Discovery apple trees and pruning made easy

Whenever people ask what variety of apple tree they should plant in their garden I always say a Discovery. I may be biased but it’s because I’ve got one in the allotment, and so far it has treated me well. Each year it produces delicious, rosy pink apples which are both sweet and sharp, and rarely available in the shops – which in itself, is a good reason to grow them.

Discovery apples ripen in late August, and another selling point is that they are fairly resistant to disease. You don’t tend to find them in the supermarket because they have a short shelf life. That means you can eat them straight from the tree or keep them in the fridge if you want them to last a little longer. Some suppliers describe them as having a ‘hint of strawberry’ taste, which certainly adds to the summery appeal!

When November arrives, so does the winter pruning season, and it’s time for me to prune my Discovery. Here’s an easy five step guide from the RHS to pruning your apple and pear trees which will give some straightforward tips to even the most novice of gardeners.

  1. How much do I prune off? Aim to take between 10-20% of the overall canopy off in any one winter. Work around the tree evenly and keep an eye on your pruning pile – if it’s looking a little big, STOP – you can always go back next year and do some more.
  2. What am I trying to achieve? Your aim is to take out a bit of old wood each winter, to stimulate new. But the majority of the fruiting wood should be quite young – one to four years old, which is the wood that fruits best. Also aim to create an open centre to your tree. This allows more light into the canopy to ripen the shoots and fruit. Improved air movement discourages diseases.
  3. Avoid a ‘hair cut’ Try to stagger your pruning cuts throughout the canopy. That way, the regrowth too will be even. If you only prune the top branches, this is where all the new growth will shoot up from, giving you a thicket of young, non-fruiting shoots that you’ll just end up pruning off every year in exasperation.  Think of it as a thinning out process, selectively removing or shortening a branch here and there as you move around the tree.  Focus on areas where the growth seems more crowded.
  4. Avoid very big and very little pruning cuts Even with very old trees, resist the temptation to prune off large limbs. These are at risk of decay. As a general rule, think twice before cutting into branches that are more than 10-12cm (4-5in) in diameter. If you must prune that branch, trace it away from the tree to see if there is a narrower section, perhaps where it forks and prune there instead. Avoid leaving a stub. Equally, this is not about fiddly pruning. Most of your pruning cuts will be to branches that are between 1-5cm (½-2in). A fully pruned tree might only need 10-20 pruning cuts in total.
  5. Should I use a pruning paint? No, there is no need to use a pruning paint for cuts on apple or pear trees. However, these are sometimes used on plums, cherries and other members of the Prunus family as these are particularly susceptible to disease through pruning cuts.

I hope this helps! It’s my top job for the allotment this weekend, so fingers crossed it all goes smoothly.

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