The Q&A Archives: Rejuvenating Neglected Orchard

Question: I just bought an old house with two equally old apple trees, an old pear tree, and an out-of-control grape vine. These trees and vines probably have not been pruned in more than ten years. Can I prune these over the next few years to restore health and order, or should I give up and start with new plants?

Answer: It depends on what you're hoping to achieve. It is possible to rejuvenate old trees with a program of pruning, soil enrichment, and pest management. On the other hand, if you are hoping for a predictable harvest, you may be better off starting over with new trees.

If you decide to keep your venerable old trees, plan to prune over a three year period. Do the pruning in late winter or very early spring. You can safely prune out up to a quarter of the crown of your tree; any more than that and you will simply encourage a flush of new growth.

You can prune your old grape vines right back to the ground; the roots will send up new shoots. Choose 3 of the most vigorous shoots to grow the first year; the following year, cut back to the one best shoot and keep that one properly pruned each year by checking the diagrams on grape pruning in books at a local library (it's hard to describe without a picture).

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