Maintaining Your Dwarf Fruit Orchard

Storey's Country Wisdom Bulletin A-134


By Editors of Storey Publishing

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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around January 1, 1992. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Since 1973, Storey’s Country Wisdom Bulletins have offered practical, hands-on instructions designed to help readers master dozens of country living skills quickly and easily. There are now more than 170 titles in this series, and their remarkable popularity reflects the common desire of country and city dwellers alike to cultivate personal independence in everyday life.


Getting Started

So now you have an orchard. Whether you’ve just finished planting or purchased land with an existing orchard, your trees will need some attention if they are going to produce a satisfying harvest. Your primary tasks will include pruning undesirable growth, fertilizing and cultivating the soil, checking pest and disease problems, thinning excess fruit, and harvesting your rewards.

Evaluating an Old Orchard

An existing stand of trees will save you much of the time, money, and effort of establishing new ones, but you will have to decide if the old ones are worth saving. If the orchard has been maintained carefully in the past, you may have an easy time getting your first harvest. On the other hand, a lot can happen to trees in a neglected orchard. You should consider the health and form of individual trees as well as the overall planting layout.

Older trees that have obviously suffered the ravages of animals, pests, disease, and weather are likely to produce inferior fruit. Unless such trees are exceptionally picturesque and you are more interested in aesthetics than harvests, you will probably be better off turning these into firewood and starting over.

Most fruit trees are the product of different varieties grafted together so that desirable fruiting varieties can take advantage of dwarfing qualities, extra hardiness, or other characteristics in the rootstocks. It is not uncommon for up to three or four varieties to be combined between the roots, trunk, and top. Sometimes branches will sprout from below a graft, yielding less desirable fruit of a stock variety. Look for multiple trunks or branches that grow in tight clumps from near the base of the tree.

Even the layout of the orchard will tell you something about your trees. A healthy orchard would probably have been carefully spaced at planting time. Watch for trees growing close together or any sort of haphazard spacing. These conditions would indicate that seeds of fallen fruits have taken root or suckers from other trees have flourished.

You may want to wait and observe your trees through a season to see what they will produce before deciding whether they are worth keeping. In most cases, however, there will be some obvious cutting needed in an old orchard.


Pruning is more an art than a science, and calls for good judgment. Cutting out parts of trees, such as twigs and sprouts, helps to shape and trim the trees, to remove damaged or rubbing branches, to thin out crowding branches, to stimulate new growth, and to make other maintenance tasks easier.

While pruning is a dwarfing process, it does not change the natural growth habits of a tree. Trees are more severely pruned at planting time than later on. This is to balance the top-to-root ratio, and is necessary because the roots have been equally severely pruned when the trees were dug up and shipped.

Pruning Techniques

As a rule, all pruning should be done in late winter or early spring while trees are dormant. There are many subtleties in advanced pruning techniques. However, dwarf trees are generally easier to manage than standards, so a few basics should get you started.

The first thing to remember is always plan the purpose and effect of each cut. Look at the angle at which a new shoot is starting to grow or which side of the branch a new bud is forming on to anticipate its growing potential.

On small trees, “pruning” involves graduating methods of removing excess growth. The first opportunity to control the shape of your tree is, with thumb and forefinger, to pinch off buds, shoots, or branch tips that are starting out in the wrong direction. By careful monitoring and pinching early, you can save yourself a lot of work later on. When shoots get too large for pinching off with your fingers, you can move up to a jackknife or hand-pruning shears.

Pruning Apples and Pears


On Sale
Jan 1, 1992
Page Count
32 pages

Editors of Storey Publishing

Editors of Storey Publishing

About the Author

Storey Publishing, located in North Adams, Massachusetts, specializes in books for all ages that promote creative hands-on living and teach the skills to enhance enjoyment of gardening, nature and outdoor activity, cooking and food preserving, crafts, self-care and conscious living, backyard homesteading, animal raising, and a sustainable lifestyle.

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