Controlling size, pruning, and maintaining fruiting wood


I have a friend that wants to revitalize an old neglected apple orchard. I have not even seen the trees yet. Any advice on how to tame apples gone wild appreciated.


@Drew51, there are instructions for bringing old trees back into BYOC shape somewhere on the DWN site. I did a couple of quick searches and nothing came up. Give it a shot and see what you can find.


Thanks! I will look around.


Drew, this is a major source of my income and I’ve brought back hundreds and hundreds of such trees over the years. In CA they don’t even really have that many such trees and I don’t see how anyone on Dave Wilson’s payroll would have a lot of experience at it.

There is a book called Ecological Fruit Production in the North with pictures and a good general explanation on the art of renovating old apple trees. I’m sure you’ve also found some of the university derived videos on the subject on youtube.

One mostly does a lot of thinning cuts that open the trees up. I have written a pretty easy to understand article about how to choose wood to cut when thinning if you want me to send it to you.


I would advise him to hire you if you were near! Thanks the book is perfect as I would like something I could study, and yes the article too. This kid is 29 and bought 48 acres with neglected apple trees. Figures as I know next to nothing about apples! He asked for my help as in my small world I’m the fruit expert. He is my youngest friend, and a good one.Thank you!
He would like to eventually make hard cider, and I think he should plant more trees with cider in mind. Another area I’m going to need to study up on. What would make a good cider blend? What are the best cultivars for the area? Areas I’m going to need to research.

One question I have is when? When is a good time to start the shaping? I suppose I will need a few years to get the trees in line. Again I have not even seen them.


Old trees can be pruned almost any time- besides preceding -25D F. and you are less likely to get scorching of bark if you prune after they leaf out or after mid-summer.

However, if you want to graft existing trees over to ones better for cider you should prune them hard right away and next year GRAFT onto the annual shoots.

I will send you my pruning article via e-mail.


Alan, would there be a way to post your articles to this site? Your experience and insight with fruit trees is a phenomenal resource and would be highly valued knowledge to many of us, me included. Others with such valued information should also be encouraged to post their insights also.


I think I’ve posted it here, but we don’t have a library system in place. If you would like the article send me a private note with your e-dress.


If anyone else is interested, I typed in the words - Alan’s pruning -in the search engine and it popped up as one of the options, just scroll down till you see the icon for alan and the words pruning section. I think this is the right article and it is very good, by the way.


Thank you, I hope it is helpful.

I just edited a previous comment where I said to prune hard this year and prune onto annual shoots the next when I should have written graft.


Since it is very intersting to me I’d like to bring up this topic once more.

Did everyone see the new videos from Dave Wilson nursery about pruning their byoc-style test orchard? Here is one of them:

What do you think?

I kind of like their videos, cause Tom Spellman is really trying to keep things simple. I always wondered if that pruning style is applicable to my climate in 7a with considerable shorter growing season, more rainfall and less sunlight. Thats why I planted a row of seedlings (peaches and apricots) to test byoc. My trees are coming into their third season, so nothing exciting to report right now.

One of my unsettled questions was how they would treat older trees with less new wood inside the canopy. I always wondered if their fruiting zones would over time wander more and more to the outer zones of the canopy. So there is the answer, it looks like it does. They are having the same issues as other training systems (eg. open center) have, maybe even more so, since I feel a normal open center canopy does allow more light contribution inside the canopy than byoc does.

They are “renewing” the canopy by quite heavy winter pruning with serious cuts. I am afraid those cuts to a peach tree in my climate would mean its end in 5 to 10 years. Maybe thats no problem since peaches seem to stay productive for only aprox 20-30 years anyways.

I will go on following byoc pruning style in my “test block” to come to my own conclusions. But watching that video did to a point approve my suspicion that byoc will shorten the life of a fruit tree in my climate. I don’t agonize about this thought but it is something to consider. That said I have to admit my other peach trees, trained more traditional, are not doing better. Every year I have to try hard to maintain some young wood lower in the canopy and every year there is some dieback here and there. I even lost some scaffolds for no apparent reason to dieback. So in the end in my climate no training system might be able to keep my peach trees healthy and productive for longer than 20 years. Actually from the look of my trees right now I would estimate 15 years to be more accurate.

To be clear, I like their videos. They are interesting to watch even when having some background knowledge about pruning anyways. Until now I felt they did avoid this specific topic about byoc in older trees. Maybe cause their orchard simply is still young. For me this was kind of the missing puzzle stone in their series.


I’m in zone 6a/5b and have been doing BYOC for 6 years going on 7th leaf. I’m extremely happy with it. I found it super easy to maintain and my trees produce tons of fruiting wood. Looking at the video, those trees look neglected to me, they slacked on pruning and are now paying the price. I saw branch with an inch diameter going inward that should have been removed 2 years ago. The trees look terrible to me. No control of scaffold number too, way too many on those trees if you ask me.
I do not see pruning as aging the tree in anyway, just the opposite it is renewing the tree and that has been my experience so far. Proper pruning keeps the wood in sunlight, and it tends to be healthier.
Their multi-grafted trees are way overgrown. You have to stay on top of those. I have and am so impressed with how easy it is all my trees have multiple grafts now. I like to work with the trees so adding grafts was perfect as it gave me something to do and taught me a lot about the growing habit of stone fruit. I don’t expect to see the trees last much beyond 20 years but right now at 7 years they seem absolutely perfect and as healthy as healthy can be.
Tom let those trees go and be neglected, just looking at the fruit on the pomegranate. I grow those too btw in containers. I can see that as harming the tree making it come back by cutting so much older wood off. That could have been avoided if they would have done a better job of staying on top of the needed pruning, A measure of how I’m doing to me is how much dead wood I get. Well I have only had one dead branch and I think it was the cold that got it. Not bad for a full 6 seasons. Some of my trees are younger, 5th leaf, and 3rd leaf too. Anyway IMHO BYOC works and works very well.


I can’t yet say how well it works, because I am still getting to the point where it ought to be working and bad weather the last couple years has caused problems. That being said, it’s a wildly satisfying hobby, and part of the reason why is that it just doesn’t have to work that well for the results to be individually sufficient.

For example, I grew peach trees for my wife before I had ever eaten a peach, because I didn’t ever like peach flavored things. I have only eaten a dozen or so out of my yard, but now I eagerly look forward to the couple I have gotten. I have dozens of apple varieties and tons of stone fruit in my 1/3 acre yard. I would rather get two or three each of 20 varieties over the entire year than have three giant trees in my backyard that I harvest all at once.

Plus, having just read through the thread, the concern about overly stimulating vegetative growth is part of what makes it fun for me. I constantly low stress train my trees and putter with them all the time. I use bonsai wiring techniques, intentionally partial girdling, notching, and other techniques that a professional just shouldn’t be wasting time doing. I am constantly negotiating with the trees to trade vertical height for width, and trying to constrain them in a high disease area.

You know, fun.


I am happy to hear it from you, since you are growing fruit in climate even more cold than I do.

About Tom neglecting those trees… I’d say maybe a little over the course of 2017. There were not as many and long videos as the years before. But in general they are pruning those trees quite consistently over the years. I don’t think Tom Spellman is the only person pruning their BYOC orchard.

I remember you reporting about KGB training system in sweet cherries. Do you use it with other stonefruit too? In theorie it should work with apricots. Thats what I plan to test next with some seedlings.

I don’t think those pruning cuts are aging. But in stonefruit I experience lower abiltiy to close larger wounds and the trees become more vulnerable to diseases. Plus my peaches somehow tend to react with the dieback of limbs to all kind of stresses.


No, but it can’t hurt to try, you can always go back to BYOC if it doesn’t work out. Cherries can renew scaffolds whereas it’s hard to do with peaches. I’m trying using smaller branches on an existing scaffold, and pruning to make the small branch the lead of the scaffold and renew in that manner. With cherries the wood grows out of everything all the time, even on Gisela it’s easy to see the tree wishes it was 40 feet tall. Cherries are super vigorous and for me very challenging. I decided to add grafts to the stubbed scaffolds on cherries, as I want to try other cultivars. The straight KGB method is not meant for that. For now just one graft this spring. I have some Utah Giant wood coming in.