Summer pruning is key to high-density planting success

Harvest season is the real payoff from planting fruit trees and plants. Here are some easy tips for home gardeners interested in increasing their yields.

Imagine a continuous stream of super-fresh fruit for an entire season! The secret is planting your backyard orchard for successive ripening.

Adding Variety to Your Edible Landscape

You can buy specialty trees that have been multi-grafted. Growers graft several different varieties to a single rootstock.

Who wouldn’t want to plant a single fruit tree and then have it continually provide fruit for the entire season?

It’s a great concept and can be successful. However, please note that this does requires careful pruning to ensure that no one variety “takes over”.

Perhaps an easier and more effective solution is to include several fruit varieties that ripen at different times over the course of the harvest season. It doesn’t take as much space as you might think, either.

Grafting Rootstock Selection Is Important

Grafting is an ancient art and improves the health and vigor of trees. Using special tools, a “scion” of the desired variety is cut and inserted onto an improved “rootstock”. These are bound until the graft takes and grows together to become a single tree or plant.

Growers select rootstocks for several reasons, including for soil type and size.

Dwarf fruit trees are normally grafted onto dwarfing variety rootstocks. They will need to be staked and are not durable in high-wind areas.

Semi-dwarf rootstocks still give some advantages to keep your fruit trees smaller. They are also better able to anchor themselves into the soil to protect against wind damage.

Keep Fruit Trees and Fruiting Plants Small With Summer Pruning

If you are challenged by a small space, you can use more aggressive pruning techniques to control the height of your fruit trees and plants. Pruning for size control opens up a world of possibilities.

Keep your fruiting plants trimmed back to any size you would like. No matter what the rootstock is used—from standard size to semi-dwarf or dwarf—summer pruning for size control can be used.

Smaller trees make for easier maintenance and harvest!

Yes, it’s an annual task, but is not hard if you keep up with it. After you gain experience, it may take you 10 – 15 minutes per plant.

Why not get the best of both worlds? Plant trees grafted onto durable semi-dwarf rootstock and perform summer pruning for size control.

High Density Planting Techniques

Boost your productivity, no matter the size of your land. Try a “3-in-1” or “4-in-1” planting to create a single tree with multiple trunks.

Plant your trees close centers allows for easier maintenance and harvest. Prune them in summer during the active growing period to keep the trees in balance.

Some varieties are more vigorous than others. Don’t let one tree dominate the others in your high-density planting.  If one variety is growing faster than the rest CUT IT BACK and keep it in balance.

Be sure to choose varieties that have similar spray requirements. Don’t mix stone fruit (Cherries and Peaches) with pome fruit (Apples and Pears).

  • Create a hedgerow by planting 6 to 7 feet apart, measuring from trunk to trunk.
  • Or, plant three trees 2 feet apart in a triangle.
  • You can also plant four trees 2 feet apart in a square.

Summer prune to thin out the canopy slightly. The goal is to allow sunlight penetration and air circulation into the center of the trees.

Tip prune the branches for size control, always heading back to an outward-facing bud. Remove about 1/3 of the new growth from this season at this time.

Watch our High Density Planting Video

Winter Pruning for Training Fruit Trees

In late winter (or after bud break for Apricots!), you’ll be pruning to establish your trees scaffolding branches.

Remove branches that head into the center of the planting. If two branches grow in the same area and one is casting shade on the other—make a decision about which branch you’ll keep. Remove the other one.

For a “3-in-1” or “4-in-1” planting, you’ll usually want to train your trees into a vase-shape. Hedgerows of certain trees, such as Apples and Pears, can be grown with a central leader.

Branches can be spread to a horizontal or 45-degree angle for strength.

Remove suckers from rootstock any time of year. Dead, damaged or diseased branches should be removed.

Plan for Early Season, Mid-Season and Late Season Harvest Overlap

Successive Ripening is one of the biggest benefits to establishing a summer pruning for size control practice. You can add varieties to give you a continuous harvest of fresh fruit.

Plant different varieties of fruit that overlap their harvest seasons, from the earliest time in the season to the latest. Plan your fruit trees with their ripening time in mind. It works for almost any type of fruit.

Example #1 - Enjoy 10 Months of Fresh Oranges:

Plant the early-season Cara Cara Orange, along with the midseason ripening Washington Navel. Finish with the late season Valencia. This gives you over 10 months of enjoying fresh, homegrown oranges from 3 trees.

Plant in a high density planting as mentioned above. Or, if you have room, why not give them more space? You’ll have a healthy harvest and gain gorgeous, fragrant privacy screening.

Example #2 - Gain 8 Months of Mandarins:

Start with the ever popular Owari Satsuma Mandarin for your early season selection, followed by mid-season Gold Nugget Mandarin and end the season with the long hanging, late-season Pixie Mandarin as your late season selection. Enjoy 8 months of eating fresh tree-ripe fruit!

Successive ripening can be enjoyed with deciduous home fruit varieties, as well.

Example #3 - Harvest Fresh Apples Over 5 Months

Start with the widely adapted, early season Gravenstein Apple. Include the popular Gala for the mid-season. End with late season Fuji for 4 months of fresh apple harvest. Make it 5 months by adding the extremely late Granny Smith for pies and cobblers.

The possibilities for successive ripening Apples are enormous.  Explore how your favorite farmers market varieties fit into a successive ripening group.

Just study the Plant Highlights on every product page.

VIDEO: Can you grow Apples in California? Yes!

Examples #4 and #5 - Harvest Plums for 5 Months; Pick Pluots for 6 Months

Harvest the Early Methley Plum or the Santa Rosa, then the mid-season dark red-fleshed Burgundy. End the season with the super-sweet Emerald Beaut Plum. Get fresh fruit for 5 months out of the space of 1 traditionally grown fruit tree.

For those of you who can grow the Plum/Apricot hybrid, the Pluots in your growing zone, try the Flavor Supreme Pluot for your early, the Splash or Flavor Queen Pluot for the mid-season and end the year with the Flavor King or the explosive flavored Flavor Grenade. Yum, what a treat! Harvest the finest flavored Pluots for over 6 months right in your own yard.

Example #6 - Sweet and Sour Cherries Through the Season

Though the ripening spread may not be as long, you can enjoy 2 solid months of harvest with careful selection of Cherry trees, both Sweet and Sour.

Plant a sweet, early ripening Black Tartarian Cherry, add either the Bing or Rainier as your mid-season and cap it with the late season Lapins Cherry.

Try the same with Sour Cherries. Plant the early ripening Early Richmond, the mid-season Montmorency Cherry and the late season English Morello.

Gain Food Security with Edible Landscaping

Make your land and sunshine work hard for you with backyard orchard culture. It’s time to re-think the way we tackle fruit growing trees and plants in our landscapes.

The key is summer pruning for size control for fruit trees. Maximize the use of your space, minimize the amount of labor and materials in caring for your fruit trees and enjoy a season long successive harvest for your efforts. 

Enjoy!

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