Tuesday 1 September 2015


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Fruit trees can be trained in a range of shapes and sizes, from large standards trees with a clear stem of 2 metres to small, stepover trees only 45 cm tall with a 1.5 m long horizontal stem.

Most fruit trees are grafted onto rootstocks and these determine the eventual size of the tree.  Intensively trained trees such as cordons and espaliers give a harder yield for a given area than larger trees, are easier to manage and are particularly useful where space is limited. 

All forms will have had some pruning to establish them and will need further regular pruning, as left unpruned the tree will become crowded and congested with most of the fruit at the top of the tree where it is out of reach.

To establish a well shaped tree it is the early years that are important.  For many tree shapes such as step overs, espaliers, fans, double u cordons, bush and standard trees it is possible to obtain part-trained trees that are two or three years old, making it easier to develop the framework further.  However they can also be started from maiden trees (one year old plants), which although take longer are cheaper and have a greater range of both cultivars and rootstocks.

Early training relies on hard pruning to encourage growth.  Make cuts in winter; once the shape has been established, summer pruning keeps growth in check.  Avoid pruning stone fruits such as cherry in winter due to the risk of disease infection.

  • The leader is the shoot used to extend the branch of a tree.  
  • A lateral is a side shoot from a branch (a spur is a short lateral branch with the leaf nodes close together).  
  • Basal cluster describes a cluster of leaves at the base of a shoot.
  • Grafting is the method used to attach the cultivar to the rootstock
Cordons make the best use of space and come into cropping early in the life of the tree, often in the second summer. Plant a feathered maiden or a part trained cordon at 45 degrees and tie the main stem to a cane attached to horizontal wires.  Shorten any side shoots to three buds from the main stem and shorten the leader by a quarter.

Prune annually in late summer (usually August).  Shorten laterals from the main stem that are longer than 15 cm to three leaves beyond the basal cluster, usually 5-7 cm, to create spurs where the fruit will form.  Prune laterals growing fro existing spurs to one leaf beyond the basal cluster (2-3 cm from the main stem).

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