One of the most popular ways of growing fruit trees is the cordon. They are ideal for the small garden and equally suitable for the larger plot where an intensive heavy cropping system is required. An amazing range can be included in only a small area. Correct pruning is relatively easy to understand and essential to maintain the correct form and induce the heavy cropping potential.
Now if there is one word guaranteed to make a new gardener reluctant to grow fruit it’s that one word ‘pruning’! Many a person has said that they would like to grow an apple tree but would not now how to prune it. Pruning of cordons is easy and once you have taken the first step you will never look back and you can use it as a platform to try the more complex growing systems.
There is a wealth of older publications that describe the process in such an intense and convoluted way that even I don’t understand them! The use of correct terminology is of course essential, but unless you understand the meaning it will be rather confusing, rather like a maze with the back door closed.
Summer pruning of cordons is simple, just remember a few basic rules:
The leader is the main central stem.
Spurs are the very short side branches that produce the blossom and the fruits that follow.
Now why do we need to summer prune? Simply to confine the growth to within the limited spaced available and to induce the production of fruit buds to give us the crops we are all expecting. If we did not prune then the cordon would simply grow untended, bush out and eventually turn into a normal, badly formed, tree.
The best time to prune is normally about mid July for Pears and a week or two later for Apples. Slightly later if you live in the North.
It is the side branches that need your attention first, any that are 9” or longer will need pruning. These longer shoots are taking on a different appearance, the leaves will be darker and losing their earlier brightness, the whole shoot will have stiffened and look more mature. These are the growths that need your attention, do not cut back any shoots less than 8 or 9” as the shorter laterals often have the fruit buds at their tips and you don’t want to cut off those.
Now count the number of leaves from the start of the branch, leave three and cut just above the third, this will usually leave about 4” of growth from the central stem. Now, that was easy wasn’t it! You’re on your way to becoming an experienced pruner.
Treat all the longer branches in the same way, as you proceed the tree will lose it’s unkempt look and regain the form and shape you wanted.
The popular modern modern upright cordon and column trees are treated in the same way; with the latter the laterals can be kept a little shorter if desired.
The more experienced of you will and those with trees that are already past the firs season will already be looking at the sub laterals that are already present and ready for pruning. A sub lateral is a branch that has formed from the pruning you did last summer. These little side shoots from the side laterals should be cut back to one leaf, about 1” beyond the basal cluster of leaves.
By this stage the leader [the top of the main stem] will probably reached the height that you require, these are usually stopped at about 7’ tall which is a convenient height for picking and management but this can be flexible if you want the trees a little shorter or a little taller. Cut any extension growth back to the required height, pruning just above a bud.
Further pruning of the side laterals may be required after the first session, especially if the trees are young when they will grow more vigorously than older, established trees. Check your trees every 3 or 4 weeks until September when growth will largely cease. Prune these side laterals again if required during that period using the same principle. These pruning’s by the way are very suitable for the compost heap if you have one, as they are not yet too woody to rot down.
The main principals of pruning cordons also applies to cordon Gosoeberries and cordon Currants. Cut back the side shoots to 4 or 5 leaves. Also make sure the main leaders of these cordon soft fruits are tied adequately to supports as otherwise they quickly become bent and crooked.
If you are new to pruning, step back and study the tree as you go along and when you have finished and you can see the results of your endeavours clearly, all unruly growth should have been removed and your tree will once again be a neat cordon trained tree. Now, who said pruning was difficult? It can be as easy as eating that home made apple pie that will soon be yours to enjoy!
Pruning on a nice summers evening is, I find, one of fruit growing’s nicest tasks and gives enormous satisfaction when it is performed correctly and you can stand back and admire a nice shapely neat tree.