3 Excellent Reasons to Remove Suckers…the Right Way

As the time for summer pruning of apricots and cherry trees comes to an end, we thought we’d share with you a tip about one of the most important jobs to do when pruning – regardless of the time of year you do it.

It’s really important to remove any suckers that are growing on your tree (that’s shoots coming up from below the graft union, or directly from the roots coming up through the soil).

Here’s the first reason why this is so important:

A young plum tree being dominated by 2 suckers
A young plum tree being dominated by 2 suckers

This is a little plum tree with two suckers coming up from the roots. Notice how they’re pretty much the same diameter as the original tree, and both are much taller?

Just imagine, for a minute, what this scenario would look like in another year, or two, if the suckers were left intact.

Within a very short space of time it would be increasingly difficult to tell which was the original grafted tree, and in fact there would be a good chance the original tree would be out-competed and die anyway. If you have a multi-trunked fruit tree in your garden, this is one of the common explanations for how it got there!

Here’s another example which shows just how much stronger suckers often are than the grafted tree:

That brings us to the second reason for getting this technique right.

When you’re removing suckers, make sure you take them off as close to the trunk or the ground as you possible can – if you leave a stub, you’re just asking for trouble because it’s likely to turn into a forest of suckers next year!

Remove suckers without leaving any stub at all
Remove suckers without leaving any stub at all

The third excellent reason to remove suckers is because they can be dangerous!

Many rootstocks are quite thorny, and because they grow so vigorously, the thorns can quickly become quite strong and vicious. Here’s a close-up to drive the point home…

The one we’ve photographed here had grown about 2m tall in just one season, right up through the middle of the tree, which not only takes much-needed vigour away from the tree, but provides a potentially painful hazard when you’re picking.

When you remove these thorny suckers, make sure you put them out of harm’s way, don’t leave them where they can be driven over because they can puncture even a tractor tyre (and yes, that’s the voice of experience!)

We’re all about making pruning as easy as possible, because we know it’s one of the topics that really befuddles a lot of fruit growers! Removing suckers is just one of the techniques we teach in our Pruning Mature Fruit Trees short course (as well as our other pruning courses), because it really can make a huge difference to your trees.

Before you do soil prep…

Autumn is an excellent time for soil improvement and preparation before we plant fruit trees in winter.

Apples close to harvest time in autumn
Apples close to harvest time in autumn

There’s usually enough of a gap between when the harvest of summer fruit has finished (though you may still have apples and pears on the tree), and when planting happens in winter, to allow for planting an autumn green manure crop, for example.

However, before you even start thinking about soil prep, there’s a few other steps you need to do.

  1. Review how your fruit trees performed this summer

Did you get enough fruit to meet your goals? If not, why not — was it because of disease, lack of pollination, or just not enough trees? If you don’t know, we recommend keeping a fruit tree diary to help track of how your trees are performing. (You can download our Fruit Tree Diary template, plus instructions for using it, as part of the Learn to Diagnose Your Fruit Trees short course).

We like to preserve enough fruit to see us through winter
We like to preserve enough fruit to see us through winter

2. Decide whether you need to plant more trees 

After completing step 1 you should know whether you’re going to need more trees to help you grow the perfect amount of fruit to suit you and your family. There’s no point planting trees unless you actually need the fruit.

3. Decide which varieties will help you achieve your goals

  • You may have discovered that you need to choose a variety to fill a gap in production and provide a more continuous supply of fruit throughout the season (balancing out the periods of glut and scarcity).
  • If pollination is an issue, you may be looking for a variety that can act as a pollinator to improve yields from an existing tree.
  • Or you may be adding a type or variety of fruit that you normally have to buy.

4. Now choose the right location in your garden

Having chosen the varieties you’ll be buying, now think about the best location in your garden for those varieties.

For example, apricots and almonds need the most frost-protected spots, but they also need to be able to dry quickly in periods of rain in spring. Pears are relatively frost tolerant and reasonably tolerant of waterlogged soil.

NOW that you know what you’ll be planting and where, you can think about getting started with your soil prep! More on that in another blog…

Apple variety delight

Don’t you just adore apples?

Organic Geeveston Fanny apples at market
Organic Geeveston Fanny apples at market

We’ve just enjoyed a brief trip to Tasmania, to visit fellow organic orchardists and friends Matt and Coreen from Our Mates Farm, amongst other things.

Certified organic spartan apples
Certified organic spartan apples

Being apple season, on the Apple Isle, we were of course surrounded by apples. We’re always on the lookout for locally grown, certified organic produce wherever we go, and to our great delight, we didn’t have too much trouble finding some.

The apple museum at Willie Smith's in Geeveston
The apple museum at Willie Smith’s Apple Shed in Grove

We also visited the apple museum at Willie Smith’s Apple Shed, in Grove. It’s probably a bit hard to read the poster explaining its history (try clicking on it to enlarge it), but the apple museum is very close to the old Grove Research and Demonstration Station, which was an important part of apple R&D in Australia.

It’s funded by local growers rather than the government these days, and it continues to house Australia’s biggest collection of heritage apple, quince and pear trees.

The most fun part is the amazing apple display in the museum. There’s space for more than 390 apples, and each year fresh specimens of the different varieties are put on show. It’s wonderful.

We resisted taking photos of ALL the varieties (it was tempting…) but restricted ourselves to (a) the varieties we’ve planted in our heritage apple orchard, (b) varieties we’ve heard of but never seen before, and (c) varieties whose names were just too cute to leave out!

Honestly, you couldn’t make these names up!

Apart from being fun to look at (if you’re apple nerds, like us), it’s also an important reference collection.

We only managed to find one of the heritage varieties that we’ll have for sale for the first time this year through Carr’s Organic Fruit Tree Nursery. Well, a version of it anyway (we’re selling Democrat tree and this is a slightly different cultivar called Democrat Early).

And we thought we were doing pretty well with 25 varieties of apples for sale in the nursery!

We’re especially chuffed that we’ve managed to have 18 different heritage varieties on offer in our first year, including some very unusual varities you may not have heard of, like Roundway Magnum Bonum, Bess Pool, and Elstar.

But the bar has definitely been set higher for us now, particularly as so many of these lesser known varieties look so delicious!

Hmm, wonder if we’ve got room for 390 different apple varieties….