22 Feb 2023

Pruning Workshop · Apprentice Blog

Eve Williams

Richard taught us all about winter pruning and the different types of pruning depending on the tree and if it was bud-bearing or spur-bearing.

We also got to have a very in-depth tour around the orchards there, where we got to see all the different species and cultivars they had. 

We saw firsthand the many different types of grafting they had used, and the many incredible ways they preserved the trees even after severe storm damage and diseases so that the tree continues to put on new growth out and fruit year after year.

These two photos show stem grafting; stem grafting is a common grafting method where you graft the desired cultivar onto a rootstock.

In the left-hand photo, you can see where we removed all the new growth under the graft as nothing should be growing under the graft as it will just take away energy from the actual graft.

In this case, this tree is part of their Welsh native orchard, which is where we got a demo for the pruning and had a go ourselves.

This specific Welsh native orchard is where the inspiration for the method of the revitalization of our National Collection of Welsh apple varieties and came from, and when we come to grafting onto our own rootstock after the first growing season, Andrew the owner and Richard who manages the trees will be supplying the Garden with the scion grafting material for the Welsh varieties we do not currently represent.

This is also one of the types of grafting we will be using in the future.

These two photos show two trees that have partly up-rooted.

These trees were not badly damaged in any way, so Andrew and Richard decided to try some different techniques to keep them growing and fruiting.

Richard has left one or two branches under the tree to prop it up and hold it steady and has then cut away anything that was damaged in the fall.

They graze most of their land with sheep so to protect the tree from stripping damage by the sheep, they have put a fence around it.

I was fascinated to see this as I had always thought once a tree had fallen you could not do much with it and just had to cut it down and replant, but seeing this I realised there is so much you can do before taking a chainsaw to it.

Hopefully, the trees in our orchard are protected enough from the wind, by being inside the walled garden. Equally, they are well strapped and staked, so they do not uproot in high winds, but if they do uproot, we now know we can preserve the health of the tree and with some careful pruning it will continue to grow and fruit.

This photo shows how after the tree has fallen and the growth changes direction.

So, after the tree falls and you have cut away any damaged branches and you have protected it. The tree will naturally redirect its new growth upwards towards the light or sky in this case.

Following this, all you must do is prune as normal annually.

The tree will send lots of shoots up as you can see in the photo. You will have to be selective about which you keep and thin the others out.

Removing anything that is, damaged, diseased, or dying, anything that is growing in the wrong direction and anything crossing and rubbing.

Here you can see how hazel branches have been used to prop up some trees.

The trees at the top of this orchard get hit very hard by winds and they were starting to bend away from the wind down the hill.

Many different things were tried to keep these trees upright like stakes and strapping, Richard explained that because the trees were tall none of that worked, so they settled with stopping them from bending any further.

They used big, long hazel branches with forks on one end, the tree rests in the fork then the other end sits in the ground and it stops the tree from bending any further and possibly snapping.

Our orchard being set in the outer walled garden is quite well protected from the wind so I do not think we will have any problems that will need this technique. Only perhaps if we have particularly heavy fruiting, this may be useful to prop a branch.

This is a bridge or bypass graft; this graft allows the tree to still get all the nutrients it needs from the roots even when part of the main trunk is not able to do that.

This graft is eight years old and it’s very well established. In the left-hand photo, you can see how well this graft is doing, it has grown massively since it was first grafted at just a few centimetres wide.

This graft was taken from the tree itself which is a good option, but you can also use a rootstock from a nursery.

In the right-hand photo, you can see the area of the tree that was removed and what the graft is making up for. This tree had canker, a type of tree cancer, which was removed from the main trunk and this graft was inserted and it took well and is doing its job amazingly.

The bridge or bypass graft can be used in many different situations; if the tree has a disease that is causing the main trunk to die, fail or rot away like in the photo, a bypass graft is a great way to preserve the tree. If a younger tree is damaged by animals, you can use this graft, to help preserve the tree.

I am sure we will be using this in the future with our orchard, as it is such a useful and versatile grafting technique which can save tree specimens and preserve them in the long term.

This is another type of bypass grafting where you plant a new rootstock and graft it into the tree.

You can plant anywhere from one to 10 depending on the size of the tree; this tree had three, using this type of graft you plant a new rootstock at the base of the tree and then graft the other end onto the affected tree above the damaged section.

The purpose of this is that the stock will grow with the tree and be able to carry the nutrients the tree needs if the main trunk cannot.

This type of grafting is very good if the tree is affected near the base, and you cannot graft above and below the area of damage.

So, altogether we learned so much in this workshop about pruning our trees this winter, grafting techniques for the future, and preserving damaged trees through supporting and grafting them.

All of us hope to get the opportunity to use all that we learned in this workshop in the growing and preserving of the orchards here at the National Botanic Gardens of Wales.