As winter took a hold, and our trees went into dormancy, The Orchard Project devised a programme of pruning workshops in London and beyond. The aim of these workshops was to bring people together, provide them with skills training of different techniques such as restorative, maintenance and formative pruning, and of course have fun.
In London alone, as part of our ‘Celebrations of Orchards‘ initiative we held an incredible 18 pruning workshops, many of which were working with trees over 60 years old.
What are the key considerations when pruning old fruit trees, and how does it differ from the formative pruning of young trees?
Who better to ask, then our project friend and all-round orchard maestro Bob Lever aka ‘Orchard Bob’. In an easy to remember explanation, Bob explains that:
“Formative pruning is akin to teaching your toddler to stand, walk and run. Restorative pruning however is a bit like helping an elderly relative down the stairs and then settling them into a comfy chair”
Since 2011, The Orchard Project has been working with Bob and local communities to restore London’s remnant traditional orchards through programmes of educational sessions on restoration pruning. These old orchards have much value, in terms of biodiversity, amenity, food source, genetic, local distinctiveness and intrinsic worth.
The Phoenix Tree! At Ham House’s Petersham Meadows, we led a pruning workshop with the National Trust. Amongst the many stunning veteran apple trees, there was the phoenix tree pictured below to admire! This apple fell down some years ago and continues to produce apples, host various bugs, and provide a shady spot for the Petersham Meadows cow herd to rest under on sunny summer afternoons. What a tree!
Bob’s Key Principles to restorative pruning:
“The first work you do to an old fruit tree is attempt to correct structural defects that have occurred as a result of a period of neglect. If you take a big old apple tree for example. As time passes, the tree grows hollow and the branches grow longer and heavier, and so the risk of the branches breaking or splitting the tree trunk increases”.
“Restorative pruning is often about diagnosing which branches might be about to pull the tree apart if left untended. It is usually dealing with weight reduction, and sometimes height reduction. The object is to try to extend the life of the tree, usually for landscape, biodiversity or amenity reasons. It is not usually to enhance fruit production, although that can be the case if the tree is healthy and responds well to the pruning”.
Find the whole story on our chat with Bob Lever, our all-round orchard maestro in our blog here.
Formative pruning is the pruning of young trees and is all about encouraging them to take on a good shape, to enhance future management and fruit production.
The open-centred bush tree meets our requirements, as it is relatively straightforward to prune, low enough to be accessible for fruit harvest and encourages trees to develop habitat features such as hollows when they are older.
- Take your time and step back to assess your work regularly – it’s best not to take more than 20% of the timber out of the tree in one year. Leave the pile of your cuttings on the ground beside the tree as you work so you can gauge your progress.
- Never leave a stub at the end of a cut that will just rot away and be a target for disease. Always cut a branch back to the base or to a side shoot or fruiting bud.
- Don’t be afraid to have a go! If you stick with the basic rule to prune out dead, damaged or diseased wood and follow the principles above you can’t go far wrong. Remember each tree is different so you need to assess on an individual basis – feel free to let it express its character.
Below, are our volunteers getting stuck in the pruning the young apple and pear trees at Lambert’s Orchard, Horton Country Park, Epsom. On the left, council’s tree officer Jeremy ponders how to decongest this twiggy tree. On the right, you can see the fruits of his labour with the tree pruned, grass cut and tree mulched – good job!
Finally, keep you tools sharp and clean. As you can see on the picture to the right, a pair of secateurs and a small pruning saw should be all you need for most jobs – unless you’re carrying out restoration pruning on an older tree where you may need extension poles and larger saws. See the full set of pruning tools for formative and restorative pruning below on the left.
Generally, prune pip fruits (apples and pears) in the winter and stone fruits (plums, cherries) in the summer. However, there are times when you prune apples in the summer, read more about summer pruning in our blog here
In the crystal clear London sun, our students learnt to prune on an orchard full of quinces, meddlers, apples, pears, persimmons, loquats and mulberries at GMH Park! Already they are excited for summer pruning of their abundant apricots and plums.
If you would like to find out more about the work we do, or would like to get involved with us then get in touch with Abby, at firstname.lastname@example.org or Lizzie at Elizabeth@theorchardproject.org.uk. You can find a whole list of past and upcoming events on our event page here.
The Celebration of Orchards Project is funded by The Heritage Lottery Fund, The Postcode Lottery Trust, Heineken, Mercers Foundation and the GLA.