Here’s a quick and easy spring task that'll pump up your fruit production. This neat trick is best suited to apples, apricots, peaches, plums and pears.
Now that the sap is rising and branches are flexible, new branches can be tied down. Tying them down changes their direction from up to out, making them easier for you to reach and best of all, it inspires your tree to produce loads more fruitful wood.
For easy to reach apples, open structure for good health and lots of fruit, tie young branches to horizontal. Artwork by Steve Howell
The more horizontal the branch, the more fruitful it is. The more horizontal the branch, the less inclined towards lush unproductive growth it is. That’s how a tree’s hormones roll. All the fruitful energy in a vertical branch happens at its tip. Tie that branch down and the energy shifts. Laterals pop up all along a horizontal branch and where there was one, now there are many fruitful tips.
By the time autumn rolls around, the wood has thickened, the year’s growth ring has locked the new angle in place and the tie should be removed.
- Using soft stocking tie, tie a loop around the end of the branch. Make the loop twice the diameter of the branch to prevent it cutting into the bark.
- Tie the other end back to the trunk or to a rock or tent peg in the ground.
- Keep an eye on the ties over the growing season to ensure they stay in place.
Air and Light
A mature apple showing great open structure. Young branches were tied down. Photo by Kath Irvine
Tying branches down has the added bonus of opening your tree for better airflow and light. Air is such an important player in overall fruit tree health, especially if your tree is prone to fungal disease like leaf curl. Light’s a no brainer! There is no more important asset to a fruiting tree than to be bathed in light.
How to Manage Leaf Curl
Peach leaves infected with leaf curl. Photo by Kath Irvine
Leaf curl will be showing up now. By time the fungus is in full flight and the leaves are blistered and curled – it’s too late for cures, you just have to let it play out.
Though you cannot fix it, it’s important to support your tree through this time because it’s going to have to repeat the mammoth task of growing another set of leaves. Seaweed, with its mineral richness and cell strengthening gifts is excellent tonic support. Spray weekly if you can.
Hanging strips of kelp in the branches will give your leaf curl affected tree a nourishing liquid feed every time it rains. You could also lay kelp beneath the mulch. Don't feed it rich stuff like manure, at this stage.
Collecting all the dropped funky leaves and burning them up will help break the cycle. If you've got the time then this is excellent housekeeping. If like me, there is not even the remotest chance of this happening, pile mulch on top to prevent the spores splashing back up into the canopy.
Improving airflow around and through your tree is the final bit of the puzzle. Do this by thinning out (completely removing) shoots that are cluttering the tree. My general rule is to leave a 20cm gap between laterals. Slash long grass beneath your tree or pile mulch on top of it to knock it back.
Learn more about pruning in my book, Pruning Fruit Trees.