Organic Methods to Promote Branching in Nursery Apple

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2018: $6,979.00
Projected End Date: 02/28/2019
Grant Recipient: Two Onion Farm
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Christopher McGuire
Blue Roof Orchard (formerly Two Onion Farm)


  • Fruits: apples


  • Crop Production: nurseries
  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture

    Proposal summary:

    Most commercial apple growers now raise closely-planted orchards of dwarf trees grown on trellises because these orchards are more profitable. In these orchards it is economically critical to plant highly branched (feathered) trees, which bear fruit more quickly and provide a faster return on investment. However, the only sources of feathered planting stock are commercial nurseries which raise non-organic apple trees with intensive pesticide use and spray synthetic growth hormones to promote branching. Although organic standards permit planting non-organic trees, we and many other organic growers in our region prefer to graft and raise our own trees organically to produce trees in a more ecologically sound way and to grow uncommon varieties which are well-suited to our orchards and markets but which are not available through commercial nurseries. We are able to raise healthy trees in our on-farm nursery using organic methods, but we have not produced well-feathered trees. I will evaluate and compare two methods to promote branching in our organically managed on-farm nursery: manual leaf removal and sprays of a seaweed extract high in cytokinins; and I will disseminate results to other apple growers in our region.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. In an on-farm nursery of grafted apple trees, compare manual leaf removal and organic cytokinin sprays to an untreated control. For each treatment, record data on material cost and time required, tree growth, and feathering.
    2. Share results with other organic apple growers through a website, an on-farm field day, emails to grower list- serves, a press release to fruit growing periodicals, a conference presentation and a conference poster
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.