Apple and pear tree pruning

Apples and Pears


  • To maintain a balance between fruiting and growth
  • To maintain an appropriate shape and size to tree
  • To keep tree healthy as well as productive

General principles:

  • Use clean, sharp tools
  • Take larger branches out in sections
  • Cut cleanly on a slant, leave no snags (so cut to an outward facing bud or sideshoot)
  • Cut weak growth hard, strong growth more lightly
  • Keep the centre of the tree open (so you can throw your hat through!); keep the tree’s shape balanced around its centre of gravity
  • Keep growth low and horizontal
  • Know your shoots: growth buds lie flat to the branch, fruit buds are fatter (and furry later in spring)

Pruning process and steps:

  • Prune trained trees (fans cordons and espaliers) in summer; prune bush and pyramid shaped trees in winter
  • Stand back to look at the whole tree often, as you work methodically around it
  • Remove dead, diseased or damaged wood
  • Remove crossing branches that might rub each other
  • Aim for fruiting branches to be horizontal (so cut out any dramatic verticals – although they may bend when laden)
  • The tree should ideally have about 10 main permanent framework branches, with laterals (side branches) which produce fruit and are eventually replaced
  • Cut sideshoots back by about a quarter to a third each year to make them branch to form fruiting laterals
  • After about four years, these laterals should be removed in favour of new fruiting lateral shoots (this is renewal pruning)

New Year’s Resolutions….

Seedlings in growing modules

As we begin to emerge from the darkness and into a new season, it’s time to be positive in our hopes and intentions for allotment growing this year. We review the past year; we anticipate the one to come. And having received your bill for the year, or perhaps having just been allocated your long awaited plot, it’s also time to be realistic! Be honest: did your plot get away from you? Did you spend enough time there to keep it in a productive, cared-for state? Have you thought through what you might be taking on? Waiting lists are long! If you can’t manage it, maybe it’s time to let it go to someone on the list.

Once your plot is in a basically orderly and tended state, the vast majority given to growing crops not perennial weeds or with paths or rubbish, you can assume it will still occupy a significant part of your time each week. In the growing season, March to October, you should expect to spend at least 10-15 hours a week working there (and yes: working is the word!), depending on its size. And from October to March you still need to be there regularly, pruning, preparing beds, looking after any structures and making sure hedges are kept in good order.

If you’re committed to your gardening for another year, now is the time to be ordering your seeds and, again, balancing hope and optimism with realism! To be sure of being able to get your favourite varieties, it’s a good idea to get your order in promptly. If you’re a committed organic grower, you’ll want to make sure your seeds come from organic suppliers, confident that the seeds have come from organically cultivated and most likely open-pollinated plants, contributing to growing systems that are ecologically sustainable. Choosing non-hybrid seeds also means that you’ll be able to save your own seed: a virtuous circle. Alongside making your seed list, you can also be planning the rotation of your crops so that the precious soil isn’t exhausted by growing the same thing in the same place in successive years, and pests and diseases don’t get a chance to build up. The main groups are brassicas, legumes, roots, cucurbits and tomatoes, and potatoes. Draw up a nice plan that you can refer to as the year progresses; it’s usually best to do this at the plot so you can see realistically what space there is and remember what grew where last season.

Winter is also an ideal time to plant a fruit tree – as well as time for pruning carefully any you already have. Optimism and realism called for again! Many plots end up with badly looked after fruit trees, that are too big for the space available. Do a bit of research to decide what varieties you want, what rootstock the tree should be on, where you can plant it, and how big it will eventually get. Pruning is a skill and an art; it’s worth learning how to care for your trees confidently, for aesthetics and productivity. If you haven’t got much space, use a trained form like a cordon or espalier, and learn how to prune them to retain their elegant form.

On we go!

Into the dark

Roasted root vegetables

We are heading into deep winter now; whatever the weather may be doing, there’s no arguing about the long twilight and long nights. A time of minimal earth activity, tipped away from the light and into quiet reflection (if you can avoid the festive craziness that is….).  So as there is little growth just now, it’s a good time to take stock, make plans, and to get on with jobs that may have been neglected during the growing season.

It’s a particularly good time to cut hedges and, once the leaves have fallen, to get on with pruning soft fruit (and later the tree top fruit as well). If you leave hedges till the new year, before you know it birds will begin looking for nesting sites – and it’s illegal to disturb nesting birds. You could learn how to lay your hedges: an old craft that cuts half way through stems low to the ground (traditionally using a billhook, but a small pruning saw works too), and bending them horizontal. This makes for a really sturdy and robustly dense hedge that is hugely attractive as shelter for all sorts of wildlife. (Take a great deal of care if you’re working with blackthorn; a thorn puncture can very easily go septic so wear safety glasses and strong thick gloves.) If you’re just trimming the top of your hedge to a more reasonable height, you can still use the cuttings by lying them neatly under the hedge. There’s no need to have a polluting cancinogenic bonfire!

Not all soft fruit needs the same treatment by way of pruning so make sure to check you know what you’re doing – and that you’re not cutting off the branches that will bear fruit next year. Currants and gooseberries have different pruning needs according to their age as well, so look up the processes before you head out with your secateurs. You should already have cut out the summer’s fruited canes on summer raspberries, and tied in the fresh new growth; autumn raspberries can all be cut right down to the ground, but you don’t need to do that until late January. You can leave blackberry pruning till then too, taking out the old fruited wood and training in the new growth.

How are your winter crops holding up? Have you got enough to see you through to the early purple sprouting broccoli and cauliflowers and wild rocket next year? The root crops should be at their most delicious and of course it’s a great season for tasty roasted parsnips, carrots, celeriac, Jerusalem artichokes and stored potatoes, squash, garlic and onions. With good planning you should have plenty of fresh greens too: leeks, kales, salads and herbs. There is strong evidence for the higher nutrient quality of fresh and organically cultivated fruit and vegetables, so make sure you are helping your microbiome and immune system, as well as the soil biota, by growing without chemicals.

Permaculture systems use the idea of zoning for designing and planting, and that may feel very appropriate at this time of year. You might want to pot up a few herbs and salads from your plot and take them home to have handy near the door for days you don’t make it up to the allotment before dark, or for when the weather is just too horrible to get up there. Keep cosy, keep gardening!

Those autumn leaves

Autumn leaves

It was the old festival of Sawhain this week, a time to acknowledge the dark, the unseen, what lies beneath. Traditionally this was the end of the old year and the beginning of the new. If we work with this way of being part of the natural world, we get some indications of how to be on our plots just now.

Raking up leaves to make leaf mould – separate from your compost bins, in a wire cage to stop them blowing away again –  is a meditative activity, rhythmic and colourful, golds and yellows and some reds. And it’s certainly a gathering of the past year’s growth, and a wonderful resource for next year or the one after, to use in potting composts or as mulch. You can’t have too many leaves and there’s enough for everyone!

Thinking about what is unseen and hidden brings us to an appreciation of the living soil we depend on, with all its amazing microbial activity. So this is a great time of year to focus on caring for your plot’s soil, enriching it, protecting it, nurturing it. Try to fork out all the perennial weed roots that may have crept in over the growing season, but take care not to disturb the soil any more than you must. Annual weeds can just be hoed off and either composted or left on the surface for creatures to incorporate them into the earth. Putting a cover of well anchored cardboard on beds you aren’t going to crop till next year will protect them from weather erosion. And as much compost as you have to mulch and cover beds is a marvellous enrichment in terms of nutrients and structure.

We’ve only had one frost in the city so far; we need a few more for the starches in parsnips and Jerusalem artichokes to turn into sugars for that delicious taste in your winter roasts. It’s worth waiting to harvest them till they have had the cold chilling. If you have planned well this year you should have a bountiful crop of vegetables to eat just now, in addition to all those you’ve preserved from earlier months. You could be eating leeks, kales, cabbages, cauliflowers (for another few weeks), celeriac, carrots, plenty of salad leaves, pak choi, and squashes that you’ve got safely indoors in store now.

Once your plot itself is organised and prepared for the next season, it’s a good time to look at its structure: how are your paths? Are they encroaching on your beds? Remember that the great majority of your plot should be for produce! Could your greenhouse do with some glass repairs and a wash down inside (avoiding spills onto your crops of salad and herbs)? How’s your shed bearing up? Maybe it needs a coating of non-toxic oil or preservative and some new felt on the roof? And are your tools in needs of cleaning and sharpening?

And if you’re regretting not having been so well organised and assiduous this last year, with few crops to enjoy now, this traditional new year is the time for resolutions and planning for the future.

Shifting seasons

Apples on a tree in dappled autumn light

Well: the year has shifted again and here we are past the festival of Mabon, the autumnal equinox, and into a new season. A shift in what we’re growing, harvesting and eating: squashes finally curing in the last of the sun under glass, the final courgettes being eaten or chutneyed (are you resolving to have a more reasonable number of plants next year?), probably the last runner beans blown down in the gales and your drying beans safely stored away for winter stews. Some apple varieties will still be on the trees, not yet ready for picking and laying down over winter, but pears will all be harvested and safely stored in a cool dry place. Leeks, kales, spinach beet and chards are coming into their own now as the summer greens go over.

If you’ve got a cold frame, a light windowsill or greenhouse, there’s still just about time to sow some winter salads and greens: the spicy mustardy ones do really well over winter and can be cut or picked leaf by leaf to keep them producing. Or look carefully for self sown rocket, land cress and lamb’s lettuce that you can transplant to a prepared bed, or under glass.

As ever, it’s time to look ahead – as well as relax and enjoy reflecting on your successes of the last season. It’s easy to save seeds from many of your crops, so it’s worth leaving a few to ripen and collect – put a paper bag over the seed head so they dry out well and don’t just get blown away. Tomato, squash  and capsicum seeds can be dried and stored away for next year. Flower and herb seeds can also be dried and stored (don’t forget to label the bags, even if you think you’ll remember for sure!): feverfew, calendula, hollyhocks, knapweed, yarrow, foxgloves and more.

And it’s a great time of year to think of extending the variety of fruit you’re growing. Apple Day is coming up this month and many community orchards in the city, as well as big nurseries and RHS gardens, will offer events where you can taste samples of all kinds of top fruit. Lots of folk choose an apple tree for their plot – and lots of the trees end up poorly pruned and not very productive. Not so many people choose a pear or a plum, gage or damson though, and adding those to your plot will give you future trading potential with neighbours and friends, as well as fruit to store for the winter time. None need take up a lot of room (on your own plot – or overhanging your neighbour’s plot!): you can learn how to espalier or cordon the tree so that it has a neat narrow profile well suited to providing a divider on your plot or as an edge. Think of choosing fruit for your plot like getting a pet! You’ve got to know how to care for it, look after its health (prune, mulch), and lovingly appreciate its needs, giving it space and light and air.  There are many wonderful varieties to choose from so have some cosy evenings reading up on them and choose one you know you like, or that sounds delicious, or that will keep a good long while if you are aiming for greater self sufficiency in your food stores.

Free property marking event

Garden equipment

Free property marking at York Council West Offices.

Your local neighbourhood police team will be at York Council West Offices on the 12th September 2023 from 1000hrs – 1300hrs with their property marking kit. 

They will be marking bikes, laptops, phones, sports equipment and any other property, as well as offering crime prevention advice.

Come and meet the team and have a chat with them about any issues in your area.

Your best plot

Red clover

As we harvest our precious crops, it’s a good time to appraise what worked and what didn’t, what you’ve really enjoyed eating and what was less popular – and what you’re coveting on your neighbours’ plots. What did you have too much of? What did you not have enough of? And so we can begin to plan for the next season, in a spirit of gratitude and with good intentions. Some plot holders put a lot of effort into the recent YACIO competition for ‘best plot’, which was judged on objective criteria; but what would your own ‘best’ be like, regardless of any competition or comparison? What do you want to enjoy cultivating and eating next year? It could be good to start keeping an allotment diary if you don’t already do that, with details of what grew where so you can rotate crops according to their grouping as well. Maybe you could illustrate it too, with sketches of crops and harvests, insects and birds…..

There might be more perennial crops you could try: there are some perennial kales, there’s asparagus (although it takes a lot of space and a lot of time to establish for a brief if delicious crop), Jerusalem and globe artichokes, Welsh onions, and of course many kinds of fruit bushes and trees. Or there might be different salad crops to try – and for winter it’s worth sowing lamb’s lettuce, purslane, chervil, endives, mizuma, land cress and rocket right now so you’ve got plenty of fresh greens to nourish you through the darker colder times. And how are your herbs looking? They’re such a beneficial addition to cooking as well as providing ready home medicine. You might collect some elder berries and make a tincture to take as a hot toddy against viral infection. You might think to grow some chamomile and lemon balm for their soothing qualities, some hyssop to attract late pollinators, or some tansy to support the endangered tansy beetle which have a home along our riverbanks, and is great as a flea deterrent when rubbed on your pets’ fur.

It’s also a good time to propagate and replant your strawberries; they will be sending out runners now – long stems with baby plants on the end, which will root readily if you take the time to plant them out and start a new bed for them. Autumn raspberries are much more reliable for fruit than the summer ones, so it’s worth finding the space for the canes as a late season treat, which can continue right through to the first frosts. There’s still time to sown green manures – soon it will be too late to get good germination. So as you clear beds of crops, don’t leave them bare with exposed soil. Choose a green manure like crimson clover or phacelia for its beautiful flowers as well as its benefits to the soil, or tares or mustard for a quick cover crop you can compost later in the year. And remember that if you miss getting them sown in time, your soil will still benefit from being covered with cardboard to keep weeds down and to keep the soil moist. Make sure you anchor it down so it doesn’t blow away in the equinoctial gales!

Waste not, want not


And so the year comes round to Lammas, the festival of harvest, the time of abundance and the realisation of plans and seeds sown and grown (on your land, in your life…). Hopefully, a time for gathering with friends and feasting on all your bounty. But if you’re going away on holiday, make sure none of your lovely crops go to waste: maybe a neighbour could pick for you, so you don’t come home to massive courgettes and huge stringy beans. Both need to be regularly picked in order to keep producing.

We’ve had a lot of rain this last month for sure. It’s such a valuable resource and one we really shouldn’t be wasting. Even if you haven’t time to get organised just now, make sure you resolve to put some effective rainwater harvesting measures in place on your plot come the autumn. Collect it via guttering and a down pipe from shed or green house rooves, or even install an open walled shelter that can serve that same purpose. Remember how dry it was in June!

If you really have big gluts of fruit or vegetables and you’ve made enough chutneys, jams, pickles, fermentations and cordials to fill your pantry and give away as midwinter presents, then there are many places around the city which will welcome your surplus. Food banks and community cafes and no-waste projects will be glad to see you coming with big bags and baskets of goodies. Some streets have an informal system of putting out unwanted fruit and vegetables (and even books and household things too) on front walls for anyone to help themselves. If that doesn’t happen where you live, maybe you could be the catalyst to get something started. Make sure your produce is enjoyed and appreciated, not going to waste.

Although of course nothing really goes to waste that ends up on your compost heap anyway! It’s always time to be thinking about how to improve your soil and its biome. If you have got any beds coming empty as you harvest, and you’ve nothing more to plant out for later in the season, try sowing some green manures. At this time of year, crimson clover, mustards and phacelia can establish quickly and protect your soil while providing a food source for insects. Another good way to protect your soil from winter erosion, while keeping weeds down too, is to lay down cardboard sheets, so this might be a good time to start collecting and saving boxes from your neighbourhood.

The wet weather tends to encourage fungal problems on fruit so pick plums and gages as they ripen, quickly removing any with brown rot before that can spread to the rest of the crop. Tie in the growth of autumn raspberries against wind and weather, if you haven’t already. And keep picking up fallen apples and pears, eating what is ripe, composting what isn’t. And if you haven’t got fruit trees on your plot, start looking around and asking for samples to taste from neighbours, so you can choose what to plant in the winter. If all else fails, most of our local sites are rich with brambles – don’t let them go to waste either!

Plotlines, written by one of our York allotmenteers, is a twice monthly blog aimed at anyone who would like some guidance about growing on an allotment.

Past present future

Herbs tied ready for drying

There’s a subtle shift in season just now, as you’re probably noticing. As gardeners we’re always looking ahead – mindful living in the present moment doesn’t yield crops for next year! Which isn’t to say that it’s not wonderful to have some moments to sit and enjoy your plot at this point of high summer and productivity; just that we can also be planning for what comes next. It’s always good to keep notes of how your past plans have worked out, or not….as well as plans of the plot beds so you can rotate crops next year.

So as you lift second early potato crops, look ahead and sow some quick maturing brassicas and salads on those fertile beds. If you mulched the potatoes well, the soil will be gorgeous now: soft, moist, rich in organic matter and microbial activity. Chinese cabbages, pak chois, lettuces, land cress, turnips and radishes can all go in now, for green vitality later in the year. The wild rocket you may have been enjoying so far this summer will start to go to seed – which you can save for next year’s crop. But now summer rocket can be sown and those plants should stand through the winter well, going to seed in late spring. All those crops need netting of course, against other hungry species.

On warm dry mornings you can pick herbs to take home to dry. Generally their vigour, essential oils and taste and efficacy is strongest just before flowering. Lemon balm, marjoram, oregano, thyme, tarragon, dill, coriander are all ready for a first cropping now. There are so many uses for herbs, as teas, in cooking and in health promoting tinctures using alcohol or cider vinegar. Hang them in bunches somewhere dry, so maybe from your banisters rather than in the kitchen which might get too hot and steamy. Certainly there will be heat and steam if you’re making jam, chutneys or bottling fruits. Freshness is crucial here: it was found that bottled blackcurrants stored in a dark place for six months had a much higher vitamin c content than so called ‘fresh’ fruit bought from a greengrocer. So however you’re choosing to process, preserve and store your produce, pick it and deal with it within hours.

You could be harvesting your garlic and onions now, setting them to dry on open weave trays or racks or baskets before storing them somewhere cool and dark. It’s easy fun to make a traditional garlic plait which you can hang to impress your friends!

Some summer fruit pruning can be done: as raspberries ripen, cut out the old canes and tie in the new softer greener growth. This helps to reduce pest risk next year. You can stack the canes tidily at the bottom of a hedge to provide invertebrate habitat. It’s also a good time to shorten the new growth of espalier or cordon apples, so energy goes to fruit production not more vegetative growth. The same goes for tomatoes: take off the lower leaves now to let the trusses set well. And spend a bit of time picking up fallen apples and putting them on the compost to deter sawflies from completing their life cycle and getting into your fruit another time.

So still plenty to be doing and planning – but enjoy those quiet reflective moments in the present as well.

Plotlines, written by one of our York allotmenteers, is a twice monthly blog aimed at anyone who would like some guidance about growing on an allotment.