Pruning, Espalier & Tree Maintenance

Pruning your trees after purchase

A proportion of the root system is lost during the lifting process from the nursery bed. To compensate and restore balance between the top growth and the root system, pruning is essential. The limbs of your tree should be shortened back about half to one-third of their total length, cutting always to an outside bud. This hard pruning is carried out only in this first year, and thereafter only minimal pruning is needed by most fruit trees.

Balhannah Nurseries has been a leader in growing ‘unheaded’ trees for nearly 100 years. This is vastly different from that of the 1920’s when most fruit trees were headed-off in the nursery. Later proven incorrect, professional orchardists worldwide now buy their trees unheaded. Refer to the Central Leader method for information on pruning unheaded fruit trees.


espalier apple KC3521_Balhannah Nurseries_edited300x400This method allows for the growing of fruit along a wall or a fence. It needs more attention, however, than conventional methods and therefore should only be attempted by the avid gardener.

It is not recommended to espalier along a metal fence as the reflected heat that is generated will scorch the tree (if only a metal fence is available erect a trellis about 30–40 cm away from the fence to allow air circulation). Training wires should be placed before planting the trees, with the first wire being 45 cm above the ground. A four or five metre tree spacing is recommended.

Vertical support droppers may be required at intervals of about 90–100 cm. Pull two branches down that correspond to the height of the first wire and tie them along the wire. Cut the tree at the second wire and train the top three buds – the lower two horizontally along the second wire, freeing the top bud to continue its growth upwards (making an extension of the main trunk). Other shoots should be removed. As these lower buds grow they are gently tied along the length of the wire while the top bud continues its growth upwards until it reaches the next horizontal wire.

The process is then repeated until the tree has reached the full height of the trellis. After about five years the tree will have covered the trellis, and all that is needed now is for some light summer and winter pruning to remove some of the vertical growth. It is not a good idea to let the tree crop too much while it is being trained. It is best to allow the tree to cover the trellis as quickly as possible. With careful attention and patience the espaliered tree will reward you with ample amounts of fruit, and may be used to hide otherwise unsightly areas.

Balhannah Nurseries is growing an espalier apricot at its Charleston property. You can see the progress on BN’s Facebook page.


Multiple Planting

Multiplant with small fruit_BalhannahNurseries_compressed300x400


Plant three trees in the same large hole about 30cm apart. Good results can be obtained by judicious pruning to prevent too much inter-weaving of the branches. Prune the three trees as if they were one, removing branches in the centre triangle. A dwarfing effect and earlier fruit will result as the trees are in competition with each other. Feed and water weaker trees to help compete with stronger varieties.





Central Leader



This method will allow several trees to be planted close together. Trees can be planted as close as 1.5m. Do not prune the leader. Contrary to what you may think, by not pruning the central leader the tree will not grow to an enormous size. In fact, it will be smaller with more fruit production at an earlier age. Tie the lateral growth out at about 60° to promote fruiting.




When to Fertilise

Fruit trees will generally receive enough nutrients from animal manure, but if this is unavailable a complete mineral mix or organic application will be adequate. Fertilise during spring and again in late summer.

About Pollination

Apricots, peaches and nectarines don’t require pollination, and some plums like Satsuma appear to be sufficiently self-fertile for home garden purposes. Pollination requirements for other varieties are listed under their descriptions in our catalogue.

Fruit Thinning

It is essential to remove some of the fruit within six weeks of blossoming.

This prevents the tree from biennial cropping, reduces the incidence of disease and produces better quality fruit. Large clusters of three or four fruits should be reduced to singles.

Thinning required_720x


If your fruit is clustered like the picture at left, time to get thinning!  Reduce clusters by as much as 50% so that individual fruits are no longer touching and holding moisture between them.  This will reduce the incidence of disease and produce larger, more uniform fruit and a better crop overall.  It will also reduce the incidence of ‘biennial bearing’ in some fruits where the tree has a huge  crop one year and almost nothing the next.



The Chill Factor

This is determined by the number of hours below 10° C during the dormancy period.

This period of time is required to initiate strong fruit development, and varies between fruit varieties. Poor and prolonged flowering, along with uncharacteristically shaped fruit, are common problems where insufficient chilling has been achieved.