Monday, August 29, 2016

Late summer graft maintenance

    In late summer, a new graft always seems to want to develop a bushy top (photo at right). This is especially a problem when fairly large trees are top-worked with a bark graft and the scion grows vigorously. The tree in the photo was grafted about 5 feet above the ground on a stump around 2 inches in diameter. In a single growing season, the scion has developed over 5 feet of new growth. Its no wonder I needed an 8 foot tall orchard ladder to get a good look at the top of this tree.

    Perched up on the ladder, I photographed the bushy top of this tree. As I suspected, numerous stalked buds had grown into lateral branches and the tree was rapidly losing its central leader (photo at left).
    Removing stalked buds has always been a priority of mine when training a young graft, so how I let this tree get so far out of control?  The answer is simple. The tree got too tall too fast for me. I usually do all my young tree training from the ground, walking from tree to tree, pinching off stalked buds when needed. When a ladder becomes part of that equation, tree training doesn't seem to happen as often as it should. 
   The primary reason I'm so insistent on removing stalked buds can be seen in the photo at right. Notice the deep crevice the has developed between the main stem and the branch that grew from a stalked bud. Left to grow, this crevice will only become more pronounced leaving the branch prone to snapping off at the point of attachment.
   Since I was up on the ladder, I removed all weakly attached branches with a pair of clippers.

     Lower down the stem of the same tree, I could easily spot where I removed stalked buds earlier in the summer.  The photo at left shows a short stub of a stalked bud that I had pinched out with my fingers. Below the stub is a plump secondary bud that will probably stay dormant until next spring when it will burst forth to create a firmly attached lateral shoot.

   In the mean time, pruning out all the branches that grew from stalked buds helped to re-establish my central leader (photo at right). Look carefully at the main stem and you will see all the pruning cuts left behind after removing poorly attached lateral branches.

   The photos above show the tree before (left) and after (right) pruning. Stepping back away from the tree I could easily see that I was successful in removing the bushy top and reclaiming a single central leader.