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Espalier apple branch encouragement/pruning

Hi all,
Over the last winter we put in two espalier apples, purchased as two tier trees (in retrospect, perhaps it would have been better to start with whips and train in place, but here we are).

I have questions about both of these trees, and hopefully someone can help.

The first tree:

This is putting on lots of vegetative growth and seems to be doing well. The ends of 3 of the lower tiers are putting on extension growth. The issue here is that I want to create the third tier at roughly where I have drawn the red line. The central leader has put on a lot of vertical growth, but only one branch has formed and this is a good few inches above where I need it to be. Options are to bend down from above or to hope that two buds at the level I want eventually break and start growing as branches. Is this likely to happen naturally or should I try and force it somehow? If so, how? As you can see in the pic, the leader has shot up and is now just about at the level for the fourth (and final) tier. Should I cut the tip off now, or cut it back to just above the third tier in the hope that two buds below branch, and leave the fourth tier until next year? If I do prune, should I do it now or wait until August, which seems to be the recommended month for summer pruning?

Tree 2

I have almost the opposite problem with this tree. No extension branches yet on either leader or lower tiers, but denser leaf growth and some fruit set. I'm guessing I should remove this fruit - would this encourage more vegetative growth? This tree has put on next to no vegetative extension growth at all.



  • FireFire Posts: 17,116
  • Mr. Vine EyeMr. Vine Eye Posts: 2,335
    Hi Matt

    Tree 1: ideally, at some point in late winter or early spring, you would have cut the main stem/central leader of the tree to around the height of your red line. You would cut making sure that you had 3 well positioned buds - the top one to become the new vertical leader and the the other two on opposite sides to become the lateral branches for your third tier.

    in spring those three buds would have started to grow and when long enough you could have started to tie them in - the laterals at 45 degrees and just let the top shoot grow vertically. Other buds along the central stem will also have started to grow but you could have pinched off the ones you didn't need.

    since that didn't happen I'd personally - leave it til winter, cut it back to where you want it to be and start again - that may seem disappointing to have to wait but remember that your other tiers will still be putting on growth, so don't view it as wasted time.

    I think that's the safest option.

    Tree 2: Remove all of that fruit - it's sapping all of the energy out of a very young and newly planted tree. You'll likely see growth improve after doing that. Take care not to remove the actual fruiting Spurs on the branches as they wont grow back - just pinch or snip off the fruit.

    Do the same for Tree 1 - remove the fruit

    Dont let your trees bear fruit until you have all of the tiers in place and you're happy that it's filling the allotted horizontal space. Let them put all of their energy into growth.

    In late August, if your trees have whippy, leafy stems growing from along the existing tiers, then do the cutting to three leaves from the basal cluster. But you may not have to do that - I didn't in the first year. But I will this year. The stems growing along my first tier are already over a foot long.

    But don't cut the central leader - wait until the tree has gone dormant - the more leaf it has the more energy it can store in the roots before winter and therefore the stronger it'll come back next spring. 

    Hope that's helpful!
    East Yorkshire
  • matt_fendermatt_fender Posts: 169
    Thanks @Mr. Vine Eye! Actually I did cut the leader at the end of winter in exactly the way you described for the first tree, but the central leader has absolutely shot up and the buds near the red line just didn't break out into branches. So definitely do not just cut it again now in the same general area and hope that the buds below break? I just wonder what would I do if exactly the same thing happened again next year? Is it worth trying anything more adventurous like cutting the bark above a desired bud?
  • Mr. Vine EyeMr. Vine Eye Posts: 2,335
    Where did you cut it? It's not clear from the photo - the central leader looks very thick, likes it's last years woody growth, quite high up on the plant - well above the red line. Although that could be an illusion.

    Is it where it looks like it's branching - there's sort of a two pronged fork at at the top with the central leader and a single side branch
    East Yorkshire
  • matt_fendermatt_fender Posts: 169
    @Mr. Vine Eye here is a pic from just after the tree went in. Not easy to see, I know, but I have added another red line at the cut point. This is 10 squares of mesh up from the tier below, and the target for the new tier was 9ish squares of mesh (about 18inches). The problem is that only one branch started growing, and that one is too high about 2 inches. I don't have a real problem with just trying again this winter (I probably cut a few inches too high, perhaps?) but my concern is that I will get a repeat performance.
    Thanks for all your help!

  • Mr. Vine EyeMr. Vine Eye Posts: 2,335
    I wonder if you had a lot of fruit spurs already formed along that section of the leader? So you got the two shoots growing but the rest just opened up as flowering buds? That what it looks like now. Because you don't have any other long shoots.

    I had two false starts with my tree last year - first I cut it a little too high above the bud, so I tried to correct it by cutting closer, but my cut was awful and tore off a big chunk of bark! So I had to cut again lower down, losing my preferred buds.

    I later, after growth had started needed to cut again even lower down because one of the buds I was now relying on turned out to just be a fruiting spur and that was now at the top of the tree!

    It did fine in the end though and this year has gone much more to plan.
    East Yorkshire
  • Mr. Vine EyeMr. Vine Eye Posts: 2,335

    See the right side arm starts off quite low down - but I don't mind, just gives it character.

    Mine has two fruiting spurs on it developed on last years growth but all the rest is new leafy shoots that are all quite long - some are over a foot, others about 3-4 inches.

    East Yorkshire
  • matt_fendermatt_fender Posts: 169
    Thanks again @Mr. Vine Eye. So you reckon stick to the original plan and just leave it be for now, trim the long new branch back in August and try again at or around last year's cut point this winter?
  • Mr. Vine EyeMr. Vine Eye Posts: 2,335
    I've read about notching but never tried it myself. I think it's something that you do when the tree is dormant. If all of the buds other than those two that started growing are fruiting sours I'm not certain how you could go about getting the leafy growth that you want.

    In winter, when you can see everything more clearly and spot the buds it might be easier to tell where you can get that growth from - might involve having to cut back lower below the line - like I ended up having to.

    Lther than waiting to see I'm not sure what else I could advise you to do in this situation (I'm really only a beginner at this myself!)
    East Yorkshire
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