[NAFEX] Vigorous rootstocks restrained

Alan Haigh alandhaigh at gmail.com
Tue Aug 12 18:52:14 EDT 2008

I don't have much experience with young apples on seedling rootstock, most
of the standard stock trees I manage are somewhere in the vicinity of a
hundred years old.  The twenty odd trees on seedling that I installed for a
client and have maintained for several years are planted with 25 foot
spacing which for seedling is actually a tad close for all but the least
vigorous cultivars.

I believe the question was originally not about maintaining the trees in
close spacing but about whether they could be trained low, to which I say of
course.  You could train them to grow at a height of 18 inches if that was
your desire- might be a good idea in zone 2.

If the question is how to maintain them as compact trees, say 15' spacing, I
would suggest you start with less vigorous cultivars like Goldrush,
Jonathon, or Ginger Gold.  The best way after that to deinvigorate without
root-pruning is to favor weak wood when you prune, always removing anything
over a third diameter of the trunk at the point of attachment when
developing scaffolds and follow up with the same math when developing
secondary wood.  Branch vigor is strongly based on it's relative diameter to
the branch it is attached to.  The larger its relative diameter the greater
access to the roots and water and minerals like the big N.  This doesn't
completely apply to all varieties as some are so spurry that they go
straight to fruiting no matter what the relative diameter of the scaffolds.
Empire, Goldrush and especially Braeburn are examples of this.

The easiest way for an unskilled pruner to maintain a tree in a dwarfing way
is to train your trees to weep or a mushroom shape.  Once the trees are of
bearing age and the height you desire you simply prune all but the least
vigorous upward growing shoots leaving a few upward pencils in the bearing
wood and lots of the wood that is bent down from the weight of previous

Alan Haigh, the Home Orchard Co.
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