Stepover Apple Tree Update – Spring 2024 Edition

For the past five years I’ve been growing a pair1It used to be a trio, but one of them was far too vigorous a cultivar, on far too vigorour a rootstock, and so it was lifted and donated to a local community orchard last winter. of stepover-trained apple trees on my allotment plot in North Manchester. Contrary to most of the advice given in most of the general gardening guides and fruit tree growing texts, I’ve been pruning them only in winter rather than in summer – see my ‘Stepover Apple Trees, Winter Pruning’ posts for years one, two and three for more detail of the method, if you’re interested – and I’ve been keeping a keen eye on the general health and performance of the trees to see how they’ve been responding.

I’m delighted to say that, despite the wet, largely grey spring that we’ve had so far this year, both trees – a ‘Keswick Codlin’ and a ‘Howgate Wonder’ – appear to be doing very nicely indeed. They both fruited well last year but, due to the early-summer fruitlet-thinning regime that I applied, they weren’t overloaded and so they had plenty of energy and nutrients available to to ripen last year’s fruit and set fruit buds for this year as well.

Here’s how they’re shaping up this year.

Keswick Codlin

At the very start of May the tree was in full bloom, with healthy-looking flower clusters spread out along its length:

Two weeks later, on May 15th, the blossom was over and leaf-growth was in full swing:

Howgate Wonder

A very similar story here, with good, strong-looking flowers forming in early May along the two main branches of the stepover:

Then, a couple of weeks later, the blossom was over, and leaf-growth had kicked up a gear:

I had a quick check earlier today, and fruit-set was looking good on both trees (pics: ‘Keswick Codlin’, then ‘Howgate Wonder’):

I’ll be rigorously thinning those fruitlets in mid-June, once the trees have had a chance to naturally shed a few, and this year I’ll be leaving a single apple per spur on the ‘Howgate Wonder’, to see if that helps to avoid the minor pest-damage problems that occurred last year, when woodlice burrowed into the stem ends of fruits that had been growing back-to-back on the same spur:

I’ll post another update later in the year, as we get towards harvest season, in which I’ll assess the effects of whatever sort of summer we get this year. Hopefully it won’t be a repeat of last year’s scorching June and soggy, grey July.

How about you? Do you grow fruit trees in trained forms? If so, how do you prune them? And how are they looking so far this year? Do please let me know, via the comments.

Footnotes

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    It used to be a trio, but one of them was far too vigorous a cultivar, on far too vigorour a rootstock, and so it was lifted and donated to a local community orchard last winter.

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