ryton 027

Espalier apple tree

Espalier, cordon, fan and step-over are different ways of pruning and training fruit trees. They are highly productive, decorative and make it easier to carry out routine task such as picking the fruit. Unlike standard fruit trees these ‘restricted’ forms require summer pruning to maintain their shape and encourage fruiting. Unrestricted forms are pruned during the dormant period (late autumn through to early spring).

The aim of summer pruning is to remove new shoots that have grown this season and encourage fruit buds to develop on the remaining framework of branches.

The exact timing depends on the weather. Summer pruning is generally carried out between July and September when the new shoots become woody at the base. In hot dry summers this happens earlier than in cool, wet summers. This year we have now finished pruning all the restricted apple and pear trees in the fruit garden at the Botanics. Last year we did not finish until mid-September. If the trees are pruned too early, before the new shoots have become woody, they are likely to produce more new shoots which will need to be pruned off in September.

How to summer prune:

1. Cut all the vigorous new shoots that grow from the main stem back to 3 buds above the cluster of leaves that is found at the base of this season’s growth. This will encourage the remaining buds to develop into fruit buds rather than buds that will produce more vegetative growth.

2. Do not prune new shoots that are less than 20cm long as they usually already have a fruit bud at the end of the shoot.

3. Cut new shoots that are growing from existing side branches to 1 bud above the basal cluster of leaves.


Step-over apple before summer pruning


Step-over apple after summer pruning

If you need more information it is worth investing in a good pruning and training handbook. You can also come and chat to us at one of our regular Edible Gardening Project drop-ins (see the RGBE what’s-on guide for more details).