With over 3,000 apple trees in the orchard, pruning can be a daunting and time consuming task. To be exact, it takes the staff with the help of our “Tuesday Crew” volunteers three months to complete. This year has been particularly kind to the pruners, although we still have many weeks to go. The mild temperatures and little snow fall have made it easier to make our way through the orchard both because we are not trudging through snow and not wearing 5 layers of clothing to stay warm.
While some may think this a less than ideal time of year to spend hours and hours working outside, there are many good reasons why we prune in the winter. Maybe the most obvious reason is that we have more time available during this season when our days are not consumed by mowing, planting, harvesting, scouting the orchard, spraying, weeding and fertilizing. By the time January comes around, the trees have dropped their leaves allowing us to really see their structure and make the best cuts to promote growth where we want. When the trees are dormant there is a much lower risk of spreading disease, namely Fireblight, from tree to tree with pruning tools. But the most important reason we prune in the winter is because the trees are in a dormant state. Dormant pruning stimulates stronger, more vigorous growth. Basically, by pruning when the trees are dormant we are setting the trees up for a good start to the growing season where their stored energy can be utilized best on the branches we have selectively left to bear fruit.
In addition to pruning thousands of trees, we will also be removing approximately 100 of our older, less productive McIntosh trees this winter. In the Spring, we will replant with a new variety to our orchard called Ambrosia.