Fruit Tree Pruning Techniques with Tom Spellman

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Welcome to the Urban Forestry Radio Show here on Reality Radio 1 0 1. In this radio show and podcast, we learn about fruit trees, permaculture, ab bora culture, and so much more. So if you love trees and especially fruit trees, or if you're interested in living a more sustainable life, then this is the place for you.
I'm your host, Susan Poizner of the fruit tree care training website, orchardpeople. com. Thanks for tuning in. And enjoy the show.
Welcome to the Urban Forestry Radio Show with your host, Susan Poizner. To contact Susan live right now, send her an email instudio101 at gmail. com.
And now right to your host of the Urban Forestry Radio Show, Susan Poizner. Pruning is a huge part of fruit tree care. When you prune your fruit trees properly, you'll actually improve the health of your fruit tree. And you'll also improve the quality of the harvest. Growers have known that for a very long time.
And so over the years, experts have developed a lot of different fruit tree pruning strategies. For instance, there's the central leader style of pruning or open canopy pruning. You can prune a fruit tree into a fan espalier or even into a fruiting wall. But in today's episode, we are going to go back in time to 1944, when an author named R.
Sanford Martin wrote a book called How to Prune Fruit Trees. Amazingly, this little book has remained of interest to home growers for almost 80 years. And my guest on the show today was involved in updating the book to make it more relevant to modern day growers. He is Tom Spellman from Dave Wilson Nursery in California.
In the updated version of the book, Tom introduces readers to something called backyard orchard culture. It's an innovative way of growing various fruit trees in a very limited space. And so we're going to chat about that on the show today. We will also take a deep dive into the book's original content, where it explores the biology and reproductive strategies of various fruit trees.
Understanding this is really important when you're deciding when and how to prune each type of tree. So I'm going to talk to Tom in just a moment, but first I want to hear from you. Send in your questions, your comments, or just an email to say hello and we will enter you into today's contest. And this month's prize, this month's prize, of course, is a copy of this book.
The book is called. How to Prune Fruit Trees and Roses, and it's by R. Sanford Martin and Ken Anderson. So to enter today's contest, send your email to instudio101 at gmail. com. That's instudio101 at gmail. com, and do remember to include your first name and where you are writing from. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
So now, Tom, welcome to the show today. Susan, thank you very much. It's great to be with you. So I'm just curious, here I have this little book, um, you know, How to Prune Fruit Trees and Roses, first written and published in 1944. When's the first time you got a look at this book? I received my first copy back in 1975 and I've used it dozens and dozens of times over the years.
It's kind of my fruit tree pruners bible. And when I was approached a few years back by my friends at Walter Anderson Nursery, who had purchased the rights to the book, um, to help them do a re edit and add some new content to it, I was very honored to be involved in that project. So I'm really happy the way that it came out.
We left all of, uh, Martin's original content intact. And just, uh, add some, you know, uh, up to date information. The, uh, the, uh, section on backyard orchard culture, I think, was a, was a fine addition. And, and that's something that I think Martin had in mind, even back when he wrote the book in, in the early 1940s.
He wasn't looking at it from a commercial grower's perspective. He was looking at it... From a frustrated backyard growers perspective, and it's really helped over the years to encourage some people to become more effective and more efficient backyard growers. Gotcha. I'm going to ask you actually to turn off your camera so we can hear you just a little bit better.
Um, so we already have an email from Javier, uh, from Florida. Hi there. Thank you for writing in. Hello, Susan. I wanted to say it's always a pleasure to check out your radio shows and podcasts. I wanted to say hello to you and Tom Spellman, who has been a true inspiration for my journey growing fruit trees.
Thank you to both of you for all you've done over The years, admirer of you, you both, Javier. That is such a nice, nice email already. Thank you so much for writing in. So we, with regards to this book, you saw it in 75. You understood that the spirit jived with backyard orchard culture, and you contributed a chapter on that topic.
For listeners who don't know what it is, what is it? And why is it relevant to this book? So the concept of backyard orchard culture was, um, originally thought up by Uh, two of my good friends, Craig Miner and Ed Libo, who were involved with, uh, Dave Wilson Nursery, uh, back in the 80s and, and 90s. And, uh, it was just a concept to allow backyard growers who were now looking at more limited spaces.
to still be able to grow a fair amount of, of fruiting material in their backyard. So, techniques like a spellier, hedgerows, multiple plantings, multiple grafted trees were taken more into consideration than they had been in the past, considering the limited amount of space that people had to work. And, um, uh, Craig and, and Ed did some experimental plantings, and I became involved with them back in the, uh, late 1990s.
and started working with Dave Wilson Nursery in 2001 and we've just taken it out to extremes all over the country. People are using backyard orchard techniques and successfully growing fruit in areas where they never thought it was possible. Um, okay. So, oh, we got a couple more quick emails. We've got one from Jake.
Jake's from Michigan says, this is Jake. Love your show and eagerly look forward to every show. Thanks. And we have another email here. Oh, also from Javier. Hello, Susan. We talked about backyard orchard culture and how it works relatively. In relatively warm climates, I wonder what is your opinion and Tom's opinion as to how to maximize fruit production in colder climates?
Thank you. What a great question. Okay, so backyard orchard culture, as you mentioned, it's it's more about growing many different types of fruit in your backyard. But if I just plant one or two fruit trees in my backyard, am I doing backyard orchard culture? Is that culture? What it is. Oh, absolutely. I mean, backyard orchard culture is simply a concept.
It's not really a technique. It just allows the individual grower to choose what works well for them in their area so that they can maximize their harvest out of the space that they have available. Now, here in Southern California, I consider myself to be very lucky to be in a climate where I can harvest fruit out of my backyard every single day of the year.
So, you know, from avocados to citrus to subtropicals to palm fruits and stone fruits and berries and you name it, you know, I can go out any day of the year and pick out of my backyard. Well, not every climate is applicable to that. So you have to take into consideration what is the season that I can actually grow and harvest fruit out of my space, what varieties are going to work best, what is the earliest variety that I can, What's the latest variety that I can expect to get fruit up and you're gonna, you're gonna maximize the yield in the space that you have available.
Yes, interesting. So we're talking about maximizing the yield. So it's just the idea of let's plant fruit trees in our backyards. Not just flowers, let's grow fruit that we can have throughout the growing season. And of course, when you live in a lovely, warm, warm climate like yours, you can actually grow fruit pretty much year round.
But in our colder climates, we are a little bit limited. And we've got a question from Jane here in Woodstock, Ontario. And Jane says, what is the best time to do summer pruning in Ontario? So, this book is a pruning book. And, uh, yeah, so, so tell me what you think about that question. Well, uh, summer pruning would normally always take place right after you harvest your crop.
So, in a colder climate where you have a more limited growing season, if you're harvesting in late July or early August or mid August, you would follow that once harvest is complete, you would follow that with a summer pruning. And one of the nice... Advantages of summer pruning is your pruning when you're still in an active growing season.
So recovery is quick and there's very little issue of disease or bacterial spread at that time where it can be more prevalent during the, uh, you know, late winter or early spring season when growth is beginning. Gotcha. Interesting. We got another question. This one is from Dawn in Michigan. Hi Susan and Tom.
I'm in Waterford, Michigan, zone 6a, and I have 30 fruit trees in my backyard orchard. There are three trees in each bed, raised bed, which each raised bed is three feet by five feet. Very tight together. Three trees in each bed. How far from the first frost date should I stop pruning to prevent damage to new growth?
Well, and, and, you know, frost date is going to, uh, be variable almost every year. You can look at an average frost date, and I would say you would probably want to be, uh, finished with your pruning, uh, somewhere between two and four weeks before that date. Two and four weeks. Okay, so the goal is we don't want to prune too close to frost because we don't, sometimes pruning, it spurs a little growth, doesn't it?
You get little sprouts coming out, and in a climate like ours, we'd get a frost, those little sprouts would die, and then pests and disease can get right into that tree. That wouldn't be good. Is that what you're thinking? Yeah, exactly. You want that, um, you want that growth to be able to heal, those cuts to be able to heal, and you want those buds to tighten up, you know, for the winter, so, uh, you, you, you just don't, you don't want to encourage any growth that late in the season in a cold climate.
Okay, so, so backyard orchard culture we're talking about. Now, in terms of, pruning. And you said that this book is designed for people who aren't growing, you know, professional orchards. Um, what kind of modification has backyard orchard culture made towards how we are pruning our trees? Because again, this is a pruning book.
Well, again, one of the things about backyard orchard culture where it's, it's a, it's a concept and not necessarily a technique, but it, it's allowed people. to do things a little more out of sequence where a commercial grower is going to follow a very strict schedule as far as pruning, thinning, spraying, you know, doing everything that they need to do to make a living.
Well, backyard orchard culture is not commercial orchard culture. In fact, it's just the opposite, where a commercial grower will want to maximize his yield and harvest his crop. all at one time so he can take his crop to market and get his check. It's what he does for a living. A backyard grower has a completely different concept.
They don't want a lot of fruit at any one given time. They want a little bit of fruit as often as possible. So, you know, being able to use some of these techniques to take advantage of growing under backyard conditions where you're keeping trees. Smaller keeping trees managed and manicured. You know, I can a spell your an apple tree and an 18 inch wide planter bed where a commercial grower would never consider a technique like so.
That's something that works well under backyard conditions as opposed to what a commercial orchard is. Wonderful. Now, Tom, can I ask you to turn off your camera? I think it's cutting into your sound a little so you can just click on the stop video button in our little zoom screen and then we'll hear you a bit better.
We've got an email here from Janice. Janice writes, it's Janice from the Laneway Garden Project, a small communal garden space carved out of a laneway parking plot in Toronto's West End. Excited about today's live episode and finding out more about pruning and caring for our tiny food forest including sour cherry.
We've got cupid and valentine from the romance shrub series. They also grow huskaps, gooseberries, blueberries, black raspberry, white currants, and serviceberries would love to be entered into today's contest. Thanks Janice for writing. Okay, so back to Tom. In this book, in the section originally written by the original author, he goes, uh, by plant type.
So he starts talking about how you prune each type of plant. Why is it important to distinguish the different plants and the different pruning styles? I think this is one of the areas that Martin found most frustrating when he originally started to put the book together. People were using very simple, basic techniques and pruning some varieties completely out of structure or pruning out fruiting wood.
Where they should have been maintaining it. So he went into a little more detail on where the fruit actually sets. Is this a vine? Is this a tree? Does it produce on spur? Does it produce on, on first year growth or second year growth? So he went into a little more detail on how the varieties produce, where they produce.
So that those pruning styles could be established. And followed to a point where you're going to get maximum fruit yields for the space that you're working with. For example, if I pruned an apple tree like I pruned a peach tree, I would not be getting much fruit because I'm not encouraging those fruiting spurs.
I'm trying to rejuvenate fruiting wood every year where a peach is going to produce on that growth in its second year. And Apple can produce off of those maintained spurs for 15 or 20 years. So you know, being able to decipher where, you know, where trees actually flower, where they actually, their bloom, where does that fruit hold and establish and mature, that's going to, that's going to determine more what your, your ultimate goal is.
And that's what I absolutely enjoy, love about this book. First of all, it has beautiful old images, I guess from the first printing, where they draw the pictures of the trees and you can see how different the shape is of an apple tree from the shape of a peach tree, for instance. One thing I know that when I started to learn how to prune fruit trees, I had to figure out what is the difference between a fruiting bud, And a leaf bud.
So that I didn't go in there and just cut off all the fruit and not know what I, what I did. So, describe to me, Tom, if you don't mind, can you describe to me, um, what, for instance, the, how the, the shape of an apple tree will be different than a shape of a, of an A plum or a peach or some other type of tree.
Well, and it doesn't necessarily mean that as a backyard grower, you, you have to prune them into a different shape. You're just looking to maintain a different style of fruiting or fruiting wood in a different location. But, you know, if I chose to grow an apple tree. As an open center and and a peach tree as a tall spindle, I could absolutely do that.
The main consideration is, you know, where do the flowers set? What type of wood do they set on? And I'm going to make sure that I'm leaving enough of that mature fruiting wood in the tree where I'm going to get an established crop. As far as tree form, the forms have been established over the years more on a commercial standard than on a backyard standard to allow maximum tree size for the spacing and maximum fruit yield for the farmer.
So you talked about apple trees and how many, most apple trees are spur bearing. So that means that, you know, you can have fruit at a certain, is this true, that you can have fruit at a certain location on the wood of the tree, on the branch of the tree, the same spur will produce fruit year after year after year.
Is that true? That's absolutely correct. And you know, there are several varieties that fall into that category. Apples, pears, quince, for the most part cherries. Will fall into that spur producing category, and they can maintain those fruiting spurs for many years, where if I'm growing a peach or a nectarine or an apricot or a plum, I'm going to be, you know, rejuvenating fruiting wood every season, so I can take those trees back a little more severely, I can make sure that I'm maintaining 25% or one third of last year's growth that is going to give me that bloom the following spring, where with an apple tree, you.
Uh, or a pear tree, I can still maintain that, that fruiting scaffold, uh, with that spurwood down into the center of the tree and it's going to, it's going to remain there for years. And what about certain trees we talk about are tip bearing? Tell me about that and what does that teach us about where, where, where and how the fruit grows?
So there are, there are several, um, apple varieties we would consider tip bearing. It doesn't mean that they don't produce at all off a spur. It just means that they will bloom at, at the terminal bud that, you know, sets during, uh, winter dormancy. And you can, uh, get fruit set from those terminal blooms. So, I, I've seen many varieties.
I've done a lot of experimenting over the years with apples. And, uh, some of the problem if you get too heavy of a terminal bloom, those are, it's all out of the way at the end of a lanky branch and they're much more susceptible to branch breaking at that point. So, uh, on a, on a terminal blooming variety, you need to make sure that you're thinning aggressively.
Well, interesting, because you say that, and yet the tip bearing can be quite tricky. If you are growing espalier fruit trees, I would think, because here you are, you're creating a beautiful shape for your trees, and to do so, you're often cutting off the new growth or the tips of the branches, and then are you not cutting off all your potential fruit accidentally?
Well, you just, you're making sure that you're not pruning every tip. Um, if I have, if I made a cut and I have two or three new initiations from that cut, I'm definitely going to leave one or two intact. And probably what I'm going to do is look at removing as much bigger as possible. So if I have, if I have three.
new branches that have initiated and one of them is, uh, 18 inches long and the other two or four to six, I'm going to take out that 18 inch section and allow those shorter terminals to, to set fruit. Now, what about, um, using pruning? And we talked about in the top of the show, I mentioned how pruning really can improve tree health, correct pruning.
It can improve the quality of your harvest because when you take off branches that more energy goes into the fruit to make it sweet and yummy. But what about reducing tree size? Many growers grapple. With the fact that their fruit tree gets so big that it's hard to harvest it, cherry trees that are huge, um, you know, old apple trees that are so big, what is your perspective on that?
Well, that is one of the main concepts of Backyard Oatree, and I always say it like this. Manage tree size so that it's manageable for you. And I never tell anybody how big their tree should be. It depends a lot for me on how long the fruit holds on the tree and how valuable that fruit crop is to me. If it's something like a stone fruit, where I'm going to have somewhere between two and four weeks of harvest time, I'm making sure that those varieties are kept down so that I can do all my work from the ground.
A peach or a plum or a nectarine or an apricot. Um, or many of the inner specifics like Pluots and Apriums. For me, the optimum size is about 8 feet. That way I can do pruning, I can do thinning, I can do harvesting, I can easily throw a bird net over that tree, and that fruit's going to harvest in a short period of time.
Now, with some of the other varieties, some of the other subtropicals, like some of my citrus varieties or avocado varieties, they can hold their fruit for several months. So I can grow a bigger tree. I can grow a an avocado up to 15 feet and I can go out with a with a 10 foot pole and a basket picker and I can manage the fruit crop and pick eight or 10 or 12 whatever I'll need for that next week.
And I know that I have remaining crop on the tree still. I'm not in a hurry. To, you know, relieve that that tree from its fruit load, so I want to take full advantage of the crop time so a tree that's going to hold fruit for a longer period of time. I'm okay with 10 or 12 or 14 feet, a tree that's going to produce in a two to four week period.
Nothing over eight feet tall. Wow. Makes sense. That makes a lot of sense. Um, I know for myself, I have seen experiences where people do, you know, it's really accepted in colder climates to do pruning in your late winter and early spring. And sometimes you think, well, I'm going to get that apple tree. I'm going to make it smaller because it's way too big.
You prune in the late winter or early spring and the tree bounces back times 10 and becomes huge. So what is the trick to pruning the tree so that it doesn't jump back? Well, I think the, the trick is you need to, to reestablish a low cap. So sometimes what that entails is that you're going to lose a year or maybe even two years worth of, of fruit crop or the majority of fruit.
I can take, um, I can take a 20 foot apple tree and, and cut it down to a three foot stump. And then I'm going to regrow structure in that first season. And once that tree gets back up to about seven or eight feet, I'm going to cut all of that new growth in half again. And I'm, so I'm, I'm, I'm bringing that canopy down from an, uh, from an unruly oversized, unmanageable tree.
I'm reestablishing a low fruiting canopy on it. So it's going to take a year to two years to do that. And it's going to require a couple of different pruning sessions, you know, at different times of the year to reestablish a low form canopy. And isn't that the secret at different times of the year?
Because I think that as soon as I discovered that summer pruning makes a huge difference when it comes to, um, keeping my tree small. Right? It's amazing, isn't it? It's like once you discover this in our orchard in Ben Nobleman Park, uh, in Toronto. We, our trees are old enough that we do very little winter pruning because we find if we, as you mentioned earlier in the show, if we prune, definitely after blossom time, maybe even after, after harvest, which is what we do with our cherries.
They don't have the energy to grow back. They've already, you know, run around the block 100 times opening those blossoms and producing the fruit. And by the time you prune it, they don't have the energy to just keep spreading new shoots and getting bigger and bigger. So sometimes we love pruning so much, we go out to the orchard and we're like, Damn, I want to do pruning, but there's just not a lot to cut off.
Yeah. And that's, that's what I like to see. You know, I'm not looking once, once a tree size is established for me, I'm no longer looking for bigger. I don't need four or six or eight feet of growth in a season. In fact, I want to discourage that I'm going in with a very low nitrogen fertilizer. That's, you know, high in the other elements so that I can get.
Uh, strong root development, and I can get a very strong and powerful bloom set. And, you know, by, by taking some of the nitrogen, or let's say most of the nitrogen, out of the picture once tree size is established, now I can keep that canopy at a reduced managed size without having to dramatically prune it every summer.
That is so brilliant. So you're using a couple of strategies. You're pruning at the right time of year, um, to slow things down. And, you know, it's our instinct to say, well, I want great fruit, so I'm going to put some sort of fertilizer in my soil to feed my tree. Well, then you're fighting, you're going to have to fight that vigor.
So it's, it's using the two tools together to say, look, tree, you're a backyard. orchard tree. I don't want you to be huge. And so I'm going to give you a little less food, but love you up with a, with a pruning. And, uh, yeah, yeah. We've got an email here from Sean. Let's see. Sean writes, hi, Susan, your guest and everyone involved for another great topic.
My question for your guest is how should pruning cuts be protected? through the years. I know leaving a growth collar, if possible, is a good idea. Many arborists mention cuts should be protected each year. Cut ends will dry out and seem fine. However, arborist advice usually is an open cut. is the beginning of the end.
At what point do you leave a cut alone? Sean, thank you for that fantastic question. So Susan, I, I think it's far more important to be protecting larger wounds. And it is small cuts and the collar pruning style was absolutely important. You don't want to prune right down to, uh, above you want to leave a half an inch, maybe even three quarters of an inch of, uh, of stuff above that.
But you that you want to encourage to grow out. So, uh, most, most definitely. And I think if I have a large wound, if I have a tear, a broken branch, and I can't really make a clean cut to repair that, that's, that's where I'm going to use a sealer. I want to make sure that I'm not leaving that as an open wound.
And again, this is one of the great things about summer pruning. When the tree is in an active growth mode, Thank you. Those cuts heal up within a matter of a couple of days or a few days, where if you're doing those cuts in the late winter or early spring, it could take weeks for those cuts to heal. So I summer definitely your advantage there.
Yes. And in fact, I was talking to a scientist, this is a few years ago, and he said, even within hours set in in the growing season, as you mentioned, cells will grow over of correct. You know, pruning cut and start to protect the cut. It takes hours for the process even to start. So that is the magic of pruning during the growing season.
So wonderful. Um, yes. Okay. Another email from Javier. Poor Javier. I always mispronounce your name. I apologize. I will get it in my head one day, but he has another great question here. Hello, Susan. Over the years, I've heard Tom mention To use fertilizers low in nitrogen and high in phosphorus and potassium in order to encourage more blooms.
I follow these guidelines, but in my state of Florida, the county extension seemed to promote higher nitrogen rates and smaller phosphorus rates. Due to its abundance in the soil. Hmm, very interesting. It can get confusing for a typical backyard grower to hear contradicting recommendations. So maybe Tom can comment on what really works.
Thank you. Great question. And you know, I always recommend that, you know, I'm basing my fertilizer recommendation off of Southern California climate and our Southern California water and soil types. So, um, we don't have. Uh, a high phosphorus element in our soil. So I'm, I'm supplementing that, but before anybody chooses any type of a fertilizing program, they should research with a local, uh, cooperative extension or an ag agent.
or a retail garden center or nursery that they trust and find out what does my soil lack? What do I need to use in my soil? Because what's right for me in Southern California may not be right for a grower in Boise, Idaho or Yuma, Arizona or the state of Florida. So getting that information accurately from a local source that understands it would be the first point that you want to follow.
I, you know what, and that really is what it's about for me. It's about learning to get to know the tree and what it needs, get to know your climate. Um, I remember when I started growing fruit trees, all the books that I found in the library were all your climate, not my climate. Recommending varieties I can't even grow here.
I didn't know that at the time. I couldn't figure out why they didn't sell them in the nurseries. Um, and so. It's absolutely about really knowing your climate and your conditions really well, and also knowing your tree. Now, I think this is a quote from you in the preface of the book. I think it's you.
Could be one of your colleagues. But I wrote this down because I loved it so much. Um, You talk about the importance of spending time with your tree, observing the changes it goes through from season to season, learning to identify pest and disease issues, and of course, pruning it each year and watching how your tree responds.
So here is the quote that I've got. I think it's yours. You say, just like an old friend, the only way to get to know something or someone is to spend time with them. Spend some time with your trees. Is that you? That is actually the preface that I, that I wrote for the book, and I, I'm a firm believer in that.
And you know, the only way to determine how that tree works in your climate and how that tree goes through its sequences in your yard is to go out and take a look at it. You know, if you're not out there on a regular basis, you won't, you won't see an insect or a disease or, uh, or a pest issue. You won't notice that the tree is, uh, under physical stress due to a weather element or maybe, uh, a gopher chewing on the root system underneath it.
So. I, you know, I have a very firm philosophy. I spend when I'm when I'm in town, I spend time in my landscape every day. Now, it may only be today, it's going to be a little on the warm side may only be 15 or 20 minutes this afternoon, but I will be out there. If I have a project, it might be several hours, but I look at my trees.
Each and every tree in my orchard, several times a week. Wonderful. All right, everybody, we're going to come back in just a minute, but in the meantime, you are listening to the Urban Forestry Radio Show and Podcast, and I'm Susan Poizner, we'll be back just right after this little break.
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Welcome back to the urban forestry radio show with your host Susan Poizner. Right here on Reality Radio 101. Send us an email right now. Our email address is instudio101 at gmail. com
And now, right back to your host of the Urban Forestry Radio Show Susan Boisner Hi everyone. You are listening to the Urban Forestry Radio Show and Podcast brought to you by the Fruit Tree Care Training website, orchardpeople. com. This is Reality Radio 101 and I'm your host, Susan Poizner. And in the show today, we have been talking to the wonderful Tom Spellman of Dave Wilson Nursery in Hickman, California.
We've been talking about How to Prune Fruit Trees. And Tom is one of a team of experts who have updated and revised that classic little fruit tree pruning book called How to Prune Fruit Trees and Roses, originally by R. Sanford Martin and originally published way back in 1944. So in the first part of the show, we talked about why this book that's almost 80 years old is still popular.
and how it was revised. And in this part of the show, I want to continue talking about the way that the book tackles the different types of trees and how you would prune different trees depending on their growth habit. But first, I want to hear from you. If you are listening to the show live today, you can enter the contest and all you have to do to win a copy of that book How to prune fruit trees and roses is just send an email right now to instudio101atgmail.
com. Just send in a question or a comment, or you can just email us just to say, hi, we'd love to hear from you. Be sure to include your first name and where you are writing from. So again, the prize for this episode is a copy of the updated book, how to prune fruit trees and roses. Okay, back to Tom. So, Tom, we have, uh, an interesting couple of emails here.
One is from David, Dave, from Massachusetts. Dave writes, Good afternoon. I was just finishing writing my email when I heard you addressing tip bearers. Do you have any further advice for pruning tip and partial tip bearing apple trees for a small space? I've got a Harrison, which is tip bearing, a Roxbury Russet, which is partial, and a Goldrush, which is regular, and they are all on dwarfing rootstocks.
Thank you.
So I think the consideration there, Susan, would be, again, I'm always looking on a, on a tip bearing variety to take out the most vigorous growth in order to control tree size. So wherever you've made a cut before and you have new initiations, you're going to have two or three or four new sprouts from that point.
You're always going to look to removing the most vigorous those sprouts and leaving the lesser vigorous varieties in there as long as they're well spaced and well balanced and you know that way you're going to get blooms on on shorter tips and you won't have that long lanky growth that can cause branch breakage.
So you really are sort of, I find when I prune, I go into the tree and I'm kind of, sometimes I stand back, I look at the shape, but I go in quite close up and I feel around, and it's like the branches tell me, and it's funny because you're going for the underdogs. You're going for the shorter branches, not the big bossy ones that are taking up so much space.
So with tip bearing, that's what you want them to do. To focus on those shorter branches, they're naturally slower growing. I wonder if there's a science behind that, why some branches are more sort of slow growing than others. Well, I think if you look at where the cut was made, you know, the next Vegetative bud below the cut is going to be where the bigger cuts.
So you can get two or three or four initiations from buds below that cut, but nine out of 10 times, the most vigorous one is going to be the cut. That was the bud that was directly below the initial cut, right? Right. And by the way, to people who are listening, uh, there are, Tom does many, many wonderful videos on pruning.
Um, we've got some more questions, but where can people find a lot of your tutorials online? So if they go to our website, DaveWilson. com There is a, what we call our fruit tube section, and that has about 120 different videos on, on planting, on pruning, on using fruit, um, visiting with some of my friends, uh, different horticultural collections.
You know, there's all kinds of, uh, of how to and informative videos on there. So, uh, we've contributed videos to that, uh, site now for over 15 years. Wow, Dave Wilson dot com, everybody. So, okay, here's a question from John in Toronto. Hi, Susan, it's John. Some apple pruning questions for today's show. Apple growers summer prune espalier long water shoots down to the basil cluster to encourage fruit buds for the next year.
However, we're removing leaves when we do this. Which the tree needs to size the fruit. How do we balance when to do this and how much leaf removal? That was question one. Second question. Any benefit to bending down with weights or strings those long summer water shoots before removing them at the basal cluster?
Since bent down shoots closer to horizontal are more likely to fruit. Thanks from John. So, uh, first of all, I'm removing a foliage during summer. It's always been my philosophy. I've never, I'm never trying to remove any more than, say, one third to one half. Of the foliage on the tree, and I'd love to keep it closer to one third.
So, summer pruning is strictly, in my opinion, it's strictly for size control. You're not making any intelligent cuts. You're just looking at keeping that size managed. I'm not looking for broken branches. I'm not looking for dead wood or diseased wood. I'm not really looking at doing anything. Other than reducing the size of the canopy to keep it on a natural size for me.
So then later on in the fall, I can start looking for some of those detail issues, and I can make some of those cuts as the tree is going dormant naturally. But I think as long as you're not removing any more than 50% of the 1 3rd of the foliage on the tree, you're still going to get plenty of benefits from photosynthesis and plenty of fruit development.
So you were saying that in the summer, you are hesitant to remove more than 1 3rd of the living canopy, the leaves, because you know that the leaves are going to feed the tree. You said you'll go up to 50%, am I correct on that? Occasionally, I think if a tree needs more corrective work, um, uh, especially under a corrective condition, if it's just maintenance, more than likely not, because I've been keeping the tree to manage size already, but if a little more work needs to be done in order to correct it and get it to a manageable size, I would, I would be comfortable removing up to 50%.
And is that a tree of any age? Like with a very young tree, I'd be okay with that. With a bigger tree, I'd be quite frightened of getting lots of water sprouts the following year. I think, yeah, if it was a bigger tree that needed more corrective work than that, I would probably start with, uh, some winter pruning and then a total restructuring of that, of that canopy over the next two years.
And if anybody is working on apple trees in particular, I have an article on OrchardPeople. com, how to prune old apple trees. And that kind of tells you, because when you see an old tangled up apple tree, you're like, oh my goodness, what do I do here? So we kind of filtered it down to some strategies that will help people on that.
Okay, so that was point number one of John's email. Point number two that he asked was about weighing down branches in order to encourage fruit production. Well, I, I think, um, anytime that you're manipulating branch structure, you can encourage, uh, new spur development just by, uh, changing the, the, the, um, focus of the tree's growth.
You know, I, I now have a new angle that that branch is, is, uh, bent or shaped into, and you, you know, you can encourage, uh, quite a bit more spur development along those branches as they're angled down. So I, I would think, um, I've never personally experimented with that, but it makes perfect sense. Yeah, it's actually interesting, and, um, my, with my students, a month, where we all get together and discuss our fruit tree growing issues.
And we had one of my students did a test, I think it was on apple or pear trees, I can't remember. How long does it take after you weigh down sort of a vertical ish branch and make it horizontal? So he used sandbags. I think to weigh down the branch. And it was so interesting. I think it was within four weeks, that branch structure was set.
It was between four and six weeks. I can't remember. They weighed it down in the spring and then you can take the weight off and the branches set. You know, which is fun to, to know that it doesn't even take very long. So, um, we have another, there's been so many emails today, Tom. And I think it's because people are excited about winning this book.
Um, let's see. The next one is from Lisa, who is in Toronto. Hey Susan, just listening in. Great show today. I love spending time and getting to know my fruit trees. I know you do, Lisa, because you are passionate about fruit trees. And I know her personally, that's why. Uh, we've got an email from Oscar in New York.
Hey, Susan. Um, Chapeau on another wonderful show. I don't know what that means. I think chapeau means hat in French. Oh, maybe it means hats off to another wonderful show. Just wanted to ask your, your guest a big picture question. What are the differences in the quality of fruit? Between a pruned tree and an unpruned or wild tree?
Fabulous question. Well, that's an easy one. If you're willing to manage your trees and keep rejuvenating that fruiting structure, you're allowing for better light exposure, you're allowing for better air movement, and you're always going to develop a better quality fruit, a larger fruit. You're actually doing some of the thinning.
By pruning. So, you know, you're, you're keeping that crop at a manageable size, uh, for you and your family. And I think the, uh, advantages of, uh, increase in fruit quality are, are But you know, um, there's no question that that's going to give you a much better fruit. And Oscar is asking about like wild trees, but to be honest, wild or neglected?
You can have like a honey, honey crisp apple tree growing in your backyard that produces terrible apples because it's neglected. It's never been pruned. Am I right? Tom? Oh, absolutely. And you know, there's a lot more to it than just pruning. It's a, you know, overall maintenance schedule where you're fertilizing right, you're irrigating right, you know, you're doing these things at the, at the right time of season.
You know, if you have an issue, you need to make sure that you are training for that issue. Um, and you know, I'm a big organic advocate as you are. I'm always looking for the organic alternative to do any type of, uh, of treatment on, on trees in my yard. In fact, oftentimes I will overlook an issue that may not be detrimental to the fruit crop itself, but just maybe, uh, would manifest itself more as physical damage to the foliage on the tree.
I tend to overlook things like, um, but just keeping the tree. as healthy as possible. Um, and, and, you know, maintaining it for light exposure and air movement and keeping those crops thin to where you don't have fruit right on, on top of one another will give you a much, much better fruit ball. So, you know, for me, if, if you're not willing to put a little bit of time and effort into maintaining those trees.
You might as well put something else in because you're, you're not going to get the fruit quality that you're looking for by letting, just letting it do its own thing. I so resonate with that. People used to talk about me like she's the fruit tree lady and I'm not. If people are going to neglect a tree, I would advise you don't plant a fruit tree.
I would just rather you not do it. I don't think that it's necessarily a good thing to do unless you're going to give that tree the love and hands on care that it needs. So I'm a meanie when it comes to, you know, should I plant a fruit tree? Yeah, if you do the research first and you're willing to make that small commitment.
Or medium sized commitment to take care of it. So, uh, I totally resonate with what you say. Absolutely, you know, maintaining those trees is important. And, you know, also, one thing we really haven't mentioned, it's, you know, making sure that your putting in varieties that are going to be productive in your climate.
Also, uh, using, selecting trees that are on rootstocks that are adaptable to your climate and your geography. And oftentimes that's the mistake that's made. People say, okay, I want a red Fuji apple and they'll choose it on a rootstock that isn't adaptable to their soil condition or their climate condition.
So, you know, you need to make sure almost all fruit trees are a component of two living things. They're a rootstock and they're a scion or a bud that's going to give you the fruit production. You need to make sure that both are adaptable to your climate and your soil. Absolutely. We have one last email, I think, and let's see.
It's from Javier. Is it? Yes, it is. Okay, this is wonderful. Hello, Susan. Since Tom inspired me to start growing fruit trees, here's a link to a video I took of my property where I showed the dozens of apple varieties I've been able to grow in Orlando, Florida. You, he says to you, Tom, you are an amazing teacher.
Thank you very much for the inspiration that has given me a new direction in life. So this is lovely. Javier was a guest on a previous episode of this show and you really have changed his life. You've inspired him with your videos and I'm sure he wants to meet you one day. Maybe that's going to happen.
Well, I look forward to the opportunity and, and, you know, I, I love to hear stories like that. Um, the, the, my main focus, you know, the main thing that the message that I want to get across to anybody can grow fruit trees, put a little bit of time and effort into it. It's not, um, it's not always going to be the easiest choice.
But as long as you're willing to spend some time with those trees and see how those trees grow and what they do at different times of the year, put a little bit of time and effort and energy into making sure that they're healthy and growing properly, the rewards are always going to be there. And quite frankly, um, I, I, you know, like I said, I spent some time in my landscape every day.
I look forward to it. It's, it's a release for me. I can get off the freeway. I can get, you know, out of the public. Trees don't talk back to you. Trees, uh, trees don't tie you up in traffic on the 210 freeway. So it's, it's a great place to spend time. You get plenty of good fresh fruit to eat. You know, I love to watch my journey.
Granddaughters graze on blueberries and, uh, love to watch my dogs, you know, chasing, uh, us go through the yard, you know, all those things are not only good for our physical health and well being, they're good for our head. Oh, absolutely. Hear, hear. So, now it's time for our contest. And we're going to find out who's going to win a copy of this book.
Before we decide who the winner is, and Gary's going to help us with that, if people want to get hold of this book, I saw that there is a, an e book version on Kindle, but where can they get the hard copy of it? So my friends at Walter Anderson Nursery, um, that revised the book, they, um, actually have it available on their website, which is www.
walteranderson. com. And that's Anderson, uh, with an E, E N, not, uh, A N. And, um, they sell, um, quite a few things on their website, but the, the book is a, is a main focus. And, you know, for the... For the price point of this book, you're going to get so much great information out of it. You you'll be picking up this book For years and years to come.
Like I said, I got my first copy back in 1975 And i've probably looked at it a thousand times Wonderful. Okay, gary. Can you help us with the prize here and our winner? I can't and just before we pull that winning ticket out that winning name I just Oh, you got another email? Yes, we got another email from Olivia.
Oh my goodness. All right, let's sneak it in. Olivia writes, Hi, Susan and Tom. I live in Brooklyn, New York, and have a couple of apple trees in my little backyard that my landlord planted. They're not very good for eating, but I admire the flowers in the spring. Do you recommend pruning to encourage flower growth?
I'm hands off with it, but I may try a go at pruning as an experiment this year. Thanks and love the show, Olivia. Oh yeah, Olivia. I would certainly recommend that you, you know, to start off with some simple pruning cuts. You know, look at, Look at mismanaged growth. Is there growth going back in the center of the tree?
You want to open it up a little bit. Is there, is there any, are there any broken branches? Are there any, uh, branches that are out of, uh, shape that don't lend to the uniformity of the tree? Just start with a few simple things like that. And that will definitely help to encourage future bloom. But that, that really is going to be more a fertilization issue.
So make sure that you're, uh, taking into consideration, uh, understanding what elements are necessary in your area to encourage those flowers. And for me out here, it's the, it's the phosphorus and, and the potash that give us good strong root stability and give us a very strong flower set. So that'll give, that'll give your flowers.
more longevity, and the longer the flowers are open on the tree, the more bee activity you're going to be able to, uh, uh, take advantage of, and the better your pollination is going to be. So all those things will be at your advantage for fruit set and quality. And Olivia, you may also discover that the apples on the tree, their quality starts to improve.
You may actually start enjoying eating those apples. So good luck with that. And again, have a look at my website, OrchardPeople. com. Find the article on how to prune old apple trees and that may help you. Okay guys, time for our contest. All right, the studio audience, the people are up. It's a very exciting time here in the studio.
I see a lot of sun hats, a lot of gardening gloves. Hello, I'm waving to everyone. They're all excited. And Tom, we're going to shake the bucket that all the names are in. You will be able to hear that. Tell me when to stop and I will then pick out a name. Are you ready, Tom? I'm ready. Here we go.
I say good right there. All right, let me just pull a piece of paper out here and we will see what's going on here. Hold on and it. All right. Now we have the winner here. A lot of excitement going on right now, and I'm going to read that winner. The winner is Sean s. Sean s is the winner, ladies and gentlemen.
So yeah, very exciting here. Beautiful! Alright folks, sit down, it's okay. I love that studio audience. They're so enthusiastic. Don't you like them, Tom? They are. Absolutely. It's always great to have a fun studio audience. Exactly. Well, that's great, Sean. Wonderful. Congratulations. We'll email you soon about your prize and have that sent to you.
And before we wrap up, I want to say a quick thank you to all the listeners who have emailed me this month. And there's been so many of you, Karen, Hank, Frank. Bob, Rita, James, Carl, Olivia, and June. And a big thank you to Bob H, who acted as quality control. He emailed me to tell me the date was wrong on my monthly newsletter.
For today's show, I put a June date, which was very silly of me. Thank you, Bob. I will be. And the team will be more careful next month. Um, so yes. And thank you to everybody for joining us for the show today. And thank you so much, Tom, for coming to join us and spend some time with us talking about this cute little book, this wonderful little book that is a classic.
I really appreciate having you on the show. Susan, thank you so much for having me. It's been a pleasure. Working with you. And you know, this is this is something that I know you and I am very passionate about. I just love the subject of fruit trees and and home orcharding. And I can't thank you enough for giving me the opportunity to come on your show and talk about it.
Oh, wonderful. Well, thank you so much. We'll get you back another day then. Absolutely. That's wonderful. So that was Tom Spellman of Dave Wilson Nursery in California. Thanks everybody for tuning into the show today. If you want to learn more about growing fruit trees, here are three things you can do. One, sign up for my monthly newsletter at orchardpeople.
com slash Sign up. I'll send you our newsletter every month so you know what the upcoming shows are. Two, go to our YouTube page and click on the subscribe button so you won't miss any of my new fruit tree care videos, including this video. I'm going to make a video. of this podcast. I'm going to pop that up there.
And number three, go to orchardpeople. com slash podcasts and subscribe to my monthly podcast where we explore topics around fruit trees, food forests, and permaculture. So that's all for now. I hope you will join me again next month when we'll dig into another great topic. I'll see you then. Bye for now.
Thank you for listening to the Urban Forestry Radio Show with your host Susan Poizner right here on Reality Radio 101.

Creators and Guests

Susan Poizner
Susan Poizner
Author, fruit tree educator, and Creator of the award-winning fruit tree care education website
Fruit Tree Pruning Techniques with Tom Spellman
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