Tree Growth – Tipping Apically Dominant Shoots

When you prune an apple shoot by cutting into last years growth, you remove the Budbreak1apical bud and eliminate the apical dominance that it had over the lateral buds just below it on the shoot. This type of cut is also called tipping. Removing the apical bud in the dormant season (November through March) usually results in the upper most buds just below the cut growing into 5 to 7 new branches as in the attached pictures. These new branches quickly reestablish apical dominance over the buds lower down on the shoot. The uppermost bud grows into the most vertical dominant shoot. The next bud (sometimes the next two) usually develop a sharp upright angled connection with the trunk of the tree. Sharp upright angled branch connection are Youne apple treeweak connections that are likely to split in the years to come when there is a lot of weight from the branch itself, fruit, snow and wind. These more upright branches are also more vigorous than flatter angled branches resulting in the production of fewer flower buds.

The third, fourth and fifth shoots usually develop into flatter angled branches with strong connections to the tree trunk (or main stem) and weaker growth. These weaker growing flatter angled branches are the most desirable type of future structural and apple producing branches.

Learn More About Growing Fruit Trees

Apple branchLearn how to care for your fruit trees with your garden as the classroom. I will come to your garden in-person in the Greater Vancouver Area or provide training and coaching via the internet. Some of the topics that can be included:

  • Evaluating the health of your trees
  • Pruning  – dormant and summer seasons
  • Training your trees to any size or shape
  • Putting more quality fruit on your trees

Training can be one-on-one or in a small group of family and friends. Leave a comment or send me an e-mail to set up a training date or to start internet based training and coaching.


Tree Growth – Apical Dominance

Verticle ShootApical dominance is the key reason why we are able to direct the growth of trees to achieve the goals we have for them. The pear shoot in this picture is growing vertically during midsummer. There is a bud at the top or apical end of this shoot. This apical bud is responsible for all the growth you see in the picture. There are several other buds on this branch, they are very small buds attached to the stem just above each leaf. These buds are called lateral buds. The apical bud produces a plant hormone (an auxin) that travels downward inside the stem as though pulled by gravity. This hormone prevents the lateral buds from growing. When trees produce very long shoots (sometimes several feet long) in one year with no side branches, they are strongly apically dominant. If some or all of the lateral buds grow into branches in the same year, the trees are weakly apically dominant. Apples and pears are strongly apically dominant, peaches are weakly apically dominant.

When only the apical bud grows, the result is a long single shoot. If the apical dominance is weak and apical bud plus some of the lateral buds grow, the result is many shorter shoots, a bush shape rather than a long single shoot. The reason for this is the growth energy of the tree is now being shared between several shoots so they are all shorter than when only one shoot is growing.

Most plants start out strongly apically dominant so they can grow up away from the soil. Plants that do not have this ability are the low growing ground covers. Most plants loose their strong apical dominance in the first year or two. Large trees do not loose their strong apical dominance giving them the ability to grow very tall.

Trees and shrubs growing in situations where there are no restrictions on their growth grow into shapes dictated by their genetic potential. Few gardens provide this type of unrestricted growth for large trees. Through pruning and training our trees we can direct their apical dominance to produce some amazing shapes and forms such as espalier and topiary. Directing the apical dominance of our trees can also result in the production of more high quality fruits, nuts and berries. We can also direct our trees to provide more shade, better screening, windbreaks, stabilization of soils and many other services. Future posts to this blog will discuss how to the achieve goals we have for our trees.

Lee Valley Tools Workshops/Seminars

I will be instructing the following workshops at the Coquitlam Lee Valley Tools in 2014. Please check their online course listings and registration mid November.

  • Pruning and Training Fruit Trees, Nuts and Berries
  • Espalier Training of Trees and Shrubs
  • Tree and Shrub Shaping
  • Grafting and Air layering Trees
  • Tapping West Coast Maple and Birch Trees for Syrup
  • Vegetable Grafting

Your suggestions of other courses you would like to take are very welcome.

City Farm Fest at Science World Oct. 27th

The City Farm Fest is part of the Explore Sustainability Weekend at Science World. The Vancouver Fruit Tree Project Society will have a table at this event. I will be giving two grafting demonstrations and two apple pruning talks On October 27th at their table starting at 11:30 am. Drop by the table to verify the times. I hope to see you there.

The general information about the Sustainability Weekend is as follows:

Location: Science World British Columbia
Date: October 26 and 27, 10am – 6 pm
Description: Explore the many ways that we can get involved in being caretakers for our planet and join us on Sunday for the opening of the TD Environmental Trail and a special City Farm Fest!

UBC Apple Festival October 19th and 20th

This is easily the largest Apple Festival in British Columbia, it is a must attend event for anyone in the area interested in tree fruits. For lots of information on this event click here. I will be at this event as a volunteer representing the Master Gardeners Association of BC – Vancouver Chapter and the BC Fruit Testers Association ( There will be lots of apple varieties for tasting, fruit trees for sale and lots more. On each day there will two grafting demonstrations by members of the BCFTA and on each day I will be doing a short talk about pruning and training apple trees. I hope to see you there.

Click here to see a video about the festival.

Pruning Old Apple Tree at Derby Reach

At the Derby Reach Apple Festival I lead a demonstration of pruning of an old apple tree. During that presentation I said that I would post before and after pictures of that tree. The pruning of that tree is not yet complete, so the before and after is not yet ready. I am working on it! Here are the before pictures. The first is from the front, the second from the side and the third from the inside.Derby Reach Apple 1 Derby Reach apple 2 Derby Reach old apple 3