Heading -Vs- Renewal Cuts - There are two types of pruning cuts made. A heading cut is when a cut
is made into a branch or the leader, cutting back to a weaker shoot along that branch or leader.
Heading cuts stimulate excessive growth at the site of the cut, and stiffen the wood that has been
headed. Juvenile (1 year old) wood will respond much more prolifically to such a cut as opposed to
mature wood. Heading cuts should be avoided unless the intent is to cause one of these two responses
to occur. Unnecessary heading cuts into an established limb or scaffolds juvenile wood will cause an
excessive amount of flush growth, that will shade out the tree and be counterproductive to good tree
management techniques. If tree growth suppression and the maintenance of a compact tree are the only
desired effects from a heading cut, always cut an established limb or scaffold back into a mature,
bearing side shoot or limb.
Renewal cuts, on the other hand, are cuts made at the point of branch origin. Most renewal cuts are
intended to remove a branch that is no longer desirable because of vigor concerns or excessive
crowding. Renewal cuts, on established trees, are always into mature wood and will not spark the
vegetative regrowth that a heading cut will.
2 to 1 ratio - Any scaffold or limb that is half the size or larger in diameter to the main leader should be
removed. A branch of this size will choke out the leader, not allowing for the tree to reach optimal
fruiting capacity. By leaving a limb of such girth, the constriction problem compounds every year and
eventually the limb will be larger and more dominant than the leader itself. The bending of such a limb
to the horizontal will slow a limbs growth, but in an instance where the limb is already out of
proportion to the main leader, growth will not cease completely, and the limb will continue to hinder
the trees growth and performance.
In a crowded mature orchard, this technique can be used in a reverse manner. By leaving such a
dominant scaffold in place, future tree growth will be retarded (as discussed above) and the limb will
aid in controlling tree size.
Spur Renewal - Spur pruning is a good way to rejuvenate trees that are heavy spur bearers such as
Red Delicious and Empire. A tree will produce its highest quality fruit on spurs that are 2-5 years old.
Any spur that is older than 5 yrs yields reduced quality fruit. That spur is no longer efficient and
should be removed. The age of a spur can be determined by its size.
The proper balance between fruit and vegetative growth is another important relationship. An
imbalance between the two can result in inferior quality fruit and biannual bearing. No two systems or
cultivars will respond in the same manner to the above presented techniques, but understanding these
procedures, and the response they induce will help reduce the gamble of making an improper decision.
There are many more techniques and tree responses that need to be understood when managing a high
density orchard. Each orchard system provides new and unique techniques to the growing process.
Sometimes, less is more, and understanding what can be manipulated is just as important as knowing
what needs to be removed. Training and pruning go hand in hand with increased orchard density
systems, and neither can be substituted for the other. An orchards optimal performance will never be
achieved if this relationship is not understood and maintained.