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Pruning Your Apple Tree

"A Pembrokeshire proverb. Eat an apple on going to bed, And you'll keep the doctor from earning his bread."

~February 1866 edition of Notes and Queries magazine~

As you can see from the Welsh quote listed above , "An apple a day keeps the doctor away" has been with us for some time. Apples obviously far longer, thousands of years longer in fact. Currently there are over 7,500 cultivators available for apple connoisseurs. If you are interested in old heirloom varieties I would recommend requesting the free Fedco catalog.

Just a few days ago with the wind chill it was 3 degrees Fahrenheit, today mid fifties. I decided it was time to prune the apple tree. The old tree was here when we bought our home nearly 8 years ago. It is difficult to tell if there was initially a vision for the tree in regards to pruning. By the time we arrived it had obviously been neglected for some time.

We have tried over the past few seasons to create a healthy fruit bearing plant but our range had been limited to what could be reached from the ground or lower branches of the tree due to a lack of proper tools. Last year my brother-in-law and sister bought their first home. The previous owner was an experienced gardener who cultivated apple trees. Thus they happened to have a pruning saw!

I recently read an article on pruning old apple trees and they literally started out by saying it is , "fast and easy!" I am here to tell you it is not. It is a bit of work. Most gardeners know that the first month of two of gardening , especially for those of us in the north, is simply a process of building up our muscles and stamina again. With that said there are few things as unnatural to the "older" human body than sawing above your head or doing so while you are hanging from a branch in an apple tree. There are moments of pleasure of course. I was able to listen to the geese pass overhead and share strategy with my eager 5 year old son.

Pruning your apple tree is a rather straight forward process once you know what you are looking for. To begin with cut any dead or broken branches. Keep an eye out for diseased sections of your tree as well. When removing large branches from your tree you are attempting to create openings for air flow and sunlight. Attempt to leave a nice strong cap after cutting so that the remaining section is not exposed to potential water damage and can heal properly. The old saying is that a bird should be able to fly through your tree without hitting a branch. Basically I try to leave the healthy horizontal branches while removing those that overlap other branches thus blocking light or those that are growing straight up or down. Also consider removing most of the water sprouts or suckers. It is perfectly alright to leave a few on the tree though. On apple and pear trees you want to remove crowded spurs. The spurs are the area on the tree that actually produces the fruit so don't go overboard!

You can either prune in early spring or fall depending on your desire. After a few seasons of focused care your old tree can potentially return to form. A healthy tree can easily produce for 35 years. One thing you may want to consider though is that apple trees will not self pollinate, in other words you need multiple varieties in order to be successful.

Apples are high in fiber which aids in digestion. There are a number of studies in regards to apples and their ability to prevent certain types of cancers. In particular lung and colon cancer. They are rich in iron and help individuals manage their diabetes. Now of course the catch is that commercial apples are sprayed regularly with fungicides and insecticides so I would urge the benefit of growing your own. Not to mention planting trees help the environment, especially if one can eat their fruit.

Tobias Whitaker blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine. Click on the Mother Earth News logo at the bottom of the page for all of his post. You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog, A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad found here


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