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Pruning And Cultivating

( Originally Published Early 1900's )


Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen, Members of the Horticultural Society : Unfortunately I was not here to hear what was said previously, and I may overlap some of the subjects already touched upon. I do not know that I can say anything new to you men, especially those of you who have been in the business for twenty-five years or more. A great many of you have had more experience than I have, but perhaps I can say a few words that will be helpful to some here who may not have had very much experience. And if I say something that you are opposed to, or which is not in harmony with your experience, do not hesitate to let us know.

The pruning and cultivating of a young orchard are very important parts of the growing of that orchard. It is safe to say that the first two years of the starting of an orchard is as important as any two years in its life that you might pick out, no matter what kind of fruit you may be growing. I want to emphasis the fact that correct starting is a mighty important thing, for if you make a mistake, you may never be able to correct it.

Now the important points of pruning a young tree involve the height of the head of the tree at the time of starting and the height of the head of the tree from the ground from that time hence. When you have cut off your tree to a certain height the top of the tree will keep growing away from the ground, but the trunk of the tree never grows longer. The limb that is two feet from the ground at starting will al-ways be two feet from the ground, no more, no less.

If the pruning of a young tree involves the forming of the head; the shaping of it, and its height from the ground, these are all very important things and should be done thoughtfully and carefully. In other words, the forming of the head of the tree involves the distance the head shall be from the ground, whether that tree shall have an open or compact top, whether it shall have a strong or weak top. Whether the orchard shall be convenient for pruning in later years; whether it shall be convenient for spraying when you have to do so. No matter what insects or diseases it may have, will it be low enough so that you can readily reach it and get every disease and insect, if you do thorough work—that is, those diseases which are controlled by spraying? Will it be convenient for thinning of the fruit, if the tree happens to be overloaded? Will it be convenient for the harvesting of the fruit? And lastly and least important, will it be convenient for cultivation? Then to summarize, there are four reasons why we desire to have a low tree: 1. Convenience of pruning. 2. Convenience of thinning the fruit: 3. Convenience for spraying. 4 Convenience for harvesting the crop.

For convenience in cultivating we would like to have a tree well up from the ground, but I have mentioned four good reasons against this one, why a tree should be a low-topped one.

Another reason for having a low tree with a short trunk is that the top will better protect that trunk and make it less subject to that dreaded sun-scald, which we have on southwestern and southern slopes, particularly in the northern part of the state. A short trunk is better than a long trunk, all things considered, for the reason that the tree is more stable, and when the tree is mature and bearing, the fruit is not so readily blown off. I think a good many of you have had more or less trouble along this line this year. Then, all things considered, I think that there is no doubt that a low head and a low-topped tree are preferable. Mr. Hall of Ionia will tell you that he likes to have his Spy apple trees with the lowest limbs as high as his nose, and that is, I believe, about six feet from the ground. I will say now that Mr. Hall's orchard is a self-evidence of a firm determination to carry out that idea. I do not think that there is a tree in his younger Spy orchard that has a limb springing from the trunk lower than five and one-half feet from the ground. He has his own reasons for that, which he will no doubt tell you. I frankly confess that I believe he is on the wrong track, even if he is headed pretty straight up the line.

How high should the trunk be on an apple tree? That depends upon the varieties, the different kinds of fruit. Some trees grow upright, others droop. An upright tree should have a lower head and a shorter trunk. Those that have a tendency to droop, necessarily should have a longer trunk in order to get the same results as the tree that grows upright. These habits, however, can be more or less controlled by subsequent pruning, but you cannot correct all of them any more than you can abolish all the bad habits of boys.

With standard apples and pears the lowest limb should not be lower than two or two and a half nor more than three or three and a half feet from the ground. The rest of the limbs—the four or five limbs forming the head of the tree should be distributed from twelve to fifteen or twenty inches along the trunk.

As far 'as possible avoid crotches. If you have less than four limbs —only two or three—I will defy any of you to make a tree that will not have a crotch and thus be liable to break down sometime when the limbs are loaded with an excessive crop. If you have four or five limbs on the trunk and well distributed, you will find that it will stand the force of a much stronger wind and hold up much more fruit.

I said I like the head distributed along the trunk about one to one and one-half feet. With the one-year-old peach trees, etc., generally received from nursery men, it is difficult to do this. In this specimen which I show you here, the limbs are branched and crotches cannot be avoided. This is not an uncommon condition for the reason that most of our nursery trees are so apt to be headed like this. (Illustrating.) Having the limbs branched, and for this reason a great many growers are prefering to get one-year-old apple and pear trees that are nearly a whip, also sweet cherry trees and plums, because they can control distribution of the head of the trees and better avoid crotches. The most of us would prefer to have the head start in two and a half feet to three feet from the ground.

In this specimen which I showed you the arrangement is better. Mr. Wilde—Could you not cut off all the limbs?

Answer—Perhaps it would be all right, but I would prefer to have one-year-old trees mere whips they are, at one-half the price than do that.

Now about pruning this tree. Cut off the limbs so that it will balance up the tree. In digging trees the nursery man cuts one-half to three-quarters of the root system off, especially in two-year-old trees. Here is where we can govern as to whether this will be a compact or an open headed tree. Sometimes we cut the limbs in this manner (illustrating) but I maintain that we should select the place where to leave the top bud. If the end bud is alive and healthy that will develop the strongest growing shoot. If the end bud is weak or injured, the next bud lower down will develop the strongest growing shoot. With trees that naturally grow up like Spies or Sutton Beauty, the end or top bud should always be on the outside if possible, but with such as the Greening and the Tolman Sweet—leave the end bud inside or on the side. Cut off the limbs about one-fourth inch beyond the buds. If a longer stub is left, decay may start in. If we cut too short then the bud is liable to be injured.

Many would cut it off two and one-half feet high, but that makes the head lower, too low, for you want the lower limbs to be fully that high, so you can cut off higher up, allowing room for a well distributed head.

A member—How deep would you set that tree?

Mr. White—One and one-half or two inches deeper than it stood in the nursery row.

Question—Shall we leave the leader or cut it out?

Mr. White—If you leave a leader, sooner or later the center of the tree becomes thick, the leaves and limbs are shaded and become unhealthy, die and drop off. Then the center limbs of the tree resembles a broom upside down, long poles with a bunch of limbs on the top. There is no way to get the fruit but to climb after it.

A Member—Is not the growth liable to go into that one heavy limb?

Mr. White—Sometimes it might, and that is one reason why we should cut all the scaffold limbs back the same length as nearly as can be.

Question—Is there any danger of sun-scald with so much trunk?

Mr. White—No. I think not. (Illustration of* two peach trees one year old.)

Question : Will not the original limbs on a tree make more solid crotches than the second growths?

Answer—It will make a better top if these limbs (illustrating) are cut away. Some trees will break down more from crotches because of weakness. The limbs should be so trimmed that the heaviest side will be toward the south or from which ever way the prevailing winds come, that is so that the heaviest part is toward the way from which the winds come.

Question—What would you- prefer to use, the pruning shears or the pruning knife?

Answer—I would prefer pruning shears, rather than pruning knife, unless you have gained some experience, for this reason, when I cut off a limb like this (illustrating) if I not very careful, I am liable to wound the tree higher up in this manner (illustrating).

Question—If a tree is planted two years, is it advisable to prune the tree during the summer time where there is heavy growing. Answer—Sometimes yes, sometimes not.

In passing I want to say a few words about "rootgall." In the case of apples and pears there is really no need of being so much alarmed as some have been. The New York, Geneva Station has found out by thorough experimentation over a period of nine or ten years that there is no special difference between trees that when planted have the gall and those that did not have it. (In that time no material harmful effects were evident.) However, in the case of peaches the gall will have a bad effect within a year or two. I saw peach trees this last summer that had root gall on when planted and the owner did not know it. Within a year gall knots grew on those trees as large as your fist. It would be well not to. plant your peaches close to where you have raspberries, if you have any idea that they have been troubled with root gall, for it is the same disease on both.

A Member—Do you think it is contagious?

Mr. White—Yes, it certainly is contagious. The young tree would be just as apt to have it and die the same as the other.

In forming young growing trees I do not think there is any particular harm in cutting off branches in the summer that are undesirable if you do not reduce the breathing surface too much. If you want to check the growth of a tree you may do this, but when the trees are young they should be stimulated to grow fast. The first year or two the first pruning of the tree is most important to make—whether the limbs are well distributed or whether they are bunched, whether weak or strong, whether well set or have crotches. Some of you are planting in the spring. If you are planting in the fall you had better leave the pruning back of the top until spring, because there may be some winter injury follow and if you have pruned the tree after planting in the fall and it gets injured, it may destroy the top you have tried to make.

If you are planting in the spring you may prune the tree just be-fore or just after planting as you see fit. Most people will find it better to wait until after planting. You are liable to do damage if you use a knife but this is not the case when you use a shear.

Now a word about the cultivation of a young orchard. Most men prefer to cultivate orchards right after 'they are first planted. The importance of getting the tree to growing vigorously and rapidly when young cannot be over estimated. It must be stimulated as fast as you can, as long as you do not stimulate it late in the season so that it will be liable to winter injury. Cultivate the young orchard as early in the spring as you can and give it enough frequent shallow cultivations to break up the small lumps, conserve moisture, kill weeds, so as to make as large a feeding surface for the soil bacteria, soil moisture and soil acids to feed upon and liberate plant food and consequently to stimulate its growth.

Conserve moisture and liberate plant food by making the soil particles small. With frequent cultivation the surface or soil will be kept from baking and packing. Then it should be discontinued about the first of August and a cover crop planted.

Put a leather or rubber on the end of the whiffle trees next to the trees and keep off all projections of the harness, etc., to prevent breaking limbs or in any way injuring the trees. Keep the man, whom you are hiring to cultivate these trees, in good humor. If you do not, you may have some experience such as I did with a hired man of ours when he got miffed at something and did more injury to our orchard in one week's cultivation that came to it in three years before. If you are inter-cropping with corn or beans, the cultivation of these crops will suffice for the cultivation of the orchard but if you are using clean cultivation in the orchard do that just as faithfully as you would for a potato or corn crop. These young trees need plant food and plenty of moisture. Discontinue the cultivation about the first of August and put in the cover crop so that these trees will be hardened up for winter. You have stimulated tender excessive growth. Put in the cover crop so this will harden up for winter.


Question—Would you cultivate a young pear orchard as you just stated?

Answer—Yes, unless the blight was very prevalent I would depend on the pruning knife to keep it in check.

Pears do well in a sod mulch system and are not so apt to blight.

Question—What time would you plant trees in the fall?

Answer—It would depend upon the man and the conditions. One ad-vantage to some men is that they do not have so much work to do in the fall and so will take more pains. If you get a winter like last winter and the trees stand in the ground all winter without any moisture— if it is a long dry winter and the ground freezes deeply, the tree man not come out in the spring in good condition; if the soil is exceedingly wet or exceedingly dry it would be the same. All things considered, it is preferable to plant in the spring, especially peaches, and other tender fruits.

Question—I wish you would touch upon the pruning of a tree the first year after planting—the second season.

Answer—It would involve taking out the excess branches—those that are too low, those that grow into the center and those that are crossing and interlacing.

Question—Would you advise pruning heavily and so encouraging the formation of two or not more than three lateral branches on each one?

Answer—No, you leave the strongest and best positioned one so that the tree would keep opening up in the direction you wanted it to—for a spreading top or to go straight up.

Question—Suppose you get a three foot growth on plum trees how much would you cut back?

Answer—I would cut it back to about one foot.

Question—I have heard it said that 2A of the growth should be cut off. Suppose the growth was only four inches what would you do?

Answer—Cut back the branches in peaches and plums or perhaps cherries to at least one foot or perhaps eight or ten inches, all of that growth, not leaving any more than that.

Question—But suppose it only grew four inches?

Answer—Then just leave that—do not cut off any.

Mr. Hall—Mr. White criticised my methods somewhat.

"Open confession is good for the soul." If he will confess that he does not know anything about pruning the Northern Spies I will confess some things.

I have a block of Baldwins that are headed two and one-half feet from the ground and they are thirty feet high and I do not know how to get them clown. I have an orchard of Northern Spies headed right up and they will never be over twenty-four or twenty-five feet high. I have an old tree that father set out sixty-seven years ago, a regular old monarch, and we get all the fruit off that tree with a twenty-four foot ladder. It still has more years before it than I have—for it is healthy.

What do you want of the body of a tree? I suppose you want a body to carry the fruit up. I have picked a good many bushels of fruit from limbs good and strong that bended over so that the fruit touched the ground. I think people do not give their trees a chance to develop if they are troubled about going too high. If you give the Northern Spy a chance to spread it will not go too high. A Northern Spy must not be pruned as you would a Baldwin. I have a theory that they have not room enough, for they were planted when land was only ten shillings an acre. I saw the cut of an orchard belonging to Henry Clay in the State of Ohio. It was represented to be an ideal low headed orchard. I estimated the height and the lowest fruit was about seven feet from the ground. They were using a six-step ladder and the man was standing on the fourth step and the lowest apple was just even with the man's head. This is higher than I wish to go for fruit. Get the fruit down where you can reach it.

A Voice—I think I can tell Mr. Hall one or two ways that he could get his high tops down. He can go up and cut them down with a saw. If he has any scale, it will do the business for him.

Mr. White—I think I qualified my remarks when I said that different varieties had to be treated differently. If I did not say it in that many words, that is what I meant. An upright tree should be given a lower trunk than a spreading tree. I think Mr. Hall ought to say, when he says that his limbs are strong, that they are six feet from the ground and still he can pick the fruit from the ground very easily—and he should say that he has all the way from eight to fifteen branches forming the head of the tree. They are long and slender and bend to the ground. I am watching that orchard with a great deal of interest for the reason that I suspicion that Mr. Hall will find that, as these trees grow older, so many branches forming the head of the tree, particularly in the Spy, the limbs will push one another apart. Maybe they will not but I expect it. Twenty-eight bushels of Spies off from a twenty year old tree and pick them all with a 12-foot ladder is pretty well, but I will say this, I have known of cases where two persons picked from Bald-win trees, 140 bushels in 8½ hours. These trees could not have been of an upward growth due to the pruning they received.

A Member—I have found that if the trees whether pruned or not, if they have plenty of room, will not go up—the limbs will come down.

Another Member—I had a young orchard that went up and up so that I had to use a 22-foot ladder and there was a lady that picked 91 bushels in a day from those trees.

Mr. Welch—The old re-occurring question of our demand of the nurseries, I think, should be emphasized and that is that they should furnish a good, straight tree and all right.

A Member—I think the after-pruning has as much to do with it as the first pruning.

Another Member—One speaker said that he did not want sod to start an orchard on. I think that is right and now I would like to ask if a crop of corn were put on the orchard, would it stop the growth of that tree enough?

Mr. Graham—I want to get the growth as soon as I can and I failed to get that where the sod is plowed under. You cannot get a real nice condition to produce an early growth. I want to get a growth as early as possible so that it will ripen up by the first of August and I have failed to get the tree to stop growing by the first of August. By that time the sod begins to rot. Corn has a tendency to ripen up an orchard but when each hill of corn is 4 feet from your tree, it does not stop the growth very much. I planted a peach orchard and it was planted on sod and I presume I had lots of growth 5 feet long and they are just as green as they can be today with the leaves all hanging on.

A Member—I suppose you have better land than most of us fellows.

Mr. Graham—I agree with you.

A Member—Can someone tell us about cutting out 35-foot tops, will it not do more harm than good?

Mr. Friday—I have had some experience along this line. You can cut it down as soon as you have growth inside to shade the limbs, especially on the north side of the tree. I have had some trees where quite large limbs were laid bare to the sun by cutting and I had sun-scald.

Mr. White If the top limbs are cut off, they should be cut off above lateral branches growing toward the outside of the trees then put a little white lead on the wound.

Question—Would you plant all trees in the fall?

Answer—No, I would not.

Apples and pears and sour cherries may be under favorable conditions but sweet cherries and peaches never.

Question—When is the best time to prune the apple and peach?

Mr. White—I suppose this refers to an old orchard. I think it is generally considered that the spring time is the best time to prune either apples or peaches. I have seen people prune peach trees in October and in every case that I know of it has resulted disastrously. Any wound that is made late in the fall-has no chance to heal until the next spring. That exposed growing tissue, exposed to the dry winds and the cold is liable to die back quite a little, and the healing over of the wound can not progress, even when springtime comes. Spring pruning will stimulate more growth than summer pruning. If the trees are making a normal growth of say eight or ten or twelve inches, or not making that much growth, spring pruning would be preferable.

Question—How early in the spring would you begin pruning; or how late in the winter?

Mr. White—I always answer this question this way: If I had a mixed orchard of apples, pears, plums, cherries and peaches, I would begin on the apples first, then take the pears and plums, then the cherries and then the peaches—begin with the hardiest fruit first and leave the tenderest—the peaches—until all danger of winter injury is over.

Question—When would you begin to prune an apple tree?

Mr. White—I would not begin to prune an apple tree, until about the first of February. Every wound that you make before this has no chance to heal over and dries out and freezes back, and there is danger that it can not readily begin to heal over when springtime comes.

A Member—Mr. Graham's suggestion or I might say his philosophy, as to his method of treating a young orchard, is this, as I understood it: He would plant his young orchard, growing corn one year, then growing another crop of corn on that same ground, and then following this with another crop. Now we would not expect the ground the second year to be just as good as the year before. We would not pursue any such method as that; for we are convinced that some system of rotation is necessary in keeping the soil up. But somehow it seems that, when we come to grow an orchard, we pursue methods that we would not think of using on any other crop. We get our ground reduced down to where it would not grow any profitable farm crop and then practice clean cultivation for a few years. Lots of peach orchards that have gone to pieces have been handled in that way, but I think that in this connection, it is a good plan to put up some word of warning against committing that same error in growing our orchards. Do not, for the life of your orchard, take up with a method that will put your ground out of commission.

Mr. Graham—I would be very glad to explain that. Strange as it may seem to the gentleman, I have had much better success in growing peach orchards on ground that was run down and regarded as poor, as it very well could be. In fact, the best orchard I have ever grown was on ground that would not grow white beans. If I were going to pick out peach orchard land, I would get land that would not grow five bushels of wheat per acre. I never had any trouble in getting plenty of growth on one or two year old trees.

The difficulty is, we grow all of our trees too strong for the first two years and then we neglect them. We do not want too much growth in one or two years. Let us grow them carefully, but not get them with soft, spongy wood but get strong, hard wood the first year or two, then, when they begin to produce fruit, put something on to produce fruit. 1 have done this on several orchards and the only success I have ever had in growing a good bearing peach orchard is to do it in this way. There is no theory in this thing it is experience. I planted my trees, not on sod ground, but on open ground. I put on a crop of corn, then a second crop of corn and a little fertilizer with it, then plowed the orchard every fall. I do not put the cover crop on one or two year old orchards, especially peach orchards. Many are plowing a good fur-row up on each side, leaving a dead furrow, putting the plow down just as deep as a good team will draw it. Then put on the cover crop the third year, then put on the fertilizer. That is my theory, and I might say also, my practice.

Question—What is the average life of your peach orchard?

Mr. Graham—About five years now. It used to be ten or fifteen or twenty years. Now the yellows and little peach get them.

A member—The average life of a peach orchard, as ordinarily handled, will be from fourteen to twenty years, where the trees are not taken by disease. The thought I have is that we do not give our orchards what we give our farm land, or they would last longer than they do. They ought to have a stronger soil, so that they will make a more vigorous growth.

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