The Edible Gardening Project team spent an extremely pleasant day on Saturday helping Greener Leith with their children’s orchard on Leith Links. The fruit trees where planted about two years ago and were in real need of some TLC. In a perfect world these trees would have been pruned immediately after planting, but as it was we had to make for a rescue effort instead. The resulting pruning was pretty drastic in some cases! Photos here.

Fruit trees require formative pruning when 1 or 2 years old. The aim of formative pruning is to develop an open goblet shaped, balanced framework. The idea is to encourage 4 or 5 strong branches to radiate like spokes of a wheel from the main stem of the tree. These will be able to support heavy fruit crops.

For apple and pear trees pruning should be carried out when the tree is dormant (usually between November and early March), but not in extremely frosty weather.

Stone fruits such as plums and cherries do not respond as well to continuous pruning. Formative pruning should be carried out in early spring (when the buds are breaking). All subsequent pruning should take place in summer to avoid the fungal disease known as silver leaf.

Always use sharp secateurs to make pruning cuts, just above and sloping away from a bud.

Formative pruning, what to do;

  1. Inspect the tree, look it up and down and walk round it. Take your time deciding what cuts to make
  2. Cut back the central stem just above a wide-angled, strong shoot approximately 75 cm above the ground
  3. Select 4 or 5 of the strongest branches and remove the rest
  4. Shorten the remaining branches by half to two-thirds. Cut just above an outward-facing bud to encourage the formation of a goblet-shaped branch structure.
  5. Remove any remaining lower branches

Subsequent pruning

Apple and pear trees should be pruned every winter to ensure a good crop of fruit. Trees that are not pruned become less productive and congested with old branches. Subsequent pruning does not follow the same method as formative pruning.