Fruit Tree Care Session 2: caring for and pruning older trees

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The 2nd of our 6 tree care sessions was both informative and productive! It was a well-attended session with 8 people (including Rob Tilling, the course leader). We got a good grounding in the aims and practices of winter pruning, then went on to make significant progress in the orchard and at the Four Seasons fruit tunnel.

The session was divided between the young trees on our site, and the ~120 year old trees in the fruit tunnel at Four Seasons. The younger trees want pruning for structure and vigour; the older trees want pruning for a more complex mix of vigour, heritage, habitat, and amenity.

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We started by looking at reasons for winter pruning – removing damaged branches, reducing the length of branches so that they don’t break under the weight of this year’s crop, opening up the spread so that good light can get everywhere, and removing side limbs in order to give the tree a balanced structure. Later in the year these trees will get another pruning to encourage bud and fruit growth.

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The fruit tunnel trees were here in 1901, according to an old photo showing dozens of very tall whips tied to the iron frame. The structure they’ve developed since doesn’t lend itself to restoration of that early condition, plus, these veteran trees will be a habitat for some very particular creatures. Their age is now very much part of their value, in ecological terms. The fruit isn’t so much a focus now, as these trees are not expected to feed people. In short, the agricultural value is low, while the amenity value and heritage value is high. So these trees want to be pruned for longevity, to keep them healthy for as long as possible.

The fruit tunnel has about 40 trees, and we may have pruned a third of them, so we’ll be back again this winter to do some more. Given the complexity of these trees needs, Rob is looking for ways to fund a multi-year restoration programme, inclusive of identifying the exact varieties, assessing the heritage needs of both the trees and the frame, and the possibility of replacing trees or regrafting cuttings.

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The fruit tree care course continues on March 3rd, with a focus on grafting. For more info, get in touch with us.

The album of photos is at https://www.flickr.com/photos/97624050@N04/albums/72157689598365792

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