Jim Swindeman would like to use knipboom trees for all of their plantings.

Jim Swindeman would like to use knipboom trees for all of their plantings.

It’s a no-brainer to plant knip-boom, highly feathered trees, says tree fruit grower Jim Swindeman. The problem is finding them.

Swindeman, a partner in Applewood Orchards in Deerfield, Michigan, said that knip trees are not a new concept. Years ago, after cutting a young tree infected with fireblight back to a whip, he discovered the explosive growth and horizontal branching that occurred on the tree in the next year.

"We’re convinced that if we could get every tree like that, we would plant only knip trees," he said. Ideally, every tree would have up to ten branches and be highly feathered. "But cost and availability don’t allow that," he said, adding that few nurseries sell knip trees. Most nurseries are set up to bud rootstock in the fall. "That’s the way they’re set up, and that’s the way they do business."

In addition, knip trees come with handling and shipping issues that are not factors for smaller trees, Swindeman said. Compared to bench grafts, fewer knip trees can be loaded in a van for long-distance shipping, and care must be taken to protect the branches. "A feathered tree is only good to the grower if it’s delivered with all the branches."

It is much easier to create highly feathered trees in the nursery, utilizing the tree’s vigor, than it is to grow them in the orchard, he explained. "Once you plant trees in the orchard, they go into transplant shock and you lose the tree’s momentum."

Swindeman mentioned that Dr. Terence Robinson, horticulturist at Cornell University, has encouraged nurseries to grow higher quality, more feathered trees for many years. But he points out that Midwest and East Coast nurseries have difficulty growing that tree style because of a shorter growing season and less tree vigor than in the West.

Applewood Orchards is sourcing knip trees from Gold Crown Nursery in Quincy, Washington. "We’re trying to plant as many trees as we can that way," Swindeman said.