March 14, 2013

It's Early Spring: Time to Prune the Apple Trees

Last weekend we had a day and a half of sun, a few mild days sandwiched between gray cold, so while the sun shone I got out my pruning tools and began the annual work of pruning the apple trees. This is the first chore of the new garden season, so it's always a joy to get out into the fresh air and do some work while the ground is still frozen. I begin on the ground: I go around the orchard with the hand pruners first, then the 4 foot pruner, then the 7 foot. It's not until I finish as much as I can reach from the ground that I bring out the ladder. 

 All my apple trees are very old, and bear heirloom varieties: Sops of Wine, Peach, Duchess of Oldenburg, Sheep's Nose. This tree, with its expressive lean, has apples that must be an ancestor of the golden delicious, but I don't know its name. It's the tree that is most demanding of pruning each year, with its habit of throwing up lots and lots of upright branches, which must be removed.

My leaning tree is not in the orchard proper; here a a partial view over the back stone fence into the small orchard, which has about a dozen bearing trees.

Looking past one of the weathered limbs of an apple tree to the back of the house.

 The young buds are red and fat, holding a promise of fruit this year.

I enjoy walking around the orchard, noticing the growths of mosses and lichens on the trunks and branches.

The outer layer of bark has worn off this tree and it's being attacked by birds or insects. I always feel a pang of loss when looking at these trees: so many of them are weakened and I've lost a few over the years. I've read that apple trees have a life span of about 100 years, with only 40 of them being productive. If so, some of my trees are happily still producing lots of fruit in their old age, the Peach and Duchess mainly. The others give me a just a few apples, but not much.

I can't bear the thought of removing this old tree; it is so beautiful even though it's dead. The character of its bark and branches give me great aesthetic pleasure, as does the whole orchard, as much pleasure as tasting its apples. 


  1. Nice to be so honoured by orchard trees. Even your dead tree gives something to the landscape and must have a whole ecosystem in its hollow and crown. Wishing you many baskets of fruit this year.

  2. 'In an orchard there should be enough to eat, enough to lay up, enough to be stolen, and enough to rot upon the ground'

    Lovely photos, particular the one with light & shade on the tree.


  3. Thank for the comments. My dead tree likely harbors a lot of life within it.
    My old trees bear only every other year, so this year there will be plenty for eating and laying up etc.

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