I recently finished a book called Grow a Little Fruit Tree — a great, easy read for anyone interested in starting a home orchard. I learned about the book through NextDoor, my favorite social network of the last year. When I posted a photo of peach blossoms to celebrate early spring, I got a comment that it looked like I might not have pruned the tree recently and this book was suggested as a guide. I didn’t take it personally at all — this is a hobby and I am always learning from others.
I realized pretty quickly that I had done nearly everything wrong with the fruit trees I had purchased so far. Most importantly, I did not fully respect the full-grown size of these trees. Here are my notes:
- The key to maintaining a small fruit tree is to prune every summer around the solstice. This keeps the tree small by reducing its vigor (typically this is the reason to avoid a summer prune)
- Winter pruning increases vigor, use to thin out a fruit tree
- Maintain 3-4 major limbs, the “scaffold”
- 1 Apple requires 30 leaves
- Compost goes on top, not in the hole, when planting trees
- Planting a potted plant: as deep as the pot, 2x as wide, no soil on the surface, 4-6 inch berm around
- The tardy prune (my situation for selecting tall trees and nit pruning last summer): at summer solstice cut the central leader down to knee height
- 45-degree angle is ideal for an unsupported branch of a fruit tree
- Too much water suffocates roots
- Yellow leaf that falls easily = too much water
- Yellow leaf that holds on = micronutrient defficency
- Let surface soil dry at least a couple of inches (moisture = disease)
- Water rarely, thoroughly
- Add worm castings to mulch (compost) and apply each year
- Figs fruit on new wood
And now, some before and after photos of my first solstice “tardy” prune. It’s all a learning exercise so I’ll watch these over the years to see how they do.
On that last Pawpaw I am hopeful one little sprout will get more nutrients as a result of this prune and add a third branch to my scaffold.
The next time I plant fruit trees I’ll start with bare root trees so that I can make this first hard prune right away. I’m still hopeful these trees will grow well, but probably not as well as they might have if I’d started from the beginning. Now I just watch and wait.