Lent, the time between Ash Wednesday (around March 1st) and Easter (around April 16) is a busy time on a homestead. Right now I decided to try my hand at trimming back our wild crabapple tree (Malus) and what I think is a plum tree (Prunus). The crabapple appears to have the (Malus) Latin name because it produces extremely sour fruit due to malic acid and malic acid Latin root is also Malus. These trees are in pretty bad shape and produced a lot of fruit, but it was mostly insect invested. There were even spider webs in what I believe is a plum tree. Also, the previous owner didn’t appear to cut them back very well. Branches cut half way down, and then the tree just allowed to grow with apparently very little care.
This is our first attempt to trim fruit trees. We planted some cultivated apple and cherry trees in the front of our home, which we cover in the blog post Planting a few trees. We have these two existing trees in the back. Even though they are only wild crab apples, they apparently can be very useful to cultivated apples as a cultivator. Also, you can use crab apples in cooking with meat. Since these are wild trees, we will learn from them. I ask the younger children to help so that they can learn.
The tools we used were two shears a Corona 11/2” and a Hickok which appears to be the same size. The Corona was strongly recommended by a person who use to do this for a living, and it is an excellent shear. It is a well-built shear, with heavy solid wood handles and excellent grips. It is a good professional shear. The Hickok was one of the finest tools I put my hands on in recent memory. Made in the USA, the handle made of unvarnished hickory, it was smaller and lighter than the Corona, and did not have the rubber grips. It fit my children’s hands perfectly. It was a very nice tool. I can’t say enough good about it.
We also purchased a ¾” Corona pruner, and a Fanno Saw Works 18” pruning saw. The Fanno Saw Works claims the blades are made in Japan, and they sure work like it. The Fanno Saw blades are a very, very sharp blade and the handle appears to be the solid wood of some type. Rounding up our equipment is just some stuff to get us started, pruning seal, the green tape and Bonide All Seasons Dormant Spray Oil.
What I have learned going to what I call “distance online learning” which in reality is just good YouTube videos is a few things. One is some say you should only trim back about 25% a year. Others say it is very hard to kill a tree from “over pruning.” I went with the second approach. I cut what I thought I should. One of the best series of videos I have found online is the ANRCS videos by Nurseryman Alex Suchan did for UC Davis. Alex Suchan seems to has been taking care of fruit trees for a very, long time and I have watched a lot of his videos. Currently, I focus primarily on his Arborist skill set.
When we started to trim the two fruit trees, what we tried to focus on is dead, dying, diseased branches, as well as branches that go “straight down” and those that were “crossing.” There were a lot of branches that met this category. We wanted the middle of the trees to be more open, to let air flow and to encourage the tree to grow 45-degree branches where the fruit can hang free. One Nurseryman says you should be able to throw your hat through the middle of a dormant (in the winter when there are no leaves on it) fruit tree.
What we tried to focus on was the “branch collar” which my children call the “old man” ring around the base of the branch. They call it that because on these trees at least the branch collar is wrinkly. Thus our desire was to try and find the branch collar and cut right outside of the wrinkles.
We started in the morning and did a lot of work producing a good pile of cuttings. In the end, we did not use any prune sealant. There is some disagreement among the experts in this field. Some say you should use it; others say that the tree heals much better and with less disease if you let the wound air out. They say that it is the “air” that causes a tree to try and heal the wound. In the end, we choose not to use the tree sealer, but there may be times we will need it thus I wanted it. Also, I wanted to spray this tree to kill the aphids and potentially the codling moth (Cydia pomonella) that may have infested the tree. I am unsure if these are here, but something was in the fruit last year. By the time we had finished pruning the trees, it was early afternoon, and the temperature was dropping. The instructions in the Bonide All Seasons Dormant Spray Oil say that I need a day that is over 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Thus I need to wait until we get a decent day that is warmer and not raining.