This section is from the book "The Gardener V3", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
Many Apple-trees would naturally assume a pyramidal shape if let alone; others require a little pains in order to induce them to take on that habit. The first thing necessary in order to succeed in the formation of a symmetrical pyramid is to fix a straight stake in the centre of the tree to which the leader is to be tied. Only young trees should be chosen for forming pyramids from, for trees some years old which have been allowed to grow irregularly are not at all well suited for the purpose. Maiden trees - trees a year from the bud or graft - which have never been cut back, are best. The centre shoot should be cut back in order to induce it to push side-growth and then tied to the stake. Two or three shoots will push in spring; the uppermost must be trained straight upwards, and the others allowed to grow outwards. If all grow equally strong, no further attention will be necessary the first season; but if one or two (of the side-shoots) run away much stronger than the others, they must be pinched in whenever it is seen that they are stronger, in order to equalise the growth.
The second year's pruning consists in again shortening the leader, and also the side-shoots; the leader, in order to induce the formation of another set of side-shoots - and the side-shoots in order to cause them to form spurs. The second year's training must just be the same as the first year's, but, in addition, the superfluous growth on the first year's side branches must be pinched to three leaves as soon as they have formed six. All terminal growths must be left to grow on untouched, unless they are growing very strongly,__in that case the points should be taken out of the side-shoots when they are about 10 inches long, and out of the leader when it is about 15 inches. This will cause a second growth (which will be equal to a year's gain), which must by no means be again pinched. All superfluous shoots must be spurred in by pinching as before. We need not repeat the above. Year by year the operations are the same. The aim and object of shortening-in the leaders is to cause enough of furnishing shoots to push. The end and aim of shortening-in the side-shoots is to cause them to push enough of spurs, and also to secure that the branches be strong enough to bear up loads of fruit without breaking, or even unduly bending.
Branches whose side-shoots are being continually-pruned in, and whose leading shoots are allowed to run out unchecked, grow very slender, are only partially covered with spurs, dangle about in a useless way with every gust of wind, and break down with less than half a load of fruit. Perhaps we should add that the branches should be from 8 inches to 1 foot apart, and as regular as possible. If necessary the branches should be regulated by being tied down, up, or sideways, as the case may be. When the trees are 5 or 6 feet high, and growing vigorously, but showing no signs of fruit-bearing, lifting and careful root-pruning should be practised, and the trees carefully replanted among fresh soil. In all cases of root-pruning and replanting, fresh soil - that is, soil which no tree-roots have impoverished - should always be used for putting round the roots. Should a dry season follow lifting, mulching should be given, or the trees may get too severe a check. Even supposing that the trees grow with a moderate amount of vigour - which is what ought to be aimed at always - the mulching should still be given in order to prepare the trees for bearing a heavy crop the year following; for a dry summer, following upon root-pruning the previous autumn, is sure to cause a great number of flower-buds to form, to be followed, if no untoward event happen, with a heavy crop of fruit, and this will absorb what would otherwise be expended on useless shoots.
When once the trees are brought into a bearing condition, less pinching and root-pruning will be necessary; but care should be taken that a fairly vigorous growth is maintained, and for this reason winter top-dressings and manure-waterings should be given whenever necessary, and over-cropping should be avoided. Some varieties, when once they commence bearing, make little headway; and although it is a desirable thing to turn over-vigorousness into fruit, it is a most undesirable thing to cripple young trees. When some kinds - Stirling Castle, for example - commence forming flower-buds, flower-buds often terminate the leaders. These, if left alone, will develop into clusters of Apples, but the result is that the tree extends no further. When small trees show this tendency the points of the shoots must be shortened back, however short they may be already, to a wood-bud, the tree fed by some means, and only a few fruits be left to mature until the tree is again in a vigorous state.
A. H., H. (To be continued).