Monday, March 11, 2013

What is a Leader?

A leader is the dominant trunk of a tree. In nature, trees grow in groves where they all compete for the same light. This environment causes trees to grow straight up forming a strong central leader and a good healthy canopy for collecting energy from the sun. These trees self prune as they grow. Lower branches die back to the trunk when they are still small. These branches become shaded by newer, higher branches and become dry and brittle and break off in the wind.

Trees in Nature Compete for Light
In urban environments, trees rarely grow in a grove and have no need to compete for light. This unnatural environment is not harmful to trees, but if they are left unchecked they can develop problems that could lead to permanent damage and/or premature death.

Fruit trees differ from ornamental trees and are typically pruned to have an open center. This requires removal of the leader while the tree is still young. It allows light and air flow into the center of the tree. This increases and improves the quality of the fruit produced, and improves the health and longevity of the tree.

Notice how the leader has been removed in the above image. Strong lateral branches have been chosen to allow this tree to have an open center when it matures. In this specific example the leader will continue to be reduced as the lateral branches are able to gain some dominance as shown in the following image.


Peach Tree with Open Center
See how the leader has been removed in the tree shown above and three strong lateral branches have gained dominance. This peach tree has an open center that will improve its ability to produce high yeilds.

For more information regarding the pruning terms used in this post, visit our pruning page here.