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Of the descriptions about renovating mature fruit trees this seemed useful: Fedco Trees Tips for Renovating Old Apple Trees

These images show trees that are fuller than the ones I am dealing with:

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The trees I have are typically very tall and narrow and old (75 - 100 years). I would like to keep them. They will not be for commercial use. They will likely not get watered due to high costs. There typically is less than 1/2 inch of rain monthly for 3-4 months of summer with an annual rainfall of 25 inches in Julian, CA.

I would like to significantly reduce their height. How should this be approached over the recommended 3 year plan that is typically described? Not the details of each little snip but the main cuts to the structure, specifically the first year.

The example tree shown in the images below is 16' tall.

View of mature pear tree - south side View of mature pear tree - north side

migrated from sustainability.stackexchange.com Dec 11 '14 at 8:11

This question came from our site for folks dedicated to a lifestyle that can be maintained indefinitely without depleting available resources.

  • This question is regarding techniques for renovating vs. the choice between renovating and replacing. See also: sustainability.stackexchange.com/questions/3196/… – CW Holeman II Dec 11 '14 at 19:48
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    What ending height are you looking for? – J. Musser Dec 11 '14 at 20:00
  • 6' person being able to hand pick the fruit with just a 4' orchard ladder would be nice. – CW Holeman II Dec 11 '14 at 21:56
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    How tall are the trees you want to shorten? – J. Musser Dec 11 '14 at 22:37
  • A 6' person 4' up on a stepladder can reach up to about 12' up. That means bringing the trees down about 4'. – J. Musser Dec 12 '14 at 1:40
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  1. Remove the suckers.

  2. Remove the dead wood You can check by bending the tips. If they flex easily, it's still live. You can also scrape the bark. If you find it green, that part is live. If bark flakes off, it's dead.

  3. Step back. Remove any branches that cross. Remove any branches other than the leader that run mostly straight up.

  4. Cut the leader off at 12 feet up, or whatever length you decide on.

That's it for this year.

Year two: Continue to open up the interior of the tree. Watch for bursts of twiggy growth at the cut branches from last year.

During this year watch for symptoms of fireblight.


Put down a layer of cardboard under the entire expanse of the tree, to about 4 feet beyond the drip line. Apply 3-4 inches of wood chip mulch (Ask the local tree trimmers -- they love not having to haul it to the dump. Assuming you have a wet season, this will hold the moisture through the dry season.

  • Why put cardboard down? – kevinsky Dec 15 '14 at 12:08
  • A layer of cardboard gives about 2 years protection from weeds growing through. When it rots, rake the mulch aside, add another layer, rake the mulch back. When you start seeing stuff growing in the mulch above the cardbaord, replace the mulch. (You can dry the mulch to kill existing weeds, then compost it.) – Sherwood Botsford Dec 16 '14 at 3:19
  • so you can just chop a tree off at whatever height you like? I have some taller, less well-behaved pear trees that I would like to be shorter. – standgale Jan 11 '15 at 10:01
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Well, (for the example tree) I'd start with taking off the suckers, and any dead wood, because they are relatively easy to identify, and it's hard to tell what's going on with that tree to figure out what to cut next. Maybe that would BE the first year's cutting (and removing any new suckers/"watersprouts" would be the start of next years cutting.)

I have no personal experience with arid growing, but some of my idle reading would suggest that you might want to mulch around the tree rather than have the grass growing there, from a water competition point of view.

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