March 9, 2010

Pruning Apple Trees

We've had 4 glorious early spring days in a row, which have made me feel bouncy with excitement. I'm noticing some green showing in the brown grass and a few daffodils are emerging in spots clear of snow. Of course we can still have wintry weather, but I'm certainly enjoying this stretch of lovely weather while it lasts. This is the time of year that apple trees are pruned, before the buds begin to swell. I love getting out and doing this chore; it feels great to have a job to do outdoors, while the gardens are still under snow.

The first tree I worked on was the one above, a venerable old apple tree leaning dramatically on its post. It grows to the west of my house, outside the small orchard; it frames the landscape that I see from my picnic table in the backyard, and I'm always aware of it as I work in the garden. It stands alone, expressively, beautifully, reminding me of the history of this land and house; I love this tree, even though it doesn't produce much, a few Golden Delicious-type apples (maybe this is an ancestor of the Golden) every other year; being an antique apple tree, it doesn't flower each year. This tree feeds me with a deep aesthetic satisfaction.

My pole pruner is resting against the tree as I contemplate my work. As you can see in the first picture, the tree vigorously sends up many new branches each winter, even though it looks like it might want to retire from growing. All the new growth shoots straight up; you're supposed to encourage sideways and downward growth and remove the branches going up. But this year I've decided to leave some of the new upward growth and see what happens; I feel as though I should reward the tree by leaving it some more branches.

The images below are details of things I would have overlooked last year, before I began photographing in the woods: moss growing in a crevice of the trunk, the textures of post and bark, and lichen growing on the tree's loose bark. Beauty in the details, and in the whole.


  1. So will you show us the "after" view of the tree with its crewcut?

  2. actually, Helen, the photo shows the tree after I cut the long branches, which had been at least twice as long. I cut some of the branches further after shooting the photo, and may cut some more, but that shot is close to what it'll look like when I'm done. I'll photograph the tree again when the daffodils on the little hill in front of it, currently under snow, are in bloom.

  3. Thanks for this, Altoon. I'm not sure we'll find time this week to get out and prune in our orchard, but as always in gardening, it's a reminder for next year. Also a reminder to slow down and look more closely when I'm out of doors.

  4. Well, it's all one big experiment, isn't it? Keep us posted.

    These old fruit trees are great...I have a client on the Vineyard with an old peach tree. Like yours, it doesn't fruit much. But what it produces is so genuine and it's more about the energy and the form, anyway.

  5. Susan, this is great pruning weather and a good excuse to get outdoors!

    Julie, though this tree isn't very productive, I have 14 other antique apple trees, of which all but 5 bear very well. Most of the trees are Duchess of Oldenburg apples, with a couple of Peach apples. Duchess are great pie and applesauce apples; I have loads to give away during their every other year bearing season.

  6. What a great reminder about pruning NOW. Hope I haven't missed my window. A lot of snow under a couple of my trees. Wonder how much rain we will get...seems like it could be bad in NY.