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Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs

Training Systems for the New Apple Orchard

Training systems are designed to manage trees for maximum yield and quality with efficient use of inputs.  Training systems keep changing because these factors keep changing.  Since the introduction of dwarfing rootstalks more than 50 years ago, apple orchards have moved from low density free-standing trees through the small, Slender Spindle trees on individual stakes (Figure 1), and on towards trellised, taller trees like the Vertical Axe (Figure 2). The best elements of these systems have been combined in the Tall Spindle System (Figure 3), developed in New York.  

In general, the system that works best with the natural growth of the tree, and which allows uniform tasks in the orchard, will be most successful.  We are learning that the Tall Spindle system does both. 

The Tall Spindle System has these advantages:

  • Most profitable (compared to Vertical Axe and Slender Spindle)
  • High early yields (due to high density and feathered trees)
    (Figure 4)
  • High mature yields (due to continuing renewal of fruiting area)
  • Simple and easy to teach
  • Minimal labour for training once established
  • Uses natural tree growth controls – branch bending, early cropping (Figure 5)
  • Adaptable to partial mechanizations eg. Platforms
  • Low unit cost (due to high yields and high fruit quality)

Here are the basic elements of a Tall Spindle orchard:

  • Tree spacing at 1000 tree/acre (eg.  12’ x 4’)  
  • Fully dwarfing rootstock (eg. M9, B9, G11, G41, G16, V2, V3)
  • Feathered nursery trees (10-15 feathers) (Figure 6)
  • Minimal pruning at planting – no heading (ever!)
  • Branches tied down to induce fruiting (Figure 7)
  • Trellis support with tree height at 0.9 x row spacing
  • High fertility to reach the wire quickly

Tall Spindle orchards in New York have achieved 150 bins/acre (3000 bu/acre) in the first 5 years.  Here are the yield targets by year:
2nd leaf – 10 bins/ac
3rd leaf – 25 bins/ac
4th leaf – 50 bins/ac
5th leaf – 65 bins/ac

As these orchards mature, it becomes important to allow sunlight penetration by renew the fruiting area. This will maintain high yields and fruit quality.

Slender Spindle trees on individual stakes. Trellised, taller trees like the Vertical Axe. The best elements of all systems have been combined in the Tall Spindle System. The Tall Spindle system produces high early yields, due to high density and feathered trees. The Tall Spindle system uses natural tree growth controls like  branch bending and early cropping. The Tall Spindle system requires feathered nursery trees (10-15 feathers). The Tall Spindle system requires branches tied down to induce fruiting. Click to enlarge