Over the past couple of months, the volunteers at Lower Sharpham Farm have been focusing on pruning and cropping fruit trees in the orchard. This work was initiated by Florient, a former volunteer who raised awareness about taking care of the trees through his personal project.
Florient invited Charles, a professional arborist who has spent 40 years of his life dedicated to tree care, to come to the orchard and share his knowledge of pruning methods. We learnt that it is possible to reshape trees to allow the production of better quality fruits. Reshaping the trees also prevents overcrowding of branches, allowing increased light exposure to the different parts of the tree. Furthermore, cropping the trees annually allows us to detect potential diseases or other issues that could compromise the tree’s long term development.
Left to right : Florient cutting the first branch of the 2019 SWPS (Sharpham’s Winter Pruning Session) and Charles explaining the art of pruning
We learnt that pruning in winter encourages the growth of the tree. Pruning in late-summer is effective to assist fruit ripening by removing branches which are less beneficial for fruit production, allowing the tree to concentrate its energy on the remaining fruits. However, removing too many leaves can be detrimental for the development of big and tasty fruit, because it reduces the production of energy through photosynthesis. That is why a fair balance is required.
It is also possible to reshape branches of a tree by simply binding them with strings and tightening them in the direction desired. After a while the strings are removed, however the branches will keep growing in that same direction. The capacity of trees to adapt their growth to physical constraints is quite fascinating and definitely useful.
When dealing with older trees, other methods are used. One of them consists of wrapping unwanted young branches around bigger ones instead of cutting them. This method has been used by Charles for a while to keep the trees well-shaped, and above all it means that the re-growing branches do not need to be cut every year.
Finally, what is truly interesting about pruning is that each tree is unique and each person has their own vision of the shape they want to create. In fact there isn’t any perfect shape – it’s all a matter of creativity, thinking and anticipation.
Cutting the branch off an old apple tree to help shape it
We are now all looking forward to taste the juicy apples and cherries of the diverse varieties of fruit trees growing in the orchard later on!
Written by Daniel, one of our long term volunteers from France