GARDENING: Avoid over-pruning fruit trees in winter

The apple tree in June 2016, with the desired open goblet shape but yet more work need to be done in the next month or two on remaining water shoots.
The apple tree in June 2016, with the desired open goblet shape but yet more work need to be done in the next month or two on remaining water shoots.

Following on from last week’s guide to winter pruning apple and pear trees, here’s how to fix a major problem of over-pruning – water shoots.

When you cut back a tree too much in winter, it responds by producing lots of tall, upright, leafy branches, producing no flowers or fruit.

The apple tree in August 2016, finally with fruiting spurs.

The apple tree in August 2016, finally with fruiting spurs.

This will happen if you remove more than one quarter of the canopy in a year, which I managed to do four years ago to one tree and just managed to get a decent crop last summer, so be warned!

Before you start, it really helps to take a few photos for the bare branches, so you can see how your work progresses from year to year.

This is how to solve the problem: in the first year, remove water shoots growing directly from the trunk or from the lower parts of main branches and cut away half of those remaining from their base.

Then cut off the top 10cm (4in) of the remaining water shoots, to encourage branching.

The apple tree in January 2015, halfway through pruning out the water shoots.

The apple tree in January 2015, halfway through pruning out the water shoots.

In the second year, remove half the water shoots retained in the previous year. Prune the remaining shoots to an outward-facing bud or branch.

In the third year, continue to prune to outward-facing buds or branches. Fruit buds should have started to form on the new shoots.

Where this has happened, revert to the normal winter pruning, which you can find on www.mandycanudigit.com
Suckers grow from the base of the tree and just sap energy – remove these.

Mulch trees in the spring following pruning, and feed with a general fertiliser such as Growmore to encourage good regrowth.

JOBS FOR THE WEEKEND

Snowdrops can be lifted and divided as long as you re-plant them straight away.

Make sure protective straw or fleece is still in place on vulnerable plants overwintering outdoors.

In cold spells, protect non frost-proof containers with bubble wrap, hessian or fleece. Group pots near a south-facing wall to give extra protection.

Take hardwood cuttings of shrubs such as Cornus, Salix, Forsythia, Weigela, Escallonia, Rosa, Ribes, Chaenomeles and Elaeagnus anddeciduous climbers such as Fallopia and Lonicera. Check last year’s hardwood cuttings, for planting out or potting on.

Phytophthora root rots can cause dieback on mature trees and shrubs. Wet winter weather and poorly-drained soils will make the likelihood worse on susceptible woody plants.

Bracket fungus on trees is often noticed this month - if the tree is suffering, call in a tree surgeon.

If your Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera truncata and S. x buckleyi) didn’t set flower buds, it may be that the temperature was too high (above 18°C/65°F, or had too much artificial light. Move it into cooler conditions away from night lighting. Encourage bushy growth by twisting off outer segments after flowering. These can be used as cuttings if dried and kept warm for a week before potting up.

Mole activity increases from now until February, due to mating and nest building. Remove the largest hills from your lawn and firm before seeding it in spring.

If it snows, brush shrubs and conifers gently with a broom to prevent branches getting damaged. Packing the branches of borderline hardy deciduous trees and shrubs with straw and securing this with fleece and ties, will protect them from frost.

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For more on these topics, plus cook what you grow, traditional recipes, North East information, environmental news and more, log on to www.mandycanudigit.com (now smartphone friendly), www.sunderlandecho.com/gardening, follow me on Twitter @MandyCanUDigIt or you can like me on Facebook at Mandycanudigit