Share your strategies to hasten fruiting

I have been scouring this forum and the internet for strategies to get my trees to fruit faster and I thought it would be great if we had a post that summarized all of the techniques that are scattered throughout our collective minds. Here are some of my notes, and as they say, the best way to get the right answer on the internet is to give the wrong answer, so here it goes :grin::

1. Use a dwarfing and precocious rootstock.

2. Bend branches horizontal or more to encourage fruiting.

3. Shorten the juvenile stage of the tree by allowing the central leader to grow uninterrupted until the number of nodes are reached to reach the adult reproductive phase (122 internodes for applies)
https://www.yvapplebreeders.com/information/shortening-the-juvenile-phase/

The long juvenile stage of apple seedlings, during which they will not flower, is the main cause of the extended generation times in apple breeding. Field-grown apple seedlings rarely flower before they are three years old and often not until they are aged eight years or more.

When growing seedlings the aim is to encourage them to pass through the juvenile phase of development as quickly as possible, and then to flower.

Zimmerman (1973) observed that the lowest bud on a seedling indicating the transition point from the juvenile to the adult phase occured at a height of 1.8 - 2 m on crab apple seedlings grown under greenhouse conditions. However, stage of development is better measured in terms of the number of nodes produced (i.e. points on the stem from which a leaf grows) than by height of the seedling. Accordingly (e.g. Hanke et al. 2007), the transition points from juvenile to adult vegetative and from adult vegetative to adult reproductive phases occur, respectively, around nodes 77 and 122 on the leading shoot.

Most of the traditional techniques for inducing and increasing flowering are associated with retarding vegetative growth of the shoot. Treatment of apple seedlings in this way is counter-productive until the adult vegetative phase is reached. During the actual juvenile phase the aim is to reach around 77 nodes on the leading shoot as quickly as possible, thereby completing this phase. The techniques listed below for reducing the time to flowering are compiled from Janick et al. (1996) and Hanke et al. (2007).

Actions effective during the juvenile phase:

  • Selection and propagation of naturally occurring early flowering genotypes or mutants.

  • Rapid growth of seedlings from germination to transition to the ‘adult reproductive phase’ at 122 nodes.

  • Exposure of seedlings to a longer growing season (increases growth).

  • Treatments increasing apical dominance of the leading shoot (increases growth).

  • Actions effective during and/or after the adult vegetative phase:

  • Treatments that reduce apical dominance in the shoot can promote flower formation.

  • Inhibition of vegetative growth by trunk ringing, scoring, bark inversion, root pruning, horizontal shoot orientation, and shoot bending.

  • Defoliation.

  • Application of certain plant growth regulators/hormones.

  • Grafting seedling scions onto dwarfing rootstocks.

4. Notching,use hacksaw or pruning knife or shears to cut through bark and cambium above bud which you want to turn into a branch or bud /reduce apical dominance/encourage growth or below a branch to encourage better fruiting.

http://www.umassfruitnotes.com/v75n3/a3.pdf

Heading [the leader] and notching resulted in greater total 10 Fruit Notes, Volume 75, Summer, 2010 shoot length than the control. Only notching increased the number of shoots, and only heading [the leader] resulted in fewer spurs (NJ only). BA application increased total shoot length and number. In the year after treatment, heading [the leader] resulted in more fruit than the control but did not differ from notching. This result is counter-intuitive. Overall, among the mechanical treatments, notching was the best treatment to improve branching and BA application resulted in the greatest number and length of shoots compared to no BA application. A combination of notching and BA application, or BA application alone (single or possibly multiple applications) may be the best options for improving branching in poorly branched trees.

Other Strategies
https://www.houzz.com/discussions/1506899/high-intensity-pear-orchard

1.) Really tight densities are being used:

a.) I thought that the 2.5’ spacing Scott suggested was tight, but these guys are going even tighter at 1-2.5’. Super Spindle spacing seems to be in the 1-2’ range (page 39 in the link from #2).

b.) The super spindle planting seems the most productive (in terms of total pounds), but it seems to reduce fruits size to a noticeable degree (over medium density plantings of 4-5’).

c.) There is even a double-row spaced at 12’ x 4’ x 2.5’ (last two rows in Table 2 on the last page). This article also has a nice list of differences between apple and pear growth habits.

2.) There are some pretty hardcore methods which growers are using to keep the trees growth down in such tight plantings. This page uses flash, but it has a great quantity of info- see page 26 for details:

a.) Branch bending- the one item in this list I’m comfortable with…

b.) Breaking branches- after harvest (before the energy has been transferred to the roots) snapping off upright growth with bad ratios/angles. This increases light penetration and causes the tree to spend additional energy to heal the wound, than if it was just cut (ouch…).

c.) Stem incisions- using a chain saw to cut 1/4 to 1/2 of the trunk in multiple locations (spaced at least 30cm apart) to disrupt sap flow.

d.) Root pruning- cutting both the small and large roots. Another article mentioned that generally one side of the tree’s roots is pruned at a time and it is not generally done in concert with stem incisions (but incisions or root pruning can be done with branch breaking).

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I have my doubts about the 77/122 nodes thing.

If seen tree’s with way less, full of flowers. And seedling apples here, usualy don’t fruit till 7+ years old. And thay have way more than 122 nodes at that point.

There is a lot of really good technique’s discribed in the rest of the article though! well done!

Cytokine/Auxine/Sugar
You could also look into the cytokine / auxine balance and how those affect root/shoot growth. And knowing if the tree is producing lots of sugars. But has little “sinks” (fruits/shoots) to put those sugars in, it will make more flowering or mixed buds. End of summer is actually really inportant for flower bud development and thus fruitfulnes for next year.

Summer (lorette) pruning
I would also add summer pruning or lorette pruning. (look up an good espalier book, and you have chapters and chapters on how to promote fruiting wood)

Framework is more inportant then early fruiting long term!
I however would want to point out.

I don’t think that wanting fruit as fast as possible is a good long term idea.
Id think first about the framework of your tree. And once thats sufficient fruit will normaly follow automaticly! Or at that point id summer prune.

Id much rather have a tree with a good framework, thats easy to pick and maintain. Doesen’t have branches brake under fruitweight or storms. Isen’t to tall and fills the allotted space nicly.

Than somthing that gives me fruits 1 year earlier, but trouble the years afterwards.

Good fruits happen to those who are patient :stuck_out_tongue:

PS/edit. You could also bypass most of this. By grafting on a mature tree. Wil give you fruits in 1 to 2 years most of the time. (especialy with summer pruning)
However your taking more virus risk.

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Regarding my strategies to hasten fruiting: I have limited experience, but I have used the tying down of limbs. (Horizontal espalier cordons are an example). With non espalier apples, I use string and pegs in the ground. I tie the string to clothepins. However it seems that maybe this shouldn’t be done too much for the first 4-5 years in order to get maximum heighth and internodes per the article you posted. But… by then…it would be maybe too late to tie the hardened branches down. So perhaps one has to weigh limb angle and distancing placement against fruiting precocity? I have also used summer pruning of lateral and vertical shoots to the three basal leaves to induce fruit buds. This seems to have worked with my pear tree shoots last summer. It seems that I have quite a number of fruiting buds on last years shoots. I’ll find out in a month or so, if I get flowers on 2nd year growth. This pear is on a non-conventional lateral espalier cordon.

In my experience early fruit is of poor quality compared to fruit from a mature healthy tree. I have no desire to force a tree to fruit as the fruit most of the time sucks and I have thrown it out. Amazing the difference in quality of the fruit from a healthy tree too. It is so important to plant your tree correctly and in well draining soil. You can taste the difference in the fruit. This is so much more important to me than forcing a tree to produce when it’s not ready.
A few times I thought a tree was hyped on how good the fruit was when the fruit I produced was not very good. The problem was the trees were in poor health from being planted too deep or in poor draining soil. Compared to a tree planted with the root flares above ground in mounded well draining soil. Comparing the fruits from the same cultivar the flavor difference is day and night
I guess it depends on your goals. Mine is to produce the best quality fruit possible. Not how soon I produce that fruit. I agree with getting the structure right too. My goal is to produce the highest quality fruit I can not to get fruit as soon as possible. If you want crappy fruit early go to the grocery store. You can have your fruit right now why grow it?
I do agree some trees need help to fruit properly. Nothing wrong with that. Like setting crotch angles correctly will not only give you better fruit but a tree that will be healthier and live longer. Think long term. If you don’t thin fruit properly you are weakening your tree so much it may not produce any fruit the next year. It needs a year to recover from the stress of bearing that much fruit. So thinning not only produces bigger fruit with more sugar it keeps your tree healthy. A fruit tree can only produce so much sugar from its leaves. Do you want that same amount of sugar in 500 fruits or the same amount of sugar in 100 fruits. Talk about a day and night difference.

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Thanks for chiming in Oscar! I looked up Summer (Lorette) Pruning and it makes a lot of sense to me. My journey started a year ago when I read How to Grown a Little Fruit Tree by Ann Ralph and watched a lot of Dave Wilson Nursery’s Backyard Orchard series on YouTube and both dramatically changed how I thought trees can be managed so I am definitely on the bandwagon of small framework trees.

Here’s a few notes from my google search regarding the Lorette System:

Summary of the Lorette System

  1. Don’t prune in the winter, except for removing main branches from the framework of the tree.
  2. Don’t prune until around the middle of June. At this point in the season, leaves and new shoots are almost fully mature.
  3. Only remove branches when they are pencil thickness. Makes cuts almost to the base of the branch. Fruit spurs will form as a result where each year fruit will form.
  4. Every 30 days of the growing season after the first pruning, remove any branches that are now large enough.
    In cool climates, a Modified Lorette System is practiced: one pruning in mid-August to the third leaf of all pencil diameter branches, followed in winter by removal of those same branches down to almost the base where fruit spurs are forming.

How the system works and benefits of the system
New lateral shoots are allowed to almost mature, and this causes buds to convert to fruit spurs, instead of converting to to new shoots (vegetative growth). This conversion of buds to fruit spurs occurs in sequence along the length of a branch, with the first to convert being at the base of the branch. With winter-only pruning, fruit tends to form only at the end of branches, and the fruit is sparse. With the Lorette system, fruiting takes place at the base of branches giving the fruit better support via the main branches. Fruiting also happens earlier in the tree’s life compared to winter-only pruning. Another advantage of the Lorette method is to open up the tree, giving fruit exposure to the sun (better color).

From the Natural England TIN:

Pruning should be delayed until the basal third of new shoots has turned woody and growth is slowing down (to reduce the amount of frost-vulnerable secondary growth). This is usually from around mid-July (pears are normally ready for pruning a couple of weeks earlier than apples).

With the modified Lorette system only maiden laterals and sub-laterals (ie the current year’s growth) that are longer than 20cm are pruned. They are cut back to the third leaf from the base
(not counting the leaf clusters at the base). These short stems will then become the spurs where the fruit is produced.

Weaker laterals are left as they may have fruit buds at their tips. Over-vigorous, upright laterals may be removed completely, or left to draw up vigor and help reduce the amount of
secondary growth formed and then removed in the winter.

Side shoots on more mature laterals should be cut back to one leaf above the basal cluster. Any secondary growth produced should be cut back to one or two buds in September, or over the winter.

From the RHS Rosemoor post:

[Modified Lorette] Pruning does not start until the basal third of a new shoot has turned woody, and growth is slowing down. Timing will depend largely on the weather and which part of the country you are in. Prune too early and the basal buds will break and produce soft growth for the winter. Prune too late and the basal bud will not turn into a fruit bud before the winter sets in.

Once the permanent framework is established pruning cuts are made to one bud from the main stem, if it is the first time the shoot is pruned then cut to 3 buds to help form the spur system.

Pruning is best spread over a 2-3 week period and to further discourage secondary growth, a few vigorous shoots may be left unpruned to act as ‘sap drawers’. Shorten sap-drawers in the spring.

It is recommended that shoots shorter than 9 in should be left unpruned as these often have a flower bud at the top. I find over time that these short shoots tend to produce vegetative side shoots that gradually force the tree further away from their supports, so I prune some of these out.

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Wondering how well is this working for folks

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Just my experience. I put in 2 pears, 5 years ago this spring. I made the choice to attempt festooning them since I have limited space and want to keep them at a pick-from-the-ground form.
There were a few branches lost, but I’m glad I didn’t wait since it’s clear doing them later would have been unlikely to work.
Even with a very hard, late frost, we had quite a good haul from them this year. Probably around a half bushel total. I think it would have been better, but it’s been discovered that the Lucious is not a reliable pollinator and the Asian I added to make them a polycule was only in its second year.

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Viridian, thanks for sharing. With the festooning, what was the first year of fruiting for your pears? Which varieties are you growing?

They are a Luscious and Summercrisp. Bought from Whiffletree.
First year: 1 on L
Second year: 5 on L, 1 on S
Third year: 9 on L, ( they were stolen, except for 1)
Fewer than 5 on S
Last year: 15-20 on S, it’s the earlier ripening.
The box on the right is what came off the L.

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Wow, Luscious really took off in year 4!!! Thanks Viridian!

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