Spindlebush Fruit Trees
Growing spindlebushin gardens should be more popular than it is. They are small (no ladders needed); they are easy to grow; they need very little pruning after the first few years and they start cropping early in their life. What more could you want?
A spindlebush tree has a single central stem (a leader) with the branches spreading outwards from this, rather like those of a Christmas tree. This contrasts with the more usual open-centre vase-shape of fruit trees. The crop is carried, initially, on the shoots (laterals) that grow out from the central stem and then on side shoots that develop on these. When branches have been cropping for four or five years, they may need to be shortened or cut out completely to make room for younger and more fruitful ones. Some of the lower branches are allowed to stay for longer.
This is simply because there’s nothing below them to be shaded.
Most fruit trees will start cropping earlier and will bear greater crops if they are left judicially alone, as regards pruning. This is the principle of the spindlebush. Where overcrowding occurs higher up the tree, offending shoots are usually cut back to leave a stub an inch or so long that will give rise to one or more future fruiting shoots,
One way of making acrop earlier is to tie down its young shoots to below the horizontal. This is because horizontal shoots and branches start fruiting earlier than do vertical shoots, which also carry less fruit. Once new shoots have been tied or weighted down for a year or so, they will stay in place on their own.
Another principle is that fruiting is the most effective way of reducing growth and, once a shoot has started to fruit, it will continue to do so.
To buy an apple orpartly formed into a spindlebush tree is almost impossible, so buy a maiden (one-year-old), preferably with ‘feathers’; these are side shoots that grew on the young stem during its first year.
After winter planting, and because we want key branches to grow first and then fruit, four of the strongest are retained. The lowest one should be no less than 60cm (2ft) from the ground. These are all cut back by half to a downward or outward pointing bud. All other feathers are cut back to their point of origin. The central leader is shortened to four or five buds above the top feather and the tree is then tied to a stake.
If the maiden tree is a Whip’ (unfeathered), cut it back after planting to 90cm (3ft) tall. A year later, it will be much the same as a feathered tree and needs to be treated accordingly.
Each winter, the extension growth on the central leader is shortened by a third. Cut to a bud that is pointing in the opposite direction to that in which it was cut the previous winter so that the stem is kept as vertical as possible (if rather zig-zag at this young age). If there are any strong growing shoots coming from the main stem at a narrow angle (they will usually be near the top leader), remove them completely. We want shoots to be growing out as near to right angles to the central stem as possible. Any other new shoots that grow out from the main stem are tied or weighted down to the horizontal in the following winter so that they remain short and fruitful. If any are clearly causing overcrowding, they need to be removed as soon as you see them.
When the first fruits are produced, often in the following year, the growth of the tree will slow down; leading to even more fruit.
The only other pruning, beyond what I have already said, is when the upper branches begin to shade those beneath them. They should then be shortened appropriately or, if this doesn’t cure the problem, they need to be cut out. Similarly, fruiting side shoots on the lower branches are cut out when the quality and/or quantity of their fruit deteriorates.
Once the tree has reached a convenient height, which is normally 2-2.5m (7-8ft) tall, upward extension growth is cut out every winter; to leave just the side shoots.
Click this link to see more tree forms – Cordons, Espaliers and Fan-trained fruit trees
And this link for Standards, Half Standards and Bush trees