Yep, what Dwayne said. First, cut out all deadwood. Use a little chainsaw,
if the branches are big enough and you can use a saw without dinging the
livewood or the trunk. *Don't* put any wound dressing on the cuts. (Really.
Research shows that trees will compartmentalize wounds and heal them
better if you don't goober wound dressing on them.)
If you aren't good with a chainsaw, go buy a pruning handsaw. (Buy good
tools. For snips, Felco. For loppers, Corona. Cheap tools suck. Spend a little
money one time and take care of your tools. They'll last you a lifetime.
I can't remember what brand my pruning handsaw is, but I've used it for
20 years now and haven't had to sharpen it yet. It's cut many, many trees.
I have to order a new cutter blade for my Felco snips this year though, as
I think I've got my 250,000 snips out of the original blade... *g* We've
sharpened it so many times that it's getting tiny.) Spend money on your
tools. Don't buy stuff out of the $2 bin at the hardware store.
Do an undercut first, then do the top cut, so you don't peel a bunch of bark
off the trunk. If I have to explain the above to you, get some help. Find
someone in your area who knows how to prune. Go to the coffee shop and
find an old fart who knows how to cut fruit trees.
I was taught how to prune fruit trees by a 90 year old man, who was *delighted*
to teach a "kid" what he knew. He died a year later, but he passed his
along. That means a LOT to an old man. And I made a living pruning home fruit
orchards like yours, from what Papa Frank taught me. (Then I moved to Alaska.
I have small apple orchard up here, where apples "don't grow." Heh.)
Okay, so cut the deadwood. Then start pruning out the waterspouts
straight up into the air), crossing branches that grew willy-nilly into
the center of
the tree. Call it good for this year.
Next year, start pruning the trees for the desired shape. (Wine-glass
shape is good.
Apples need air and sunlight. You should be able to throw a cat through
the center of
the tree, without whacking the cat into a branch.) Books really can't show
a well-pruned tree should look. You need to go look at some well-pruned
you'll get the idea.
I've rehabilitated 100 year old apple trees and got them to start cranking
again, in just a couple of years. Apple trees are amazing -- they are
Once you get the trees in shape and they start to set lots of apples
again, thin your
fruit early in the spring. The measure is to spread your thumb and little finger
as wide as you can. Thin every apple between that measure out. (Pick it
off the tree.)
Your tree can't make big apples if you leave *every* apple on the tree.
out and you'll get more good, big apples than you can stand. ("Fruit drop"
Don't sweat it. Trees will drop some fruit on their own. But you still
need to thin.)
Fertilize your trees in the spring. Ask local gardeners with really good
recommend what works in your area. If you get worms in your apples, try the
coddling moth pheremone traps before you spray poison on your trees. The scent
traps work. And, as my mother's gardener used to say, "if it ain't good enough
for a worm, I don't want to eat it either." Jay was a renegade in the 1960's,
but he was an organic commercial gardener in the suburbs of San Francisco : )
Jan, in Alaska
Thanks to everyone for the helpful suggestions. In addition to reading, I am
very likely to implement Jan's idea of consulting an "oldster". It's a small
town and there are a few fellows around who know their stuff. I'll try to
enlist their aid. Intergenerational knowledge transfer (folk wisdom) is a
lost art here in the suburbs of Virginia, but it keeps many small rural
areas, like our place in WV, going.
If you have old farts in your area, they're just a gold-mine of
can probably tell you who planted your trees, when and what varieties they are.
I'd be willing to bet that you can make some friends, just by asking the
for help on rehabilitating your orchard. A 20 year old orchard is no big
making friends with the old-timers is priceless. (They can tell you the entire
history of your land; all the gossip, rumors and the true stuff, too.)
When I was pruning 100 year old trees in the Mother Lode of California, I had
folks who were 4th generation on the same land telling me about their families
planting the orchards 3 years after gold was discovered down there at John
sawmill in Coloma (10 miles away) in 1848. The families had been there
continuously, and they *knew* the history of all of the orchards and places
in the area. I made *many* lifelong friends by cutting fruit trees for
and heard stories that would give most historians the vapors : )
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