Do you have a mature, neglected fruit tree in your yard and you’re not sure what to do with it? Well here’s the good news is you can renovate it and start enjoying that heirloom fruit again, watch our video and Tricia will show you how.
Questions to ask yourself before starting
Before you begin you’ll need to decide if the tree is worth saving.
- Does it produce fruit that you enjoyed eating or would you rather replace it with another variety?
- Does it have a sound trunk that is free from rot?
- Is it plagued by fire blight, scab or other diseases?
- What type of fruit tree is in need of renovating?
If you’re tree is hollow or severely diseased renovating it won’t help it live much longer. The major pruning involved in restoration could stress it to the point of killing it, or if successful can result in the now heavy fruit load breaking unsound branches. Keeping a disease or insect infested tree may also be a risk to nearby healthy trees. If your tree has serious problems you may want to just replace it rather than rejuvenate it.
If it’s an heirloom variety that you like you may want to take some cuttings before taking the tree down and you can propagate later. The other consideration is the type of fruit tree that you want to renovate. Pears and apples can be most successfully renovated. Cherries peaches and nectarines are difficult to renovate It’s typically easier to just replace them. Whatever kind of tree you’re working on the renovation process will take three to four years to complete.
First year of restoration
First Step – cut off any dead wood or branches and this can be done anytime of year but in the summer it’s a little bit easier see which branches are dead and which ones are alive. You also want to cut any suckers off growing from the bottom of the trunk or up from the ground. Almost time to really get started pruning.
Second Step – should be done during the winter (best before bud break). Before you begin reshaping and resizing your tree step back and assess what you have to work with and how you want it to look in a few years… when you’re finished with the restoration. You might want to mark the branches you want to keep with weather resistant tags so you won’t get carried away or forget the plan later in the process.
In the first year you will focus on removing up to one-third of the branches.
What branches get removed?
- Remove branches that give too much height to the tree
- Remove branches that are growing downwards or in towards the trunk
- You should also remove the crossing and rubbing branches
- Remove any water sprouts that have grown in the upper level of the canopy
- Thin out smaller branches to increase air circulation and sunlight
When pruning for restoration, prune the branches all the way to their point of origin, not halfway along the branch. Lower water sprouts can be thinned if needed, but otherwise left alone to become fruit-bearing branches in a few years. If these branches are growing upwards use limb spreaders to train them to grow at a 60 to 90 degree angle.
You should also thin out the smaller branches to increase air circulation and sunlight within the canopy. Always select for horizontal or upward angle branches that are growing away from the trunk. The best fruit production will come from branches younger than 4 years old, so when deciding between two similar branches choose to keep the younger one. The final thinned spacing should have about one and a half to two feet between branches.
Never cut more than one third of the canopy of the tree. That won’t help you renovate any faster, in fact cutting too much will actually make the tree re-grow faster and too much.
So in the first winter we’ve controlled the height of the tree by pruning a lot of the taller branches. We’ve cut all the dead branches off. We’re going to continue to prune a little bit more with crossover branches and branches growing into the tree but no more than one-third of the canopy. For the removal of a very large branch or very tall branches, you should get the help of a Certified Arborist.
Stay tuned to next summer’s video where we continue the restoration of this mature fruit tree and grow organic for life!