The following article comes directly from The Biodynamic Orchard Book. And although the book primarily pertains to advice for cultivating trees, berries, and shrubs using biodynamic methods, it also contains some excellent general purpose information for tree care and maintenance which we often refer to ourselves and to our readers as a reference. And remember – next time you’re looking to have your transplanting or pruning care needs taken care of, we hope that you keep us in mind for the job! In the meantime, enjoy this useful information that you can consider for your landscape…
When transplanting, we’ve found it good practice to dip the root just before setting it into the new planting hole, in a liquid paste from from clay (80%) and cow manure (20%), so that the root is just covered. To this paste can be added preparation 500, which stimulates root growth. Line the planting hole with very well rotted earthy compost, mixed with the native soil and also sprayed with preparation 500. The soil should be well firmed in around the root.
If the young tree is getting a supporting pole, it is wise to tie it to the pole with a rubber band cut, for instance, from an old tire tube, in such a way that the tree is not “hung”. Make a figure eight loop with the rubber band and place the tree in one loop and the pole into the other. The loop around the tree should be higher than the pole loop so that there is a certain “give” to allow for settling. Nonetheless, it will in all likelihood settle a little. Ensure the tree doesn’t rub against the pole.
A frequently observed error is that the soil surface in the hole, close to the trunk, is lower than the general ground level. This causes water to collect, and bark and root may rot as a consequence.
Another frequent error is that the grafting scar is buried in the soil because the tree has been planted or has settled too deep. It’s useful here to discuss the difference between root bark and trunk bark. Trunk bark, which starts normally just below the grafting scar (about 1-2 in, 2-5cm), needs air and will peel off when covered by soil, exposing the wood and causing damage to the cambium. Transplants must therefore be properly set. You can always add some earth to cover exposed root bark, but too deep a setting (in a hole) cannot be corrected by filling up with earth because then the trunk bark will be covered.
When pruning, a few principal considerations should be kept in mind. The pruning of a young tree shapes it for lifetime. If done correctly during the first two or three years, little in the way of corrective measures will be needed afterwards. The purpose of this pruning is to stimulate growth, to form a balance between vegetative growth (shoots) and fruit growth, to allow the light to enter to all parts of the branches. Branches should not be allowed to grow criss-cross and shade each other. A pyramid-shaped pattern which opens upward and outward definitely has advantages. Cross-growing twigs and branches should be removed.
New growth of one season should be cut to about seven buds from the base of the growth. It is most important that the last, outermost bud is underneath the shoot and not sideways or on top, in case the new branch grows sideward into other branches, or upward into the crown, taking away the light from other branches.
Water shoots or suckers coming out from the root must be removed, otherwise they will drain away from needed sap pressure. Vertical water shoots in the crown always indicate that the tree has not been properly pruned and that there is no balance between vegetative and food growth, and no balance in sap pressure (turgor) between the root and crown. An undernourished tree also will grow water shoots in order to increase the foliage surface area. At the same time, the foliage of these shoots will take away light form the rest of the crown. Some of the best advice we ever heard came form a very experienced and successful orchardist: “Let the tree tell you how it wants to grow and what it needs; always consider the balance, and the need for light”. Anyone who doesn’t understand this should not attempt to prune. Sometimes we even find commercial tree surgeons who do not understand the growth pattern of a tree; they are tree butchers rather than surgeons.
Old trees may be rejuvenated by a severe cutting back. This is successful when done with understanding; if, the year thereafter, lots of suckers develop, you’ll know that it was not properly done. Old, dead wood should be removed at once, in case the wind breaks off the branches and carries some good ones away too. Apples and pears are usually pruned towards the end of the winter, when frost can do no more serious damage, but definitely before the sap begins to rise. Peaches do well also with June pruning. This, however, is a matter of experience.
In any case, make sure the pruning-shears or knife are sharp to avoid squeezing. There should be a clean cut face and no bark should be squeezed or torn. The cut should be as close as possible to the bud or eye, because then it will heal best. Stumps will simply die off and could lead to bark peeling and dead wood which offers a welcome nesting place for pests. The cut should be as close as possible to the vertical plane; horizontal cuts will show a “face” exposed to the weather and lead also to bark peeling and injury. Never forget that any injury to the bark will expose the cambium and cause serious disturbance.