There comes a point in many an orchard trees' life when it might seem they have passed their natural productive life or may seem too old or have been neglected beyond repair. Yet even in extreme cases it is often possible to breathe new life into these old trees with some selective pruning. With some care and attention you might be surprised at an old trees ability to regenerate.
Firstly it is sensible to complete the work over two seasons; do 50% one year, and 50% another. This gives the tree time to recover before the second stage so it is less of a shock, and it also gives you a period to take stock and appraise the work you have done before you complete.
The most important task, and that that should be undertaken first, is the removal of all dead wood. If the tree is congested this will help you see more clearly the basic framework. By making sure all dead branches are removed cleanly at their base, and the cuts then painted with arbrex, you will lessen the chances of disease and infection spreading to other parts of the tree.
Next have a look at the ‘main’ branch. Very often there is a leader which runs right the way up and is the straightest, tallest main branch on the tree. If it is too tall to harvest easily then take it out completely. This will leave you with a more rounded, goblet shaped tree that is easier to maintain and to pick, and more shapely. The branches that remain will be more evenly spaced and receive more light and air so crops will start to improve in quality and yield.
All remaining crossing and rubbing or congested growths should be selectively pruned with the aim of creating an open and evenly spaced tree. If they are thin and ‘watery’ they should also be removed. In all cases it is better to remove growth completely, clean at the base, than cutting half way along.
Lastly give attention to lower branches. If they are too close to the ground to allow mowing, or if they touch the ground or nearly so, it may be a good idea to remove them.
In all cases paint main cuts with arbrex or a similar sealant.
Now make sure you feed the tree with a good dressing of an N.P.K granular fertilizer. This should be raked into the ground beneath the tree over an area which is the same as the canopy above. This usually gives a good idea of the root coverage below ground where the fertilizer will be taken up.
Pruning work can be carried out during the summer, but the winter is the best time for major work.
Subsequent seasons will now see dormant buds, even from the main trunk, start to grow strongly and healthily and these will start to yield.