Friday, June 9, 2017

Training a tree using the 2-foot rule

    A lot of the trees I grafted last year are growing vigorously this year.  Unfortunately, most of the new growth seems to be sprouting from the very top of the tree. Left unchecked, I'll lose the central leader among a profusion of new shoots. In addition, the tree would become top heavy and eventually droop over under the weight of shoots and leaves. The photo at right shows one of many trees in my orchard that need pruning attention this Spring.
    The ladder in the photo is 6 feet tall which gives you a good idea how fast this tree has grown. The graft union is about 2 feet from the ground and is painted white. Last year (the same year I grafted the tree), I trained the tree to a single central leader. The new graft responded by putting on over 6 feet of new growth in a single growing season. This Spring, buds all along the central leader broke and new shoots began to develop.   However, growth has been most aggressive at the top of the tree.
    My first step in pruning this tree was to climb the ladder  and search out the very top of last year's growth (photo at left). I was amazed by how many new shoots had developed at the top of the tree. Not only did primary buds break and start growing into new shoots but many shoots had grown from secondary buds.  Its no wonder this tree was looking so top heavy.
    After parting the foliage, I identified one upward growing shoot to become my central leader. At that point, I removed all competing shoots at the top of the tree. Here's where I use the first part of the 2-foot rule. Measuring down from the apex of my new central leader I pruned off all lateral shoots within the top 2 feet.
    By just removing competing shoots using the 2-foot rule, I've thinned out the top of the tree and regained a strong central leader (photo at right). But I'm not done yet.
    To slow the growth of lateral branches and encourage diameter growth on both trunk and branches, I employed the second part of the 2-foot rule. All lateral branches were tip pruned to two feet in length.

  In tip pruning the laterals, I always make sure to prune to an outward growing bud (photo at left). When lateral branches begins to regrow in 3 to 4 weeks,  several buds will break along the length of each branch and the lower portion of the tree's canopy will begin to fill out.
   It took me less that 5 minutes to prune this tree into the proper shape. The before and after photos above really illustrate how a few simple pruning cuts made using the 2-foot rule can totally reshape a young pecan tree.
    For more detailed information on training young trees and the 2-foot rule click HERE to begin reading my six part series.