Summer pruning workshops organised by the National Trust at Florence Court took place last Thursday, with 27 people attending.

Those attending were guided around the fruit orchards by Ian Marshall, Hugh Mills and Kathy Dunphy and shown how the staff and volunteers in the Kitchen Garden go about summer-pruning the apple trees.

The event was one of a number of activities planned as part of the Florence Court Kitchen Garden and glasshouse construction project.

Future events include herb growing, flower arranging, chutney making and garden tours – all made possible by project funding from various funders, including the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

In this article, David Bolton, who led the apple pruning workshop, looks at the principles of summer pruning.

Summer pruning is not complicated. Just follow a few simple rules and you can’t go wrong – and if you do, nature will restore the tree in time.

As always, there are a few things you need to watch out for, but nothing too demanding.

The one time to be careful is when you are pruning a young tree – one to three years old – as chopping something off is more likely to impact on the long-term shape of the tree.

Talking of shape, most of us will be familiar with an orchard with trees, and might have a few such trees.

If they have been managed, they stand on a trunk which branches into 5-6 outward-facing branches, upon which are smaller branches that bear the fruit. We call this the 'goblet' or 'wine glass' shape.

Old lore says that this form of tree should allow someone to throw their hat through the middle – or allow a pigeon to fly through.

This form opens the middle of the tree to light and air, reducing diseases and helping the fruit to form and ripen.

There are other forms of shape called, for instance, 'fan' and 'espalier', examples of which are in the Florence Court Kitchen Garden.

There is another common form called 'cordon' where trees are maintained at a 45-degree angle.

These require a slightly different approach aimed at producing fruit and maintaining their ornamental shape. For now, the focus is on the ordinary orchard tree form.

The staff and volunteers at Florencecourt prune apple trees at two times of the year.

Summer pruning takes place from mid August to mid September; any earlier, and it is likely to mean there will be a burst of new growth and the job would need to be done again.

Winter pruning happens when the trees are dormant between the end of November and the end of February.

A few tools will be needed. A good set of secateurs is a must, and it is advisable to wipe them with methylated spirit between each tree to minimise the transfer of diseases, or after cutting out a particularly diseased branch.

For bigger trees, loppers (long-handled secateurs) will be needed, and a pruning saw is helpful.

For very high branches, saws or cutters on the end of long poles can be very useful. A step ladder might be helpful at times, if you can find someone to hold it.

If you are restoring a very old gnarled tree, then more advanced equipment and help might be needed – but that’s another story.

The aim of summer pruning is to stimulate the tree to produce fruit buds for the following year.

It is also a good time to remove "The Three Ds" – dead, diseased and damaged branches, along with those that rub against each other.

Going back to the goblet shape, it is important also to remove the strong upward- and inward-facing growth in the centre of the tree, to maintain that open form.

Generally, such unwanted branches or shoots are removed by cutting them off close to the point where they emerge from the tree.

Likewise, now is a good time to remove or cut back strong branches that grow out from each of the main side branches into neighbouring branches.

Some of the strong upward-growth that will be apparent at this time of the year will have been stimulated by winter pruning.

Unlike winter pruning, summer pruning does not provoke strong growth. Instead, the energies of the tree go into producing fruit buds.

Now to the main part of the task. Apple trees can grow shoots in late summer that are 2-3 feet (60-90cm) long – quite remarkable, really.

This long, whippy growth should be cut back to above the 4th to 6th bud on this year’s shoots.

Where possible, choose an outward-facing bud, which tends to flatten the overall shape of the tree (the open goblet shape again) rather than inwards-facing buds, which tend to grow upwards.

You will see where this year’s growth starts from last year’s by the change in appearance of the shoots and the rings where the older and new growth meet. One sharp cut just above the selected bud is all that is needed.

It is useful to stand back from time to time to look at the tree – especially along the main branches running in towards the trunk.

It also gives you an opportunity to admire your handiwork. By doing this, you will more clearly see things that require attention.

You can be tempted to keep removing material from the tree, so follow your instinct and call it a day. There is always next year.

A word of caution. Most varieties produce fruit along the shank of the branches – clustered around what are known as spurs. We call these spur-bearing varieties.

A small number of trees, however, produce their fruit at the tip of the branches – tip bearers.

Clearly if you remove all the tips, you will have little or no fruit the following year, so we prune these trees on a three-yearly cycle, removing one third of the shoots when summer pruning.

Irish Peach is our most distinctive example of a tip bearer. The key is to know your trees.

Now is a good time of the year to observe where the fruit has formed; along the branches or at the tips (or both, in some varieties).

Winter pruning – At Florence Court, the gardeners prune the trees in winter mainly to manage their overall shape. This is when larger branches are removed, for example.

If done annually, this is usually a not very demanding task. On some older trees that have been left to themselves, it can take about three years to bring them into the sort of shape that is preferred. Again, remove 'The Three Ds'.

Plums and other stone fruit trees – Don’t be tempted to prune plums, cherries and other stone fruits in late autumn, winter or early spring, as stone fruits are susceptible to diseases at such times, such as silver leaf disease.

They need a different approach with pruning, best done on a dry sunny day when the blossom is nearly over.

Old orchards and trees – Locally, we have fewer old orchards and trees from times past. Some of the old varieties that grew locally are well adapted to our damp climate, and if you have an old orchard or tree at the back of the house, it is worth looking after them.

If a tree is on its last legs, it would be worth grafting some offspring so that the variety is maintained.

Above all, enjoy your orchard and if you only have one or two trees, enjoy them.

This engagement with nature is good for the soul. By caring for the trees we support their health and productivity.

Apple and other orchard trees also provide homes for important insects, lichens (of which the trees at Florencecourt have an abundance), and other forms of life.

They bring joy in the spring when in blossom, and reward in the late summer and autumn with their fruits.