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The English Apple Man


26th Jan 2024 - Pruning apple trees

Pruning apple trees


Over the next few weeks The English Apple Man will cover pruning apple trees, this week concentrating on the current style favoured by today's progressive growers. This system works best with modern varieties like Braeburn and Gala.


The English Apple Man introduces a friend who has been at the cutting edge of modern apple production and now as a semi retired Consultant offers his breadth of knowledge to anyone seeking his advice.


Below; Mark Holden




"Over a 35 year period, I have managed farms for two premier horticultural business in Kent, with my last role as Production Director for Adrian Scripps Ltd, growing apples, pears, grapes & blackcurrants.




I have been fortunate to travel to many other countries including New Zealand, South Africa , U.S.A & across Europe. Visiting other successful horticultural business & talking to other farmers and growers is such a valuable experience.


I started my own consultancy business in January 2023 with the aim of imparting some of my horticulture knowledge & practical farming skills to other growers in UK fruit industry.


Although I now live in mid- Wales, I still regularly visit Kent & Herefordshire to advise fruit growers on pruning, thinning, tree architecture & management".


Website: Mark Holden Consultancy




Apple pruning for productivity & profit


"The primary aim of commercial apple pruning is to maximise the kg of class one fruit on the tree.


Intensive apple orchards lend themselves to a simpler form of pruning as the trees are usually 0.8m to 1.0m apart, so there is no need to tip the young feathers 'to fill the space' or to create a complicated branch structure.


Minimal pruning of the young tree in the first 3 years also promotes more fruit bud & a quicker yield build up after the planting year.


Early cropping in the tree's life naturally controls the tree vigour without a lot of other branch manipulation i.e. tying down branches below the horizontal.


Below: left. Newly planted orchard and right. trees at full height



Aim for cropping units of a similar diameter range throughout the tree to maintain balance.


Below: removing vigorous branches



As trees reach maturity remove the 2 or 3 problem branches each year with a 'Dutch' or stub cut close to the trunk to maintain the tree's cropping balance, i.e. too vigorous, too upright or too dominant with a size diameter greater than 50% of the tree's trunk.


Below: Removing strong problem branches with 'Dutch cut



Aim for a tall & narrow 'A' shaped tree tapering to the top. This will maximise the light interception which is essential for good fruit bud development, spur leaf quality & associated apple nutrition including sugars (brix).


Maximise the light interception and air flow through the tree by evenly spacing the cropping units (branches). This will increase fruit colour & the class one percentage on the tree.


Prune the vigorous apple tops in the summer (ideally after the longest day) to reduce the growth response & rebalance the tree's shape. This will reduce shading throughout the tree & encourage more fruit bud development in the following season.


Below: Ideal tree shape, furnished with fruiting wood from top to bottom



Below: A perfect image of a modern hedgerow system near harvest time at Adrian Scripps Ltd Moat Farm





That is all for this week, but;


Next week we will look at pruning in general and in particular the centre leader tree format which has been the standard for the last 50 years!


Take care The English Apple Man