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The Cordon form is easy to grow and very productive, whilst taking up the very least amount of space in your garden. They consist of a single stem/trunk with short side branches that are pruned every summer to keep growth in check. You can grow Apples, Pears and Quince very successfully as cordons, but they must be spur bearing or partially spur bearing varieties and not tip bearing.
Cordons can either be trained on an angle (between 45-60 degrees), referred to as oblique cordons, or vertically.
We recommend selecting your trees on a semi-vigorous rootstock such as MM106 for apples or Quince A or Pyrodwarf for pears and quince. They can be planted at 80cm apart at the base.
How To Plant
Planting against a wall or fence is the best option as this provides plenty of shelter and extra warmth to the trees, but you can also construct a free-standing post and wire system.
Either way, you want to attach three to four horizontal wires at around 40cm apart, with a 40cm gap between the ground and the lowest wire.
If constructing a free-standing post and wire system, prior to planting erect some strong vertical timbers at either end of the area you are planting the cordons and add an extra vertical stake for every 4m length.
Stakes want to be at least 45cm in the ground and around 150 - 180cm above ground. The structure wants to be strong and firmly in the ground. No wobbling.
Use cable ties to tightly secure a 6ft bamboo cane to the wires at a 45 – 60 degree angle, ideally with the top of the cane pointing in a northerly direction. Plant the tree at the same angle along the cane around 5cm away from the cane and wires. Use flexible tying twine to tie the tree to the cane in a couple of places so it is secure.
Planting In The Winter and First Prune
Plant your barerooted tree in the winter months, between December – March. Once planted, immediately prune the tip of the tree back by 1/3 of its length to a downward facing bud on the underside of the trunk. If there are any side branches on the tree, prune them back to 10cm. If they are already shorter than 10cm, leave them.
First Year Summer Pruning
In late August choose a sunny day to do your summer pruning. You should have a new branch that has grown upwards from the tip of your tree (this is the extension growth from your pruning cut in the winter). Using flexible tying twine, tie this new shoot to the cane, pulling it back gently if it has grown straight up.
Look at the side branches that you cut back to 10cm in the winter. If they have new shoots growing from them, prune these back to 5cm. If there are new shoots that have grown out of the main trunk, these can be pruned back to 10cm. If they are less than 10cm, leave them.
This is all the pruning you need to do for now! Your cordon should look tidier after its summer prune.
Second Winter Pruning and Future Winter Pruning
After the first year the winter pruning of cordons is the same every year: Identify the shoot that grew from last years winter pruning cut (the extension growth you tied to the cane in the summer). You can now prune this back by 1/3 of it's length.
Second Summer Pruning and Future Summer Pruning
Repeat as per first year summer pruning. As the years go on you will find you are developing clusters of short fruiting branches known as fruiting spurs, carrying plenty of fruit. Pruning does not effect the fruit as you are only ever reducing the current season's extension growth.