Flower buds vs Growth Buds

I have several apples on B118 that are 4 to 8 years old, flowering heavily, but still rather small (less than 10 ft tall, only 6 feet across). I’m willing to wait another couple of years for fruit, but I’d like to encourage more growth. I know enough to keep removing all the fruit so that all the energy goes into making more tree, but these have very few (or no) leaf or growth buds anywhere near their tips (final 18 inches).

If I remove the fruit, will the tip (or spur) grow out as a shoot (or branch), or do I have to prune all the way back to where I see a tiny bud?

Maybe I’m missing something, but I see no reason not to fully crop those trees.

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My concern, or understanding, is that in their early year, trees can either put energy into fruit, or into growth, but not both. Additionally, I’ve read that once a tree starts bearing, it may never get much larger. Since these tree should get to be 12 - 15 ft tall and across, I would like to do whatever I can to encourage that.

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How many of your B118 trees are 8 years old? After 8 years and they only have grown to 10 ft! I wonder how much more they will grow.

By floweing profusely, those trees are telling you are are ready to bear fruit. Also, many trees will continue to grow after carrying fruit load. My Gold Rush on M 7 ( should be several ft shorter tree than your B118) has aleady carried full crop and grown over 10 ft.

I wonder how much your soil condition has contributed to the slow growth of your trees. Where did you get your B 118 from?

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I let my trees on b118 fruit as much (or little) as they want in year 6. It is my understanding that trees on b118 should be a fair bit taller than 12-15’ at full maturity.

This is a small orchard, the trees that I’m concerned about number four. They have had rather eventful lives, mostly from my ignorance. Gravenstein and Liberty are the oldest, and along with Hewes Virginia Crab, all suffered from me cultivating too deeply a year after they were planted. (Along with Roxbury Russet and Golden Russet) they were knocked over in a windstorm and then staked improperly when replanted. (Roxbury and Golden I finally gave up on and replanted - too early to tell on what their fates will be.) These came from Greenmantle / Ram Fishman as benchgrafts which I grew 2 years in my vegetable garden before moving to the orchard location.

A fourth tree, the youngest is an unknown early russet from an fine old (large - 20 ft, 12 inches or more in diameter) tree that I grafted myself. It is doing the best of all, but looks like it want to fruit pretty heavily too. Rootstock was from Cummins; I did eight, grew them in my garden 1 season (5 made it - first time lucky?), then selected the strongest.

Soil is crummy, there is no way around it. Sand and grit, not quite clay, but not freeflowing sand. pH is between 7.0 and 7.5 where not fixed; N low, P high, K off the charts. (The whole town was either burned for potash in the 16th century or turned into charcoal to fire brick kilns in the late 19th.) As I plant, I dig a BIG hole, mix in about 1:1 with compost or whatever good soil I can scrape off the top. Treat yearly with Hollytone (pH is down to about 7 and I’ll continue until I get to about 6.5), drip irrigation. I’ve clear enough of the cedars (Virginia juniper) so that I think I’m starting to get a handle on rust. Did I mention deer? At least the winters are mild…

A pH anywhere between 5.5 and 7.5 shouldn’t stunt apple trees. Not quite clay but not free flowing sand doesn’t provide much definition either.

I get vigorous growth in textures that vary from almost sandbox type sand to clay loam and if you are only growing a few trees it’s not that hard to accommodate vigorous growth as long as the soil isn’t excessively compacted and ample free nitrogen is available, as long as their isn’t some really strong deficit of an essential nutrient (including water and oxygen).

That’s the first thing I’d look at- what’s really wrong with your soil and what do you mean by big… deep, or wide, or both. Usually wide is what you are needing if soil is at all compacted. Sometimes with hardpan, a severely compacted layer about 18 inches down, digging deep can help, but you have to make sure you really pack it down again below the root ball so the tree doesn’t sink after planting.

As far as your pruning question, well, if your tree runted out because of root pruning or just poor soil conditions it can be helpful to remove whole spurs instead of just flower buds, because spurs will always be an energy sink compared to vegetative shoots. If they aren’t sending energy to developing fruit they are to developing flower buds for next year’s fruit.

Hey Alan, Thanks! That is a lot of good info.

I’m starting to think this might be a nitrogen issue. I’ve gone very easy on that since these are for cider and I don’t want excess N in my cider (so that I can control fermentation), but maybe I need to worry more about growth now, and hope the N eventually washes out by the time I get to production. As to hole size, I had a lot of energy and hope at that point, so I dug at least 30 inches down (maybe more, I recall using a bucket to lift stuff out while I was standing in the hole) and easily 3 ft wide. I certainly dug through any clay clumps to the point that water would drain, so I don’t think I’m rootbound. I typically saved any of the duff from the top couple of inches and pitched that to the bottom of the hole and mixed with compost so that the trees would have something to work down into.

As to pruning, yours is the clearest answer that I’ve gotten to my original question: fruit spurs do NOT become growth points if the flower is removed. I guess I’m going to have to prune back to the point where I see a leaf bud - so be it.


First get the trees to the size where they are useful than worry about cutting back nitrogen. I learned the hard way that even compost is inadequate if rapid establishment is your goal. As a nurseryman, the sooner I can get trees to the size I sell them the better and vigorous trees are generally less likely to be killed by pests, and I mean all manner of pests.

Put it this way- the human population on this planet has tripled since we started pulling nitrogen from the atmosphere and using it extensively in our agriculture. There are other contributing factors, of course, but this one was a major game-changer. In regions without much summer rain, it isn’t a big issue.

The biggest factor in fruit quality is water- too much and brix declines. Mainly if there’s too much water in the last 6 weeks of the ripening process. That’s one reason to not go overboard in mulching trees in the humid region, especially after trees are established. A thick layer of humus carries a lot of available water.

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“learned that the hard way” - seems to be how I do it too! I just wish I had another 20 years to redo many things from scratch - certainly I could find a whole new set of mistakes to make, but hopefully I wouldn’t make the same ones again.

What are you using for a fertilizer?

As to water and brix, that part I know at least already. The same thing applies to tomatoes also, I’m told. The plant produces x amount of sugars and flavors, all overwatering does it result in more water to remove when you’re making sauce.

Short term (during the growth period) I’ve got driplines, but my plan after things got established was to reserve that for years when we have droughts.

For my orchard trees I use my own urine, for my nursery trees, I use a 90 day coated urea product that I buy in bulk. I don’t drink enough beer to provide for them as I do my orchard trees.

I wish I had that much space; four neighboring houses look out at my orchard. I guess I’ll be finding a slow release urea.

Thanks so much for you thoughts!

I have a plastic gas container I piss in. I usually apply it to what needs it before rain or I water it in so the smell doesn’t linger. It may not be good for established apples because the high K content causes corking and rot in some varieties. So mostly I use it on my stone fruit, figs and to get my vegetables off to a fast start.

I use a timed release for convenience, but when establishing trees you can always fertigate with quick release into summer.