The need and desirability to prune or control the growth of mature avocado trees has been a matter of debate for many years. We have found that pruning does not increase fruit yield in Kenya. Continual and severe pruning generally stimulates vegetative growth at the expense of fruiting, so pruning should be done only when absolutely necessary. There are, however, situations in all avocado-growing areas where tree control by pruning is necessary and desirable.
Reasons for Pruning
- To reduce harvest costs. Increasing harvest costs are becoming a major factor in avocado production. Fruit produced in the tops of tall, upright trees are more difficult and costlier to harvest. It is questionable in some cases if the cost of harvest is compensated by the return. Reducing and maintaining the height of the tree at an economical level is a practice followed by many even though the total crop may be reduced.
- To prevent wind damage. Major damage and breakage may be prevented in areas of extreme winds by lowering the height of fall-growing cultivars.
- To allow more effective pest control. More efficient and effective spray coverage may be achieved where there is less congestion between rows and when tree heights are not excessive, so pruning may be justified in areas which require chemical pest control.
- To permit effective irrigation. Some pruning may be necessary in orchards that are sprinkler-irrigated to assure a uniform water-distribution pattern. Low-hanging branches may interfere with the pattern of low-head sprinklers. These branches should be selectively removed. Similarly, overhead sprinklers may be obstructed by tall trees and tree height control must be practiced allowing uniform coverage.
- To permit cultivation and mowing. Low-hanging branches may interfere with cultivation or mowing where these practices are used. It is best to selectively prune the low branches rather than risk breaking them off accidentally with cultivation or mowing equipment.
- To delay crowding. The need to thin an orchard may be delayed for a year or 2 by selective removal of branches on temporary trees which will later be removed. This provides more illumination to permanent trees and prevents loss of lower foliage and production. Such pruning does reduce the yield of the temporary trees, but reduced production for a year or 2 is preferred to no production at all on the temporary trees.
Methods of Pruning
Selective pruning is accomplished by hand tools or power-assist hand tools in which the cuts made are individual and selective. This is preferred in most cases and is the only type of pruning adaptable to the terrain on which some avocado orchards are planted. Selective pruning, as the name implies, allows the individual selection of branches which are to be removed. It may be upright shoots or branches to limit or reduce the height of the tree,
overhanging side branches to reduce crowding, low-hanging branches which interfere with irrigation or other
cultural operations etc.
Prune sparingly and make cuts as close to a lateral branch as possible when such pruning is necessary. The greatest growth stimulation is nearest the cut. Removal of large branches will stimulate vegetative growth over the entire tree.
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Mechanical hedging and topping
Hedging and topping are non-selective types of pruning which are being used today by economic necessity. Relatively little topping and even less hedging has been practiced in Muranga. However, the use of hedgers and toppers in southern Florida for avocado tree control has increased in recent years and has become an accepted cultural practice.
Hedging and topping are done by large machines which are non-selective in their cutting but which remove growth at a lower cost. The lower cost of this type of pruning may well compensate the temporary loss of production that results and the repeated tree control necessary with the following regrowth. It should be noted that the vigor and productivity of avocado trees vary depending on the cultivar and climate in which they are grown. We are not sure that frequent non-selective cutting to control growth would be a sound or economical practice in climates and with cultivars such as we have in Muranga. More information is needed concerning these practices in other areas. Chemical growth inhibitors to retard the regrowth of pruned trees or to initially train them to a more compact size has been investigated. There are currently no satisfactory materials for use, even though some have shown promise.
Time of Pruning
Light selective pruning may be done at any time of year. Heavy pruning is best done after the crop is harvested but before late summer or early fall. Late pruning may stimulate growth.
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The apricot favors well drained soil but doesn’t like to be too dry especially in the summer. Providing a happy medium between the two will be key to success and it is up to you to judge the type of soil you already have and influence the structure as much as you can. Too light or sandy then pep it up with lots and lots of organic rich material. Too weighty or sluggish then alleviate it with lots of grit, sharp sand and leaf mold.
The soil should be well cultivated and friable; double dig-it over if it has not been cultivated before. Clear away all perennial weeds because the last thing you want is added competition from them when your trees are in settled, and growing.
Prepare a hole large enough to take the roots. Apricots are vigorous growers and you may find the root system larger than that of other trees. Set the tree to the same depth as it was at the nursery previously – examination of the stem should reveal the soil mark still identifiable and this will tell you how deeply it was set in the ground before. In any event the grafting point should sit above the soil level and the roots buried in not less than 2” of soil.
Dry mulches should be used to retain moisture while heavy banana stems should be supported to avoid damage. Old diseased leaves should be removed while de-leafing is important to ensure healthy growth. Harvesting begins after 15-18 months, and a light shiny appearance means that the banana is ready for harvest. Harvesting should be delicate to avoid bruising of the bananas. The bananas should be temporarily stored in a cool, dry place and should be wrapped in banana leaves or grass to avoid bruising. If for export, they should be washed using a disinfectant and might require branding.
Plums are excellent fresh but also make a wonderful jam or jelly. Plums require full sun and well-drained, sandy soil to thrive. They prefer a soil with a pH that ranges from 5.5 to 6.5. It is always a good idea to have your soil tested before planting any fruit tree to be sure that they pH is appropriate. You should also work the appropriate amendments into your soil before planting. Their overall size may also need to be considered. Most plum trees will reach 16 feet at maturity or 14 feet if they are a dwarf variety.
Plums have quite high moisture demands, so they are best planted on good clay or loamy soils. But sites also need to be well drained as plums, and gages in particular, hate waterlogged soils. Add bulky organic matter to sandy or shallow chalky soils prior to planting.
Plant plum trees in well-drained, moderately fertile soil in full sun. Avoid planting in low areas where frost may settle, as the frost will damage your trees. If possible, find a sheltered position, such as a south- or west-facing spot out of the wind. This will help the plum tree set fruit. For grafted trees, keep the graft union 1 inch above the soil line when planting. Dig a hole that is a few inches deeper and wider than the spread of the roots. Set the tree on top of a small mound of soil in the middle of the hole. Be sure to spread the roots away from the trunk without excessively bending them. Space standard-size trees 20 to 25 feet apart. Space dwarf trees 15 to 20 feet apart.
Plums develop their best flavor if left to ripen on the tree. If they feel soft when gently squeezed, they are ripe. Trees will generally need picking over several times. Harvest fruits carefully so as not to bruise them, then eat fresh, destone and freeze, or make the fruits into preserves.