• Mike Casey

The Progression of a UFO Tree

We are getting to the end of the growing season for this summer and that means we are starting to pull back on irrigation to ensure our trees terminate and have full leaf fall in time for winter.


We have about 6200 trees that have now been in the ground for 18 months, and a further 1800 trees planted 6 months ago (with a remaining 1600 to go next planting season) and I figured now was an excellent time to illustrate how UFO trees progress from the time they are planted.


1st year trees that have just activated after planting
1st year trees that have just activated after planting

When the trees first arrive they look like walking-sticks with a root ball at the bottom and once planted they begin to activate in a matter of weeks. Once activated we perform a task called but rubbing, where we rub off any buds we do not want on the tree, keeping the ones on the top side of the cordon but making sure they are about a hand width apart.


1st stage of UFO training is we tie them on a 45 degree angle to the first wire but we continue to let them grow upwards.
1st stage of UFO training is we tie them on a 45 degree angle to the first wire but we continue to let them grow upwards.

Once the tree has given us strong cordon and offshoot growth we will then tie it down to the wire fully, although it's important to make sure the cordon is always facing slightly upwards to ensure the vigour is spread throughout the tree. Early UFO orchards tied the cordon flat to the wire, but this caused issues where the offshoots closer to the roots received all the growing energy and created unbalanced trees.


UFO tree tied with offshoots clipped to 2nd and 3rd Wire
UFO tree tied with offshoots clipped to 2nd and 3rd Wire

In the picture above you see a tree at the end of its first growing season. We have tied it down fully to the wire, allowed the cordon to continue a slow gradual upwards direction and allowed it to fill its allocated space to the neighbouring tree. We have also installed the 2nd wire to clip the offshoots with the purpose of training them upright. In this particular photo we also installed a third wire as our offshoots were weighty enough to justify it.



Two year old UFO Cherry tree with its 4th wire
Two year old UFO Cherry tree with its 4th wire

At the end of this growing season we have had many trees require their 4th wire. These trees are the trees that will likely provide us with fruit next year. You can see the offshoots are being trained upright and are about a hand-width apart. The ultimate goal, of course, is to create a wall of upright offshoots ensuring harvest is as efficient as possible.


Next year we will install our fifth and final wire directly at the top of our trellis poles. This will support the uprights and allow them to grow to between 2.6 and 2.8M tall which is the maximum height allowable for our row width before we negatively

affect light inception.


Heights for UFO trellis wires


It isn't important that you stick to a prescribed height of reach of your wires as trees grow at different rates. In general, we have found the following heights worked for us

  • 1st wire - 40 cm off the ground

  • 2nd wire - 70 cm

  • 3rd wire - 110 cm

  • 4th wire - 160 cm

  • 5th wire - 210 cm

As the roots get bigger, the offshoots grow faster and therefore each wire spacing progressively increases. Don't be too eager to string up your trellis wires as an unclipped offshoot can get damaged by the wire especially with wind. It's always a good idea to let the majority of a tree-row's uprights grow beyond the wire line before installing the wire.


A Mature UFO Orchard

Mature UFO Orchard in Blossom
Mature UFO Orchard in Blossom

This photo is from Lake Terrace, our neighbour's orchard. These are 6 year old cherry trees in full blossom whose uprights are clipped to the fifth wire. It is a to class orchard by design and operation and produces well over 100 tonnes of cherries across 6ha per season.


Lake Terrace is the orchard we have been modelling our orchard off, and we thank the Van Gool family for all their help and advice. You couldn't with for a more open and welcoming set of people.

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