Sourcing information on high density systems for apples

Online videos are available for fruit growers wanting current information on development and management of apple orchards.

Apple growers continue to order and plant trees on dwarfing rootstocks, which now dominate the apple industry scene throughout the country. In Michigan, over 75 percent of the trees being planted are on M.9 or equivalent dwarfing rootstocks and many are being established at spacings of 3 to 6 feet down the tree row. Growers are doing this to increase yields of high quality fruit earlier in the orchard life. Investors and loan officers like it, too, because they see return on their investment sooner. The only challenge to this approach is a spring season such as we experienced in Michigan in 2012 where we lost the majority of a crop.

Many growers are trying new, high density systems for the first time and are looking for guidance in development and management. The guidance and management protocols do exist now thanks to the Internet, at your finger-tips on your computer or smart phone keyboard.

 A simple browser search on topics such as “tall spindle apples” or “vertical axe apples” can reveal a list of good sources of information quickly. At Michigan State University, we have also made information available through Michigan State University Extension News for Fruit & Nuts. Many of us campus Extension specialists who also teach courses provide a web site which makes it possible for students in associated topic classes to access. Our web sites can also be a great resource for growers. My web site has several articles and videos that I have archived under the “Extension” tab.

At this web site, growers and students can access information on planting and orchard establishment; tree fruit rootstock selection; orchard and vineyard site selection and soils; training and pruning systems for orchards; and micro-irrigation for orchards and vineyards in Michigan. Many of the articles are in PDF format generated from past presentations and lectures on a topic and some are from articles prepared for print. Additionally, I have included videos regarding pruning, training and planting fruit trees. I try to update these for our students and grower audience.

The two systems which currently dominate the apple growing landscape are the “tall spindle” and “vertical axe” systems. With the help of my MSU colleagues, we have prepared a couple videos on pruning and training trees in these systems. I prepared these videos because as I travel and visit orchards, I see a number of costly mistakes being made regarding how to develop and manage them properly. I have been in orchards where the basal portion of what is supposed to be a tall spindle tree is excessively large. The concept of recycling all branches from ground up is not understood and different from the vertical axe, where the lower portion of the canopy is allowed to invade the wider spacing. Tall spindle trees planted at 3 feet apart can’t allow vigorous branches beyond 2 feet in length to stay in the canopy. View these videos to review the protocols and find how out to make your trees fit in this system.

Dr. Perry's work is funded in part by MSU's AgBioResearch.

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