The cold days of January are upon us, though these have been more stormy than icy. At this time of year the preference is to hunker down away from the weather and get in front of a nice fire. Yet it is right now that is the best time to do the winter pruning of the orchard. Yes, the weather means that it takes a hardy soul to get out there but it is worth it.
Orchards in particular need this winter pruning. This is not only to tidy up the trees themselves while they are bare and easier to manage, but also to help set them up for the year ahead. Winter pruning of fruit trees is crucial to keep them healthy and productive. So doing this while they are at their most dormant - after the leaves have fallen and before the buds are opening - is the prime time. Brave the weather, wrap up warm and get out there.
It can seem harsh. A bushy apple tree can appear to have been brutally hacked apart when actually the tree will ultimately prosper and bear plenty of healthy fruit. A healthy orchard will have the signs - well tendered and neat trees. Meanwhile others will grow out of control and be harder to maintain. Trees that have been left will grow far too large and the nutrients will be drawn away from the fruit and into the excess branches and foliage. There is also the risk that the fruit will be too small, poorly developed or even too high up to collect.
Below is an example from the garden - a Bramley that was threatening to push into the fence and was also getting a little tall, The careful planning of how the tree needs to develop over time and the strategic pruning may look a bit harsh but over time the tree will do well and be easier to maintain. So don't be afraid of the pruners, it will do the trees good.
At Wych's Brew we had 30 fruit trees to prune though some are quite small and barely needed any attention. Others had to have more severe cut backs. Hopefully this will lead to a wonderfully fruitful autumn.