University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
TREE FRUIT TERMS
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension
University of Vermont
If you grow fruits, from
small fruits like strawberries to tree fruits like apples, you’ll
some specific terms or words. Even if
you just look through fruit books and catalogs, you’ll likely run
of these. Here are some of the most
common for the tree fruits.
first at the main words used to group fruits, tree fruits are one
(small fruits being the other), obviously for those growing on
trees. These include fruits such as apples, peaches
(and the related apricots and nectarines—basically a fuzz-less
pears, cherries, and nuts.
growing tree fruits, pruning is a main cultural practice and there
terms you should know associated with them.
The two main types of pruning cuts are “heading” and “thinning”.
Heading cuts are those removing a branch tip,
which stimulates growth from below the cut making a tree more bushy
dense. Thinning cuts are those in which
a whole branch is removed from where it originates, such as at the
trunk. This type of cut is used when more growth
isn’t desired, to remove crossing or rubbing branches, or if more
needed within a tree for sunlight and air circulation (which, in
the word “thinning” will be seen applied to fruits, meaning that
removed. While growers may use chemicals
or mechanical means for this, home gardeners do this by hand. Trees
tend to produce many more flowers, and
so fruits, than they need or can support.
You might say this is to “hedge their bets”, so if these
don’t thin with many dropping naturally (“June” drop),
you’ll need to thin the fruits for best size and harvest, and so the
don’t break under too much weight. This
is particularly important for apples, peaches, pears, and plums.
You may need to remove up to 80 percent of
fruits, so that each is about 6 inches from the next (4 inches for
only one fruit left in each cluster.
other important pruning terms to know for a particular fruit refers
to how the
tree will be pruned—the pruning or training style. “Central leader”
refers to keeping one main
stem, the tree forming more a Christmas tree or cone shape. If this
central leader is pruned after
several years of growth, allowing an upper sideshoot to develop into
this is termed “modified central leader.”
This is done to keep vigorous trees more under control, and to keep
branches lower and so easier to harvest.
The “open center” is just that, and produces a vase-shaped tree.
This is used on spreading trees, particularly
peaches and their relatives.
set of important terms for fruit trees involves their propagation.
Most are “grafted”, the desirable cultivar on
the top (the “scion”) being attached through one of several means to
“rootstock” or “understock” on the bottom.
While the scion is the name you recognize and produces the fruit you
desire such as ‘Liberty’ or ‘Delicious’ apple, the rootstock affects
traits as ability to grow in poor soils, hardiness, disease
An example of a
rootstock for apples you may not have heard of is the MM.111
for the Merton and Malling research centers in England that
developed it). It is drought resistant and tolerates wet
soils too, resists wind so may not need staking, and resists the
disease. While experienced growers can
mix and match cultivars and rootstocks, usually you don’t need to
this as the grower already has made good choices.
mentioned, affects tree size and so brings up another set of terms.
“Standard” trees are usually not grafted and
grow to their normal size, which may be 30 feet or more for apples
(often less in cold climates and a less
than ideal site). Obviously such a large
tree would be more difficult to harvest than a shorter one, and
takes longer to
bear fruit, but may provide a better shade tree in landscapes and
More commonly seen
are the “dwarf” and “semidwarf” trees, generally the result of the
onto which they’re grafted. While
standard trees may start bearing fruit in 5 to 8 years, semidwarf
often bear in
3 to 5 years, with 2 to 4 years for dwarf trees. While semi-dwarf,
depending on fruit and
cultivar, may reach 15 feet tall, dwarf trees may only reach 10 feet
A relatively new
term relating to the upright shape of some cultivars, particularly
peaches, is “columnar” or “pillar”. As
with dwarf trees, these are good for small spaces as they are short
addition, only a few feet wide. While
this has been a standard shape for centuries of “espaliers” (trees
particular shapes such as candelabras, fans, or horizontal tiers),
cultivars have this columnar shape naturally.
Examples of columnar apples are ‘Golden Sentinel’ and ‘Northpole’.
bearing” refers to some fruits (especially apples) bearing heavily
in one year
and lighter or not at all the next. This
can relate to both the cultivar, as well as the culture. Improper
pruning may stimulate lots of growth
one year, with the tree “taking a rest” the next.
Many more useful
terms, and more detailed descriptions, can be found in the Fruit
Gardener’s Bible by Lewis Hill and Leonard Perry.