Apple & Pear tree orchard questions


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Hi all - hailing from VA, 1st post here! I've got a few questions. I did a soil test last year & my soil pH was low (5.3). I added a ton (3 actually) of Lime & once the snow melts & the ground dries out some I'll do another test.

1. I've got a 12' tall apple tree that has two 3" bifurcated trunks about 2' above ground level, should I leave the central / upright one & prune the other more horizontal leader?

2. I ordered a dozen more Apple & Pear trees that should be here in a few weeks. I bought some 5' tall 2x4" 14 ga. welded wire for deer protection around my Apples & Pears. What diameter would you recommend me making the cage circles?

3. What diameter do you make the aluminum window screen to go around the bottom 2' of trunk? I assume I want the window screen pretty loose once stapled back to itself.

4. What medium should I plant them in? I'm planning on using good planting mix along w/ the native soil (50/50) unless there's something else y'all would recommend?

5. When should I fertilize & with what?

Thanks for any info!!!
#1 - That depends on the size. Twelve feet is getting pretty big, and anytime you make cuts that large near the ground line you do take somewhat of a chance of the tree not healing over well. You could end up with decay that never heals over properly. I personally would probably just live with the multiple trunks and try to do a better job training early on future trees I planted. We have convinced ourselves in the US that a single leader is extremely important for apple trees. While I do believe it is the best, I don't think it is that critical. For other leader scenarios just make sure that you prune in such a way to allow sunlight into the center of the tree.

#2 - I like the welded wire better than the 6'' field fence. I recommend making the cages around 3 feet diameter - and no less than 2 feet. Making them big like this affords a little more protection and makes it easier for you to open them up when doing future maintenance.

#3 - Just make it really big - like 10 inches or more. Window screen is cheap. Also make it very tall, and at the bottom cut some slits at about 3 places so it will fold down over the ground. Then take two of those ground steeples like you use on tree mats and push it through the folded out areas into the ground. The holds it in place well and keeps a rabbit or other rodent from getting his nose under it and lifting it up.

#4 - That sounds okay to me.

#5 - I hardly ever fertilize an apple tree, and never fertilize one when I plant it. If I fertilize a fruit tree, I would do it in the fall rather than the spring. Spring fertilizing of fruit trees can cause rapid vegetative growth above ground, which can be the source of disease and pest problems. So, I recommend fertilizing in the fall and doing it lightly....
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2. For the 50’ rolls of welded wire, I normally cut them to a circumference of 12.5’ so I could get 4 cages per roll. Lately I prefer even a bit bigger so the tree can spread out a bit, and have been happier with 3 cages/roll, so a 16.66’ circumference. Might be a bit short sighted as the lowest branches will eventually be pruned, and while that certainly is true, I can always put on a smaller cage later and reuse the bigger cage for a different tree.

My FIL planted some apple trees for me before I began to get serious about this stuff, and I feel like narrow cages held back growth more than anything else. Last year I replaced all the small cages with larger ones and had a fantastic year of growth.

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Thanks for the info everyone! I've got 2 rolls of 5' tall x 100' long 2x4 welded wire so I'll stick to using those. Was going to make my circles 4' in dia. but maybe that's too big? Really appreciate all the help.

The reason I asked about fertilizing is b/c it's horrible mountain soil, lacking just about everything. I'm doing another soil sample here as soon as the ground dries up but last year before my applications, pH was 5.3 & P K Ca & Mg were all very low to low after my test last year. We'll see what my apps did to help in a few weeks when I can sample again.
I don’t think you could make the cages too big, especially on level ground. With that said, I usually cut my welded wire in 8-10’ sections. Most of my trees are planted in hill country and bigger cages complicate things. With the volume of trees I’m planting for wildlife, really big cages become cost prohibitive.

I’ve been using 36” window screen cut in half. 18” is plenty high enough in my area but your local snow accumulations should be the guide.

Window screen on a newly plated apple:


Cage. This is a Chestnut but a good example of one of my completed cages. 5’ cage, window screen, and bucket.


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One thing about wire cages though. I have had deer use them for ladders on pear trees to help them get fruit hanging on the tree. They stomped those cages to the ground.
Here's a pic of the Apple tree that was here when we bought the place. Prune the more horizontal bifurcated lead or leave it? Also, how do I prune the remainder of the tree?

Now that I see the picture, I would probably take a chance and trim it. However, it is taking a chance, because of the reason I already mentioned.

But, my greatest concern for that apple tree is that it will never get enough sunlight. That's a bad no-no for apples....
It is in desperate need of sunlight. No ground cover means lots of mature trees that will eat all the sun.

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