Formative pruning for central leader trees

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Cider trees are traditionally grown with a central leader as the apples are shaken off rather than hand-picked.

Formative pruning standard tree. First 4 winters_ Paul Lacey Natural England

Formative pruning standard tree. First 4 winters. Image Paul Lacey Natural England

Forming the trunk

  • Winter 1. Cut back the side shoots to two or three buds, then remove completely the following year.
  • Subsequent winters. Repeat this process on any side shoots coming from the central stem until your tree is large enough to produce side shoots at a height you would like your first framework branches.

Forming the framework branches

  • Do not take out your central leader but allow it to keep growing up.
    Formative pruning standard tree. First 4 winters_ Paul Lacey Natural England

    Formative pruning standard tree. Winter 5 onwards. Image Paul Lacey Natural England

  • Prune unwanted side shoots (in stages as before) except for side shoots that are at the right height and position to form further framework branches.
  • Leave 20cm of trunk between each branch to spread out the strain that each puts on the trunk.
  • Again, you are looking to end up with a tree that has a strong central stem with six to eight framework branches coming off it, evenly spaced around the central trunk.

Pruning framework branches

  • While you are establishing your framework branches, prune them by one third of that years growth to encourage the formation of strong branches and well-spaced laterals.
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