Looking for thoughts on pruning espalier apples going into third leaf

Even though we haven’t had much of a winter yet here in the Boston area, I’m looking forward to spring! Already planted leek and onion seeds in the basement…

I’ll probably prune my apple trees in mid march. Keeping up on the thread started by @tomIL on pruning his espaliers has been super informative. I’d like to post a couple pics of my trees and see if any of you have feedback on my approach for the coming season.

I feel like I had pretty good results last year, and will mostly continue in the same vein this year. So for dormant pruning I’ll head the leader back, even out side branches, and notch above missing or puny main side branches (also will attempt to graft on the side branches on the third rung of most trees). What I’m less sure about is how to treat existing growth off the side branches, particularly on the first rung near the leader.

During last season, I pinched off growth coming from the side branches at the third leaf above the base. Especially in the region near the leader on the bottom rung, the tree kept sending growth out those shoots again and again, with me pinching it back frequently. The short twigs resulting from this process got fatter. This is illustrated well by this Tydeman’s Late Orange, which is shaping up nicely though all the wood is rather small diameter still.

I’m still not confident in telling fruit buds from vegetative buds, but to me this tree looks like it might make some flowers and fruit this coming season, which will be cool.

But I’m not averse to delaying it’s first fruit in favor of long term better shape or health of the tree.

So my main uncertainty is whether I should remove entirely the little horn looking side growths around the leader on the first and second rungs. If I think along the lines of Alan’s rule for 1/3 diameter, I’d probably want to take them off. The other option would be to keep pinching them to keep them at three leaves in length.


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from my experience, if wanted to max out the viability and vigor of the entire length of the rung, i will remove them. When trees start quickening in spring, we’d notice that the tendency of trees/branches which have been toppled over or weighed down by gravity from previous vigorous growth(in this case, bent down artificially) is to develop vigorously at the buds nearest the bases, and not inclined to prioritize those that are too high up, or farthest from the trunks. This may explain why your specimen ‘insists’ on growing more vigorously there.

perhaps a survival reaction from a mechanical standpoint, since growth nearest the trunk is way more resistant to future bending.
additionally during spring, bud growth is contingent to the amounts of food stored from last year-- mostly in the roots. Since the tendency of trees(under bending stress) is to develop buds where they are closest to the main trunk, distal buds which are weighed down by mechanical stress may be partially abandoned, or totally abandoned, so by removing many of those closest to the main trunk, the finite supply of food from last year will be diverted favorably to the distal buds, and thus help keep the entire length ‘active’ and viable.

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Holly Gates your espalier looks great! The roundish bud are your flower buds; pointed buds are leaves on apples. :beetle:

I may be remembering wrong, but I recall reading that if you prune the near vertical shoots back to 2-3" long, then over 2 years they will become mostly fruiting spurs. No doubt more to it than that, but perhaps some of our experts can jump in with details.

Your espaliers look fantastic. Yours are a year or two ahead of mine, so I shall look forward to following your progress as they grow. Your trellis/supports look like they are really well put-together! Nice.