Apple Pruning & Orchard Care Cork

I provide orchard care to customers in county Cork and where feasible at other locations across the south of Ireland. Get in touch for professional & experienced apple pruning and orchard care. My services include orchard design, forest garden design, planting, grafting and mobile poultry foraging systems. I have worked in hundreds of orchards and gardens on thousands of different individual trees. Just like us, each tree has its own history, is at particular stage of life and has particular living conditions. I take an holistic approach and aim to restore the health of each individual tree.

Apple pruning Ireland
Permaculture pruning Cork Ireland
John Gately's apples
Beautiful Apples Cork Ireland
Naturally grown in west Cork

Beautiful Apples in West Cork

I love seeing orchards progress year on year and am especially pleased when they get to a natural equilibrium and condition where maintenance is minimised, requiring less labour and expense. 

I’ve worked for John (pictured) on his orchard in West Cork for the last number of years and was delighted when he sent me these pictures of the fruit of the labour.

Is Apple Pruning Necessary?

Apples on 2 year old wood Cork IrelandThe biological reproductive aim of your fruit trees can differ from your human centered aims of high yield, the taste you like and large, accessible fruit. Almost all apples we eat come from trees that have been grafted. This gives us the variety of apple we want on a tree whose size and disease resistance characteristics will suit the site it will be grown on, if the orchard is well designed. Grafting also however fundamentally upsets the natural growing pattern in the early stages of the life of the young tree.

For the above reasons it usually becomes necessary to prune for healthy productive trees. My general approach where possible is to intervene to re-establish the natural growing pattern of the tree. In this case however a little knowledge can be dangerous – your tree will usually be better off untouched than pruned without the appropriate tools and knowledge. With that warning, please read on for a little knowledge on the subject 🙂

Winter Pruning

In the winter the sap will have fallen and the tree stores its sugars in the roots. Pruning done then will not really rob the tree of its energy, and so increased vegetative or leafy growth can be expected during  the spring and summer after winter pruning, as a full tree’s worth of energy tries to express itself in the reduced tree size. Therefore I use winter pruning more to give structure and direction to younger growing trees and increase leafy growth in trees that are lacking vigour.

I winter prune apple, pear, medlar and cobnut trees generally from November to February. It’s a good time for disease removal as canker spores are less active. I winter prune on mature trees to a more limited extent and they may require subsequent summer pruning to re-balance the trees energy levels. The Irish Seedsavers Association run a great one day apple pruning course every winter at their site in County Clare, Ireland. I also run my own one day winter and summer pruning courses in West Cork.

permaculture pruning
Winter pruning in Connemara

Summer Pruning

Central leader summer pruning
This apple tree at my family home in Macroom County Cork was overly vigourous, bearing little fruit, but after two years of summer pruning it now flowers and fruits abundantly 🙂

In the summer however, some of the sap is up in the branches and leaves, so if we prune now we will rob the tree of some of its energy. This is very useful if the tree has too much leafy growth and too little fruiting wood or if a tree has outgrown its allocated area. Summer pruning  is useful if it is desirable to limit the trees size for any reason. Summer is an especially good time to remove the vertical leafy water shoots that can shade ripening fruit. You can thin out apples too now if you want bigger apples (from the ones remaining on the tree).

Summer pruning is generally more important for mature trees. Dead and diseased wood can be a little more obvious in the summer due to an absence of leaves, but removing this can be done in the winter also. The overall structure of a tree is easier to assess in the winter for the same reason. I carry out summer pruning on mature apple and pear trees and all prunus species trees which includes cherries & plums.

Adopting a natural central leader shape as shown opposite helps minimise the need for sophisticated and labour intensive summer pruning every year.

Apple Tree Grafting - Conserving Heritage Trees

Grafting demo IrelandEvery year I get requests to graft scion wood from old beloved family heirloom trees that may be near the of their life or may be on property that is about to be sold out of the family. I love seeing the passion people have for these trees and I have successfully grafted every such project undertaken thus far. Get in touch if you want to pass on your old tree to the next generation.

In addition to the pruning service I can graft new varieties of fruit onto an existing tree in your orchard.  This is to improve pollination chances if there is limited space for new trees or just to give more variety of fruit. Often people have only one or two apple or pear trees in their garden and these will benefit from more pollinating partners of a different variety. Here is a little review of The Grafter’s Handbook which is the classic text on grafting.

Apple Tree Grafting - Family trees

Grafted Apple tree Ireland
A newly grafted "family" apple tree
Permaculture courses Ireland in the garden Cork
Graftling Nursery

Pear Tree Grafting

Quince is used as the normal pear root-stock, but interestingly hawthorn and rowan are also viable root-stocks.

I have trialed pear on rowan root-stock in the nursery for the last two years with 80 – 90 percent success rate. In theory rowan will be a very suitable root-stock for wetter ground where pears cannot normally be grown.

I chose rowan over hawthorn as an alternative root-stock to quince  as it doesn’t have thorns and so is easier to handle and graft. In the mature tree grafting that I have done so far, pear to rowan also seems more compatible than pear to hawthorn.

Stay tuned for updates on how these trees progress! We’ll be watching for growth, size, disease resistance, long-term graft compatibility and fruiting.

pear grafting cork
Pear on rowan

Medlar Grafting

Medlar is an interesting fruit that was popular in medieval times but has has since fallen out of fashion. It is a promising permaculture fruit for Ireland generally with few disease problems. I graft it onto hawthorn and we have a limited stock available at the nursery at home.

Forest Garden Design Ireland

Forest gardening has become increasingly popular and for many people is a symbol of permaculture. There are many variables and design considerations however and designs should always site specific. Even within Ireland there will be huge variations in what will work depending on local conditions. These variables include annual rainfall, sunshine, wind exposure, coastal exposure, soil type, depth and pH. Human influences, neighbouring plant species, pollinator availability and local pest populations will also have an impact.

Climate and Micro-climate in Ireland

There are eye-opening climate charts available on Met Éireann’s old website that show the huge climatic differences that occur across the island of Ireland.

Even within County Cork there are huge variations, for example Cork city gets less than half the annual rainfall of parts of West Cork.

There are more surprises in store – statistically April is the driest month in Ireland – remember all the great weather at Easter? Furthermore many areas in Ireland receive as much or more sunshine in spring months of March, April and May than in the summer months of June July and August! Okay maybe that isn’t a surprise.

Full climate & micro-climate post coming here soon.

Lough Neagh - both the wettest and driest place in Ireland : ) Image from Met Éireann