Training Your Tree

Man with an apple.

Why Train a Tree?
Because you can increase the fruit production a great deal over trees left untended. Training your trees will help it grow to fill the trellis and produce lots of  sweet, juicy apples.

When to Start Training Your Tree?
Start training your tree as soon as it is planted. Shaping the tree is more easily done when the shoots are young and ender rather than old and  tough ( you know, like the old dog, new trick cliche´ ). If you must remove a branch, it is better to pinch it off when it is only a few leaves rather that cutting off a large limb later. Its healthier for the trees too, to train young rather than to perform major surgery on an older tree! If you must make a large cut, be sure to make it during the dead of winter when the tree is asleep.

How Will I know If I Trained It Right?
A well trained tree will fill the trellis with scaffold branches and have nice balance. The limbs will be inclined at 45 to 60 degrees from vertical and the main trunk (central leader) should reach the top of the trellis and be bent over to slow its growth and channel the plant’s energy into the limbs.

Training your fruit trees trellis.

Vegetative Wood and Fruitwood

Vegitative ShootA tree grows two different kinds of wood, vegetative shoots and fruitwood. Vegetative shoots simply build the skeleton of the tree If your tree is too vigorous, it will spend too much of it’s time building tree and too little producing fruit. If it is too weak, it will fruit feverishly but become a midget. Your challenge is to manage your trees such that they continue to grow to full size, fill the trellis fully, then produce a healthy crop of large, delicious apples.

Managing Tree Size VS. Apple Production

Each plant has only so much growing power each season. This growing power depends on how much you feed it. Part of this power goes to producing fruit. The other part goes to plant growth. Apple trees need to be good size before you let them produce many apples. Some growers let the tree reach full size before allowing it to produce, resulting in a strong tree capable of holding a big fruit load. Others split the difference and produce a few apples early and settle for a little less growth that year. What you must guard against is letting a small young tree overproduce, because you will be left with a “runted out” tree forever. Use this principle as a tool to manage the size of your tree: a big fruit load will prevent further growth. Use this principle to manage the size of your apples: if you want very large apples, pull off many little apples shortly after bloom (called thinning), retaining only a few. The remaining apples will be very large.

Drawing of two apples.

If you want your tree to grow some more, fertilize with nitrogen, and let your tree produce only a small amount of fruit. To slow the growth, continue to feed the tree, but reduce the nitrogen percentage, and allow the tree to carry a full load of fruit.

About the Buds
Buds are small bumps along the branch from which the leaves grow in the spring. Some of the bud become leaves, some become branches, and some become fruitwood.

Fruit buds, fruit spurs and dormant shoots.

What is Fruitwood?
Branches that produce fruit are called spurs. They really look like spurs on some trees, being short, fat branches no more than a few inches long. On other trees, fruitwood may look like shoots, except that at the very end of the shoot, the growth terminates n a single bud rather than a few small leaves. Spurs stay about the same length and produce blooms and fruit for several years. You will find spurs forming in mid to late summer to produce the next year. Flowers, and ultimately apples, are produced by these spurs. As you get to know them by sight, you can judge how many apples you will have next year. Proper training causes lots of fruit spurs to form.

How To Tell How Well Your Tree Is Growing

The distance between the leaves or buds is an important indicator of the health of your tree! Buds should form about in inch apart if your tree is growing properly. If they are farther apart, the growth is excellent (tip growth can be a couple of inches a week on each branch).

Rosette and internodal spacing.

When things go wrong and growth is very weak, buds continue to form at the tip of the branch, butt he shoot does not grow. This results n a cluster of closely spaced leaves looking a little like the petals of a flower, called a “rosette”.

About the Bloom

Flowers and bees fruit tips.Normal bloom time for apples in Texas is late February to early April, depending on what part of the state you live in. It is a time that you will enjoy every year. Apple blooms are celebrated for their beauty so watch for them! The first sign of the beginning of the bloom is the buds will begin to show some reddish color. The flower buds occur in sets of five, one n the center and four side buds. Soon the center bloom, the “king bloom” will open. It is from this flower that the biggest apples are made. In a day or tow the side blooms open. The cluster is in full bloom and ready for pollinating by friendly bees.

Working bees are happy bees and very docile. Take a close look at how they accomplish their work. Sunny days are necessary at loom time for the bees to work. If you should have cloudy, windy days during your bloom, you can become “Bee for a Day” and pollinate the flowers on your trees.

“BEE” For a Day

When the blooms are full open and the pollen bearing parts of the flower are fresh and yellow, use a water color brush or a cotton swab and dip gently into the center of the flower on one plant.

Move to another variety of tree and do the same thing. Work back and forth from tree to tree to get the cross-pollination needed for the finest apples. Remember to never spray poisons on the tree at bloom time for fear of injuring the working bees.

Bee for a day.

How to Get a Limb Where You Want a Limb

If you have a place that you want a limb to grow, wait until the buds begin to open in the spring and locate a bud where you want a limb to start. Make a cut above that bud with a sharp knife half way around the limb (not all the way around the limb or you will have girdled the limb and killed it!). Make a second cut parallel to the first and remove about 1/16″ of bark. Most of the time this will force the bud you chose to start a new limb. Let the limb grow upwards for several months, and when it is the length you want, bend it downward and put it in the work mode for producing fruit.

Notching your fruit trees.

Managing the Shape of Your Tree

One of the really fascinating things about growing an apple tree is that you can instruct each branch of the tree what it is to do. This is accomplished by adjusting its attitude (Isn’t that the way your mother did it for you?). The trellis allows you to set each limb at exactly the attitude you want by tying the limb to the trellis with a strip of cloth or plastic tape. If you want a limb to grow and become longer, let it point at the sky. If you want it to grow more slowly, incline the tip of the branch away from the vertical by tying it to the trellis. If you want it to stop growing you may move it all the way over toward horizontal. It is best not to make it completely horizontal because vigorous shoots called “watersprouts” will grow from it and they are not desirable.

When your mother adjusted your attitude your life became more fruitful didn’t it? Well, the same is true of apple trees. Vertical shoots do not grow fruit, they just  grow wood, and fast! By removing some of that energy from the shoot by bending it over, you tell it “Not so Fast! You need to grow some apples too, please.” By adjusting all of the tree’s scaffold limbs at proper attitude, each will grow a little, but devote a large part of its energy to growing fruit.

When Will the Tree Bear Apples?

You will not wait long for apples. Dwarf trees will start producing fruit the year after planting, and for many years thereafter. But remember, dwarf apple trees are creations of man, not nature. They will try to produce more apples than is good for the tree, and sooner than they should. Nature would never make such a plant.

Drawing of two apples.

How To Tell When Your Apples Are Ripe

You may be surprised at how hard it is to tell when your apples are really ripe. Each variety has its own clues. Even professional growers have to have special instruments to determine ripeness. The first thing to know is what part of what month your varieties are normally expected to be ripe. Call or drop a postcard telling us where you live and what varieties of trees you have. We will be happy to give you a good target date for ripeness and to tell you when they are ready. Tasting one is the final proof of the pudding and is certainly the most fun. With a little practice you’ll find out how to tell when your fruit has reached its peak of flavor…and what a treat you are in for!

Never Trust Your Neighbor!

Never trust a neighbor. Be suspicious of your spouse. Keep a weather eye on kids. Even friendly birds may become enemies…and if they do…try using netting around the tree when the fruit starts to ripen. Squirrels are apple FIENDS! Dogs help. You will have plenty of help at harvest time because all creatures great and small love ripe apples!

Squirrels and dogs love apples.

Don't trust your neighbors.

Enjoy your apples.