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Trellising Apple Trees

If you want apple trees but don’t have the space, grow them on a trellis.

Ross Penhallegon is an Extension horticulturist emeritus with Oregon State University. He says if you don’t have a fence to attach them to, create a trellising system that is similar for growing grapes.

"We’d have one or two wires, one wired about a-foot-and-a-half, the second wire is about three-foot, support posts," he says. "And then the trellised limbs will run vertical to the ground at a-foot-and-a-half and at three-foot."

The tree limbs are allowed to grow horizontally for two-to-three feet on both sides of the apple tree so the tree’s total space will be either four-feet-wide or six-feet wide.

Dwarf and semi-dwarf trees work well with this system. You could trellis regular apple trees, but Penhallegon says you’ll literally be pruning them every week because of the vigorous root stock.

It’s recommended to plant trees that are 1-2 years old, and keep in mind you will have pruning and training to do regardless of the species.

"First year it will grow up to the first wire then you would prune it. Then during the next year one branch will grow to the left side, one branch will grow to the right side, and then the top of the tree will grow up to the second wire," says Penhallegon. "The next pruning season you’ll nip that one off so then it grows to the left of the tree, to the right of the tree, and then you’ll have four scaffold branches that are running along the wires."

Once an apple tree is established, it will want to sucker, or send branches that grow straight up. Penhallegon says to prune off the suckers. You will also see stubbier shoots called “spurs,” which is where the fruit will form. Leave one spur about every 6" and cut off the rest.

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