot that then develops from the existing trunk should be selected as the central leader. Never cut back beyond the graft union or interstem. During the summer, lower shoots may develop to form smaller branches from the main trunk. When these appear and become about a foot long, they may have the tips cut out to slow their growth and promote additional branching. Minimal yearly pruning is necessary after the basic form has been developed. The young branches should be spaced uniformly around the trunk and those forming the widest angle from the trunk should be preferred.
Semi-dwarf trees are those that may grow 12 to 15 feet in height and are fairly wide. They may also be trained to a central leader, but many growers prefer to prune them to an open center. Dwarf trees are often more upright, but varieties will vary.
To form an open-centered tree, the newly planted tree may be cut back to about 3 feet. As new growth develops, about 4 branches spaced somewhat equally around the trunk should be selected to form the ‘scaffold’, or major framework, of the tree. A central leader will not be allowed to develop and will terminate at the top branch. As the tree begins to bear fruit, props or stakes may be needed to support the limbs when heavily weighted.
How to Prune Dwarf Apple Trees
Pruning dwarf apple trees is similar to pruning larger apple trees, but these grow out rather than up and require trimming about one-third of the lengthy branches each year. Encourage more fruit production from a dwarf apple tree with instructions from a sustainable gardener in this video on gardening.
Non dwarf trees are pruned similarly to semi-dwarfs into an open-centered system. However, the initial cutback of a newly planted tree may be slightly higher, depending on the size of the whip that is planted.
Whenever pruning any older tree, remember to remove any damaged limbs, pendant limbs, limbs that rub against each other, dying limbs, and limbs growing toward the center of the tree. A type of shoot growth coming from major limbs is often very upright. These shoots are called ‘watersprouts’ and should also be removed as they form.