One of the most rewarding horticultural practices is training trees. This can be done either for fruit trees or ornamental specimens. If started when the tree is young, the result can be a spectacular showpiece tree or a huge bounty of fruit crops such as apples.
This article will explore what tree training is and why it’s such a useful technique. We’ll also cover the three most common tree training systems and how to make pruning cuts correctly.
Looking to know more about horticultural practices then read our horticultural guide.
What is tree training?
Tree training is a practice used to influence the growth and development of a tree over several years into a specific shape. This might be done to increase the potential of fruit trees or to create an ornamental tree that conforms to a planned design.
Tree training involves making a series of strategic pruning cuts to force the tree to grow in a certain way. This works best when started during the earliest stages of the tree’s growth.
Why do tree training?
There are three main reasons why a gardener may want to train a tree – to improve the health of the tree, to shape it into an aesthetically pleasing design, or to create a bigger crop of fruits or flowers.
Training can improve a tree’s health and resilience. By pruning away weaker branches, the tree’s energy is redirected to the strongest branches. This can help the tree to weather inclement weather such as high winds or storms. Tree training can also improve the tree’s resistance to disease by reducing the chance of wounds that can be exploited by bacteria, fungi, and insects.
Training also allows gardeners to craft a tree into a desired shape. This can be done to keep a tree away from buildings or other trees. It also enables gardeners to sculpt a tree into an aesthetically pleasing or thematic shape. This is usually known as topiary
Fruits & flowering
Trees can also be trained to increase the yield of fruit or flowers. Pruning away weaker branches gives the tree more energy, space, and sunlight to channel into growing fruit crops on stronger limbs. Espaliering
is a common technique that involves training a fruit tree to spread across a wall.
Importance of trimming
Trimming is one of the main methods used by gardeners to train a tree. As the tree grows, branches or shoots that look weak or grow in the wrong direction are removed. This redirects the tree’s into the remaining limbs.
Through gradual pruning, the tree will start to grow in the desired manner. Pruning is also necessary for keeping the tree at a limited size, which can produce bigger and better fruits.
There are three main types
of tree training systems used by gardeners, and these practices haven’t changed much for over a century:
Central leader systems
This method involves centralising the tree around a single main branch with other limbs branching off from the centre. This often produces a triangular form that resembles a Christmas tree. This replicates the natural growing habit of oaks and fruit trees such as apples or pears.
Open centre system
Open centre systems are perfect for apricot, cherry, peach, and other similar trees. The centre of the tree is trained without a single dominant trunk or larger branches. Instead, the tree is trained to produce multiple limbs and more central space. This helps sunlight reach all of the branches and helps to evenly ripen fruit.
Modified leader system
This method combines the principles of both a central leader and an open centre system. A central ladder configuration is followed during the tree’s early years. Once the larger limbs reach the desired size, the main trunk is removed from the centre to transition the tree to an open centre system.
There are two major types
of pruning cuts – heading and thinning. Both of these techniques are useful for most training systems. Pruning is best performed in the winter when most trees have entered dormancy.
Heading involves trimming a branch towards the top of the limb. This encourages the tree to create several smaller limbs growing upwards. This technique can be used to create multiple limbs in an open centre system.
Thinning is more common during tree training and involves trimming off any unwanted branches close to the collar – the bulge at the base of a branch where it joins to the main trunk. Thinning is used in all three systems to prune away weak or undesired branches to influence the growth shape of the tree.
Tree training rewards patient gardeners with stronger, more productive, and aesthetically pleasing trees. Each of the three main tree training systems suits different types of trees and are constructed through strategic pruning and trimming over several years.