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What do you do with your fruit tree prunings?

Prunings are on our minds because during autumn the farm is usually in full-on apricot pruning mode.

The typical stunning, warm autumn weather we get in our part of the world makes it the perfect time for the job.

And when the trees are starting to wear their glorious autumn colours, it’s an absolute joy to be in the garden and hanging out with them.

Pruning is a great time to do a close-up health check of your fruit trees. If your apricot tree is like the ones on our farm, you might see the odd spot of Gummosis or the remnants of this year’s Blossom blight infection.

Summer pruning is a good opportunity to remove this kind of diseased wood from the tree. In fact, it’s so important that it’s the first step in our foolproof 7-step pruning method.

But then what?

Prunings on the ground
Prunings on the ground

Disposing of prunings

Picking up diseased prunings and disposing of them properly is just as important as the pruning itself.

The best way is to return them to the soil somehow. That way all the carbon and other nutrients they contain will be recycled and used by other plants.

The first method we want to tell you about is feeding them to animals.

Feeding prunings to animals

Large animals (think sheep, goats, horses) just love to eat prunings, especially if they still have green leaves on them.

In their quest for the tasty leaves, they will often break the branches down enough to put the remains straight into a compost pile.

If you have animals yourself, see how they feel about eating the garden prunings. If not, are there animals nearby you can take them to?

This is less than ideal because the nutrients are leaving your garden. But it’s one of the easiest ways of dealing with them, and the animal’s owners will probably appreciate the free feed. You might even be able to do a trade for some lovely nutritious manure.

We’re lucky enough to have Tessa’s in-house micro-dairy here on the farm as part of the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op. A lot of the fruit prunings from the farm go straight to a bunch of cows who think they are a high treat!

Calves eating fruit tree prunings
Calves eating fruit tree prunings

A chipper is your friend

Another great technique is to chip the prunings.

A chipper is a great investment, or if that’s beyond your capacity or need it’s possible to hire them. If you’re planning to hire one, it’s worth stockpiling your prunings to do a large amount at the same time. Do you have a gardening friend you could share the cost with?

Once chipped, it’s a good idea to leave them in a pile to age for a while before you put them back around the trees. Alternatively, use them to build a compost pile.

Learning how to make your own compost is one of the “must-have” techniques for all gardeners that are serious about growing their own food. It’s really hard to find good quality compost to buy (not to mention quite expensive, as it’s something you need to apply regularly).

Making your own compost is also one of the best ways to capture the nutrients from your garden ‘waste’ and return them to the soil.

Hugh and Oscar chipping branches
Hugh and Oscar chipping branches

Prunings as firewood

If you have a wood heater, then larger fruit tree prunings also make great firewood. Smaller pieces are excellent for kindling once they’re properly dry.

For this purpose, they can be chopped into lengths with a chainsaw or a pruning saw. Even your garden loppers will be good enough to cut many prunings to the right length. If you don’t have a woodfire yourself, do you know anyone that would appreciate some free fuel?

This method is great for getting rid of the wood and for saving money if you’re buying firewood. The downside is that it doesn’t preserve the nutrients in the wood.

You can return some of the ash from your fire to the soil. This will retain a lot of the nutrients including calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium. However, you will have lost all that lovely carbon up the chimney.

Prunings of dead limbs cut into firewood lengths
Prunings of dead limbs cut into firewood lengths

Turning fruit tree prunings into biochar

The last technique we want to talk about is another burning technique, but one that preserves the carbon rather than losing it to the atmosphere.

And that’s biochar!

Making biochar at home is a way of burning your prunings in a low-oxygen, high-temperature environment. It sounds complicated but is actually relatively simple and easy to do, once you have the right vessel to do it in.

The most common method of disposing of prunings is to put them in the green-waste bin. Depending on where you live and what your council actually does with the green waste, the nutrients may be recycled into compost.

This is still a pretty good outcome, but not as good as keeping the nutrients in your own garden.

Your fruit trees grew the wood, so wouldn’t it be great if they could reap the benefits of all that hard work by the return of compost, woodchip mulch, animal manure, or biochar to their soil?

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