Age of Shoots: Broadleaf Deciduous Trees

Growth RingsDetermining the age of branches or shoots should be done before you start directing the growth of your trees. This is because your trees will react differently to cutting or pruning of one year old growth compared to a similar cut is made into two or three year old growth. The age of shoots of most broadleaf deciduous trees can be determined by locating the rings of bud scale scars that mark the separation between one years growth and that of the previous year. As your tree gets ready for winter and dormancy it forms tough scales over the growing points or buds to protect them from the inclement winter weather. In the spring when the tree starts to grow once more, the scales covering the buds fall from the tree leaving a ring of scars Rings 22marking where the bud was located. The first picture shows a set of rings on a pear tree between this years and last years growth in late May. The growth of this years shoot is still very green while last years growth has a brown color. The bud scars and bark color should both be used to locate the point of separation between one years growth and the next because the bud scale scars and not very clear on some species.

The second picture is also from a pear tree taken in late September after harvest and while the tree is preparing for winter. The bud scales are visible as is the difference in bark color from one year to the next.

Biennial Crops of Apples and Pears

Scar from pervious years applesApples and pears produce most of their fruit on small, fruiting branches called spurs. Spurs are small, slow growing, funny-looking branches. Make sure you don’t cut these cute little branches off when you are pruning, or you won’t get much fruit for a couple of years.

During the six weeks or so after blossom time, this year’s fruit start to grow on some spurs. At the same time, flowers for next year’s crop are being initiated in the buds of other spurs. Individual spurs cannot do both at the same time. This results in a phenomenon called biennial bearing, or producing fruit every other year. If you are growing apple or pear trees in your garden, you are likely familiar with biennial bearing. Most apple and pear trees will have a year with a big crop, followed the next year by a small crop. In some cases, biennial bearing is so severe that a tree will have a huge crop one year and no fruit the following year. This cycle can be initiated by many things, such as bad weather at blossom time or winter damage. Commercial orchardists spend a lot of effort trying to eliminate this tendency so that they can produce a dependable volume of fruit for the market each year. A year without fruit means a year without income for these businesses.

If there is fruit on most of the spurs of your trees in early June, it is a good idea to remove all of the fruit from half the spurs (approximately). This is called thinning, and will allow the trees to spend their energy developing flower buds on those spurs for next year. Another reason to thin your apples and pears is to increase the size of the fruit you leave on the tree. To accomplish this, fruit are usually thinned to one or two on each spur. Don’t be surprised if some of your fruit start to drop off your trees on their own in June; this is a natural shedding of weak fruit called June drop.

In the picture there are two spurs, one growing apples and the other with three visible scars where last year’s apples were attached. The spur with no apples is likely in the process of developing a fruit bud for next year.

Fruit Tree Pruning Information

Today I gave a presentation about tree fruit pruning at the Vandusen Master Gardener’s Harvest Festival. This was not a stellar weather day in Vancouver, but many hardy gardeners did make it. It was a great experience.

It is very clear to me that I need to post much more information about tree fruit pruning on this site. Over the next couple of weeks I will be posting  new information on a range of tree fruit pruning topics including apical dominance and how to control it, how to manage apple and pear trees to increase the number of fruiting spurs, how to identify fruit and leaf buds and many more topics. My goal is to provide this information in a logical fashion, posts building on previous posts. Many of these topics are important background information that should help you evaluate the growth of your trees and your pruning options to achieve the goals you have for them. Please come back over the next few days and weeks to see the new posts and to provide me with feedback how useful (or not) this information is. 🙂

Heritage Apple Day in Derby Reach Regional Park on Saturday, October 5, 2013

Saturday, October 5, 2013 11:00am to 2:00pm. Derby Reach Regional Park, Allard Crescent, Langley, BC. This is a free public event.

Picture of BC Fruit Testers apple variety table at Derby Reach Apple Day 2012.

There will be expert apple pruning demonstrations of old and young trees at 11:30 am,12:30 pm &1:30 pm. I will be doing some of the pruning demonstrations. There will also be a display of varieties of apples grown in south coastal B.C, a bee and honey display, and a cider-making demo.  You will be able to taste many heritage and new apples varieties. There will be Artists in the Park, Live music and History re-enactors. And there are many kids activities. Informal, informative fun for all the family. I will see you there!

Vancouver Master Gardener Harvest Festival Sept. 28

Image from the 2011 Master Gardener Harvest Festival

Image from the 2011 Master Gardener Harvest Festival

Vancouver Master Gardener Harvest Festival September 28, 2013

Everyone is welcome to this event in the Floral Hall at VanDusen Botanical Gardens.  Displays, Vendors, sustainable gardening advice and more. This event is also the same day as the VBG Bulb Sale and the SOIL Sale in the parking lot. The following lectures will take place:

10:30am – Right Bulb, Right Place – Jo Ann Canning, MG

11:45am – Invasive Plants in the Home Garden  – Tasha Murray, ISCMV

1:00pm – Pruning your Fruit Trees – Richard Hallman, P.Ag., Arborist, MG

2:15pm – Collecting & Saving Vegetable Seeds  – Bardia Khaledi, VBG Seed Collectors


Harvest Time

cropped-Apples.jpgThis has been a great year for tree fruit growth and maturity on the West Coast of British Columbia. Harvest started in July for stone fruit and will be continuing into November for some late maturing pome fruits. While you are harvesting your fruit is a great time to evaluate the growth and production of your trees and to plan for their future. Did they produce as well as you had hoped? How did they do compared to previous years? If they did not measure up in any way now is the time to sort out why and to start thinking about solutions. Late winter when the trees are about to start the next year of growth and you are about to prune them is a poor time to start thinking about ways to improve their growth and production.

Some of the things you should be evaluating at this time of year include:

  • Where on your tree did the fruit grow? If it all grew in the top and outside edges of your trees, there may be too much shade in your trees reducing the health of interior branches. All parts of fruit trees need to receive direct sunlight for optimum health.
  • Is this years crop a lot smaller or larger than last years? If it is, your trees are biennial (many apples and pears are biennial). Fruit trees are easier to manage and they produce more fruit over time if biennial cropping is eliminated.
  • Are there a wide range of fruit sizes on your trees from very small to very large? This is usually caused by  pollination problems or too much shade on the inside of the tree.

All of these problems can be corrected through modified pruning and some other practices. Future posts will provide more information about harvest season evaluation and ways to improve future harvests.