The Most Sunlight Efficient Way to Train Your Trees?

Got a good one for you guys…

If I wanted maximum sunlight hitting a tree of mine… how would I do it? (Assuming my tree is completely problem free).

  1. Make sure it is never in the shade :smiley:
  2. Look up the fruit tree variety in R.S. Martin’s book and shape it accordingly.

The link below explains a method of opening up a peach tree for sunlight and air circulation. Dr Powell has other videos that pertain to other types of fruit pruning.

Horizontally wired trained to a trellis surrounded by mirrors…

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I forgot to mention! This is assuming you’ve got a problem free tree!

Horizontal branches give the most sun exposure? That would make a lot of sense.


Thanks for the video, but I’m aware of vase shapes and open centers. I’m more interesting in something that won’t have a shaded section of the tree like the bottom 30ish percent of that peach tree!

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There’s a lot reasons for various trees regarding fruiting habits which makes a horizontal trellis not necessarily practical, and there’s also the idea that once you reach sufficient light penetration you sacrifice yield by favoring more light over more fruits. That being said, the sun is a large bright directional light source, so maximum is always a perpendicular plane. Your other alternative for true, but non practical maximum, is a single spindle with no branches completely surrounded by mirrors. Google solar tower farms for examples…

It’s more of a direct answer to your question, but maybe not all that helpful :relaxed:

The university gurus of commercial apple growing have studied this extensively and even for well sun exposed apples the most efficient from is the modified central leader. This allows the maximum harvest of fruit producing light in any given space according to many studies on the subject. Even peaches would be more efficient under this system if they didn’t grow so fast and die out in shaded areas of the tree in between pruning the excessive growth.

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I think I just found out the name for what I’m asking about… What about horizontal branching on a modified central leader? Is that a thing?

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I don’t know if anyone shoots for exactly 90 degrees- around 70 tends to get horizontal and even below that with the weight of heavy crops. The French axe method trains branches to a droop.

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Do you think it’s more sunlight efficient on the foliage than just a modified central leader? Isn’t a more horizontal branch in general weaker too?

I wouldn’t say a horizontal branch is weaker, actually it is a more vertical co-dominant branch that tends to be weak. Horizontal branches tend to be less vigorous and the trunk can keep it wrapped with supportive tissue because of the trunks dominance in vigor, especially if it is at least double the diameter of the branch at point of branch attachment.

The problem is that a horizontal branch is likely to bend below horizontal, which, unless you are going for a weep, may not be desired. It tends to create lots of rank growth at the point the branch bends downward, but that can be overcome with summer pruning and good cropping. One reason it is more common to train at between 65 and 70 degrees is to reduce water sprout growth- although it occurs to some degree on any tree pruned open enough to bring about optimum quality fruit.


Thanks alan. That helps a lot.

Also, make sure you understand the implications of @alan’s previous post, which shows the flaw in my original answer which was tongue-in-cheek. After all, what I described is a technically correct but unhelpful answer to your question, because what I told you is accurately the answer to maximum sunlight, but maximum sunlight is not an acceptable growing condition. Maximum sunlight is eventually a solar oven.
Some things can be grown like that, in particular grapes. You certainly don’t need maximum, the goal is efficiency, which in this case is the most wood at SUFFICIENT light. For commercial growers, there’s a time and maintenance component as well.

It helps to look at your system as multi-variable. A max sun posture/pruning may also mean max vulnerability to both wind damage (pendulous limbs holding fruit) and bird damage (since open systems are difficult to net). These may not be a problem where you are but good to take into consideration.

Ugh, don’t start me on netting. This is the year where Alfred Hitchcock’s version of bird menace seems relatively benign. And I do end up cutting off fruit laden branches to keep everything under a 30 square’ net.

Some of the trees I manage have a metal squirrel and coon baffle on the trunk with a net over the scaffolds (secured to the trunk above the baffle) and a couple of yellow jacket traps within. Too much work. Last year none of these pests were an issue at a single site I managed.

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This year there was 80% damage of tomatoes by birds. The remaining 20% where saved by netting them. Usually it is 0% bird damage. Even ziplock bags and polyethylene bags on plums and pluots were pecked through and most of them destroyed. Next year I’m going to grow some plums using @fruitnut spindle technique for good light exposure and easy netting.

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Wouldn’t that be an espalier? I suppose if you want to use all the sun, you could make a fruiting ceiling.

It took me a few minutes of searching, but I managed to locate a Gardenweb post from a few years ago which has an example (with Asian pears in Korea).

Birds seem pretty ravenous this year. I lost all my sour cherries and almost all my mulberries to them. I also lost or nearly lost several other crops in their entirety (all Asian pears, strawberries (I had <5 berries), all but a handful of plums, etc), but I think that was mostly land-based critters. I’m not sure what is taking out the grapes, but I think birds are a big part of it. They seem to prefer the seedless ones…

One of the growers at the farmer’s market said that they lost a lot of Asian pears to the crows this year. Mine never got ripe enough for the crows, as the trees were stripped bare around the beginning of August.

I suppose it would technically be espaliar in a reflective bowl the way I said it.