There are some varieties of apples that are known as ‘Tip Bearing’ varieties. They simply produce their flower buds – and fruit – on the tips of branches – right at the end, instead of fruiting spurs situated along the branch. So, it stands to reason, that if you prune in the normal way, you will be cutting off the fruiting ‘ends’ of the branch! If you have found a way to cut off a branch – whilst still leaving the end in place, we would like to hear about it!
Just a few things to understand about tip bearing apples and how to prune them. The first is, that most apples actually produce flowers/fruit on growth which is two years old. These are normally short wrinkled stubs which we call spurs. Nearly all apples fruit on spurs.
Some tip bearing apple trees bear their fruit fully on the tips, whilst others – partial tip bearers – also produce apples in the normal way, as well as on the ends of the branch. The partial tip bearers can be pruned the same way as ‘normal’ apple trees.
Make sure that your apple is really a tip-fruiting type. They will typically have the fuller fruiting buds developing at the tips of the branches, rather than just the narrower leaf buds.
The flowers and fruit on true tip-bearing apples, are borne on the tips of long slender shoots that were produced the year before. These are known as two year growths. It is easy to distinguish the fruit buds from normal leaf buds, for they will be considerably plumper – and rounded in a cluster. Incidentally, Tip Bearing Apple trees are great for growing as ‘bent-down’ types. They usually have drooping branches anyway.
There are basically two different ways to grow a tip bearing apple tree. They can either be grown with a central leader, which then has lateral branches up the length of the leader, or they can be grown in an 'open tulip' shape. the latter does not have a central leader, and is normally shorter, with the growth emanating outwards or even downwards with the weight of the fruit!
Firstly - as with all pruning - think of 3Ds! Dead, Diseased, and Damaged. Get rid of them all! Add a further 'D' for 'Distance'. For, you need to prune in such a way, that you prevent any crossing or rubbing branches that will eventually lead to damaged and diseased wood.
Even though you want your tree to grow as a central leader type, you should still prune back the central leader each year. Simply cut back the new growth each year - in late winter - to a good strong bud some third of the way back. If it is a strong growing leader, then no need to cut back too hard - or you will push it into producing lush vegetative growth. If it is a weak growing central leader, then cut it back by up to 2/3rds its new wood length.
In the winter, the lateral branches will have side shoots that were produced in the growing season just finished. If these side shoots are less than say 9in long, then they can be left unpruned, for they will bear the flowers and fruit at the ends next year/growing season. Longer side shoots should be pruned back to around 5-6in. This will then promote new side shoots the following year, and these will flower and fruit the year after. (So pruning cuts in Feb 05, will produce side shoots in summer 05, which will then produce flowers and fruit in the season 06 - ie on two year old wood!)
Whether open or central leader growing it is up to you. But, both types will be better for a little summer pruning. This pruning is simply to trim back any of the vegetative growths that are not wanted for fruiting the following year. Open up the tree and allow the air and sunlight into the fruiting areas. You will get better fruit for doing so. Mainly because you will be sending the energy into the fruit, instead of it being wasted on growth that you are going to prune out the following winter!
There are not too many tip bearing apples being sold, for the nurseries do not want complaints of lack of fruit - after the tips have been cut off!!
A Few Partial Tip Bearing Apples
Tydeman’s Early Worcester
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