Within each support system there can be many different
trimming and training methods used to develop the orchard. For new fruit
growers it can be a very confusing thing to read about all the different
systems, their plus and minus aspects, and which system to use. For the
most part many of these systems really are for the experienced commercial fruit
grower wishing to meet specific goals for their commercial fruit operation.
Many books and papers have been presented on all these different systems, and
from a skeptical and cynical point of view, many of the systems are pipe dreams of researchers
looking for something to publish. As you gain more experience in orchard
management and in the fruit industry, then you may want to try some of these
different systems, but in order to gain that experience, we suggest you stick
with the tried and true systems that have been used for the past 20 years.
Every different variable that you put into the equation, makes the results more
difficult to predict, so for starters, stick with a system that has been fairly
Apple Systems: With the advent of more dwarfing
rootstocks, the apple industry went through a revolution in training
systems. Many of the old standard trees on seedling rootstocks, planted at
40x40 feet were pushed out in the 1970's and were replanted into semi-dwarf
systems. In the 80s and 90s, fully dwarf tree systems started to supplant
semi-dwarf systems in many of the intense apple growing regions. Now you
cannot find an apple tree on standard seedling root at any of the commercial
nurseries, and there are very few in most successful commercial orchards.
In the 2000's the trend for commercial apple production is definitely toward
high density systems of between 600-1000 trees per acre, with some systems going
well beyond that density.
Self-supporting semi-dwarf systems: Usually
planted at distances of 10x16 feet to 16x24 feet. Densities of 115 to 275
trees per acre, with a more normal density in the range of 180-200 trees per
acre. Typically on EMLA 7, 106, and 111 size rootstocks. For the
most part all of these trees are trained to a "central leader" system,
where a main leader is allowed to grow up the center of the tree, and 2-4 swirls
of permanent scaffold limbs form a tree looking somewhat like a pyramid.
Easy to learn, easy to train, easy to maintain, and quite productive when
mature. This is a good system for new fruit growers to start out with.
The most slow to come into production initially, but the most
"forgiving" for novices.
Single pole systems: Usually planted at
distances of 4x12 feet to 10x18 feet. Densities of 250 to 900 trees per
acre, with more normal densities in the 300-400 trees per acre range.
Typically on EMLA 26 and EMLA 7 size rootstocks. Trained to a modified
central leader system, depending on the density. More dense trees have
less permanent swirls of scaffolds, although usually the lowest one is
permanent. Higher density systems have limbs which are renewed more often and less vigorous,
smaller wood is the target. It is fairly easy to learn these
systems, and they can be very successful for the new fruit grower. Support is usually
by a single wooden post, ranging from 2-4", or metal conduit or angle iron
stake strong enough to help support the central leader and keep the tree from
tipping over in the wind or under crop load. Usually quite early to
come into good production.
Trellis systems: Usually planted at distances of
2x10 feet to 6x14 feet. Densities of 500 to 2200 or more trees per acre,
with more normal densities in the 600-900 trees per acre range. Almost
always planted on Malling 9 size rootstocks, since full dwarfing is required to
keep these systems in-bounds and productive over their lifetimes. There
are still many different training systems, with many different names, but their
main characteristic is usually that a single leader is trained up the trellis as
high as it will practically go and fruiting wood is allowed to grow off the main leader,
being renewed on a regular basis. Almost no permanent scaffold limbs in
most systems are allowed. These are very productive systems which bear
early and heavily, but require intense, detail management by a skilled and
knowledgeable fruit grower. These types of systems are becoming more the norm in commercial fruit growing, and your may want to
"graduate" to them after getting your feet wet. Training "goofs" on these systems
tend to haunt you for the life of the system. The trellis are usually
constructed with major end posts on each end of the row (6-8" min) with regularly spaced
support posts about every 30-40 feet (4-6" min). Any where from one
high wire at the top to as many as 6-10 wires in some systems. Some systems form a
"V" shape, some a "T" shape with the posts and wires, but it
seems to most successful system usually is a single plane of posts with 2-4
wires. There may be bamboo or metal conduits used to help support
individual trees. These systems are costly to install, but usually produce
lots of high quality fruit early in their life span. Interestingly enough
their maximum production levels can be quite is similar to all the other
systems. In many of the large apple production regions, growers are
looking to the future and designing these high density systems with the prospect
of using self-propelled "platforms" that employees can work from for pruning,
thinning, and harvesting. Mechanized harvesting is still years away, but
is on the horizon.
Pear Systems: For the most part pears are planted
in self-supporting systems very similar to apples in the self-supporting systems
above. There are very
few fully dwarf pear rootstocks that have proven themselves to be good. Pears in general are less vigorous than apple trees, so
even pears on standard seedling roots and on the "semi-dwarf" pear
roots will grow to about the same size as most
semi-dwarf apples. Most training systems are central-leader based with
Peaches and Nectarines: There are really no
commercially utilized dwarf or semi-dwarf rootstocks for peaches and nectarines
at this time, although there are some new rootstocks being tested that may have
potential. Most trees are grown on seedling rootstocks and can be kept in
size ranges close to semi-dwarf apples. Most training systems for
commercial growers are based on an "open center" systems where there
are 2-5 main scaffold limbs growing into a vase shape. Some commercial
growers try to utilize central-leader or fan shapes, but often this is working
against the normal architecture of the tree.
Plums, Prunes, and Apricots: There are no
commercially utilized dwarf or semi-dwarf rootstocks to choose from.
Almost all trees are grown on seedling rootstocks of some kind, although some of
the same new dwarfing rootstocks being tested for peach may work with other
stone fruits too. Plums,
prunes and apricots can be trained very similar to peaches, however, some
varieties and cultivars have upright characteristics so that fan or leader
systems may prove useful. The training approach should be flexible based
on the variety's growth habit. Planting distances and densities are very
similar to peaches in the 150-250 trees per acre range.
Cherries: With the development of "dwarf"
rootstocks, sweet cherry culture, in particular, has been going through a revolution. I say
"dwarf", because most of the newer rootstocks, such as Gisela® are
new and growers are still learning how much dwarfing character they really impart, and
we are finding it may vary according to region. Also, the variety / rootstock
combination seems to take on more importance on cherry than on apple.
Apple rootstocks perform more consistently across the many varieties.
There is still a big learning curve for most commercial growers, but as
researchers, extension agents, and other growers work with the new dwarf cherry
roots, the more the knowledge base is expanding. In general, there are
three ways to go with on cherry planting systems at this time:
Standard Mazzard or Mahaleb rootstocks: In about
10-15 years, these trees will pretty much grow to their full potential size. Mazzard rootstock
is the most vigorous and is mainly used on sweet cherries. Trees can grow
into the 20-30 foot height range if left unchecked. In well trained
systems, they can be maintained in the 15-20 feet high range, and about as much
in spread. The main drawback for cherries on Mazzard root is that they are
slow to come into bearing--- 4-7 years. Mahaleb is most often used on tart
cherries and some new "clones" of Mahaleb, like CT 500, can be used for sweet
cherries. Mahaleb is about 75-90% of Mazzard size and is often called
"semi-dwarf", simply because it is smaller than Mazzard. Mahaleb should
only be used in well drained
soils. Depending on the variety of cherry, central leader or open center
is used. Usually the variety will lend itself better one way of the
other. Many sweet cherries tend to naturally grow in a central leader type
way. Tart cherries tend to be a little more spreading and bushy.
Planting distances can range from 14x20 feet to 16x24 feet. Densities of
100-155 trees per acre. Plant tart cherries at the higher density and
sweet cherries at the lower one in most cases.
Gisela® 6 and 12 rootstocks are less vigorous than
Mazzard, but are much more precocious. They will start bearing heavily
after just a few years. Whereas it seemed to take a lifetime to get sweet
cherries on Mazzard root into production, on these newer precocious roots it
seems like a snap. The training systems are still being developed for most
of the new dwarf cherry roots, varying from central leader type systems, to fan
types, to open center systems, depending on the grower and his philosophy of
growing. The one fact that is becoming evident is that proper annual
trimming, based on the fruitfulness of the particular variety, is necessary to
avoid over-cropping and small sized fruit on many dwarf roots. Within the next couple years,
there will be several well researched training systems published and offered as
guides to growers. I recommend Gisela® 6 and 12 to even new fruit
growers, because they can bring you into profitable production within a few
years, are somewhat more forgiving than Gisela® 5- full dwarf root, and are
less frustrating than standard rootstocks for many sweet cherry varieties.
Gisela® 5 rootstock is the most dwarfing of the new
cherry roots. At one time it was thought to be the new "Malling
9" of cherry roots, which would allow pedestrian orchards to take over from
the "forests" which Mazzard root trees used to form. Gisela® 5
has its place with less productive and/or highly vigorous varieties. It is
very precocious and will start bearing in a couple years. Under poor
management, it can set huge crops of small fruit, so regular and proper annual
trimming is required to maintain consistent production of large fruit.
This rootstock is not for the inexperienced new grower who is not willing to
learn its ins and outs.