Hi I just bought property in Oakland County which has hazelnut trees, but they were not cared for and are more like groups of suckers. I'm trying to get more information and guidance on how to prune and help these reach their potential. Can you help?
Oakland County Michigan
I use the great resources from Ontario as their climate is similair and they have a majoy hazelnut industry--they have a great page with tons of info here including pruning http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/facts/12-011.htm
Since you are cleaning up a lack of pruning--it will take you about three years to get them back into shape--a general rule of thumb is to never remove more than 1/3 of the living above ground plant in a given season. All dead material can be removed at once.
From the Ontario webpage:
Hazelnut trees usually do not require pruning until the second year. Adjust the pruning strategy according to the type of hazelnuts being grown. Prune hazelnuts in late winter and early spring before dormant buds begin to grow. Pruning during late fall may result in tree injury, where fresh large cuts can dry back to main scaffold branches before the cuts heal during the following spring.
European hazelnuts will naturally grow as a multi-stemmed tree. In Italy and Turkey, hazelnuts are grown with 3-5 main trunks, while in Oregon, the same hazelnut varieties are grown with a single trunk and eventually take on a large form similar to an old-fashioned apple tree. A single trunk makes mechanized maintenance and harvesting operations easier. Growers in Ontario may train for one main trunk or multi-stemmed trunks. By the third year, the main trunks should be formed and be free of branches 1-1.5 m above the ground, and the main scaffold limbs developed above this height.
Once main scaffold limbs have grown, prune them each year to remove diseased, dead or old branches to encourage new fruiting branches to grow at the top of the trees.
Remove all prunings from the orchard before the trees begin to grow in spring to prevent spread of disease. Burn or chip prunings and compost them at a location distant from the orchard.
Remove suckers growing from the ground around the trunk or from the lower trunk each year. Prune suckers by hand or kill them with a registered contact herbicide, which will kill the suckers but will not harm the tree above. Consult OMAFRA Publication 75, Guide to Weed Control, an OMAFRA specialist or the OMAFRA website to determine which herbicides to use and how to apply them.
Hazelnut nuts form on the new season's growth, so much of the crop will grow at the outer canopy of the trees. Do not prune young trees excessively, to avoid removing too much fruiting wood. Once trees have attained a mature size, a pruning plan may consist of pruning a quarter of an orchard every year over a 4-year period (or a third every 3 years) to sustain hazelnut orchards with adequate new fruiting wood.
Hybrid hazelnuts require a different pruning and training strategy than European varieties. These hybrids are smaller and are multi-stemmed and shrubby. Prune them each year to remove the oldest branches from each bush and allow new branches to grow up from the ground to maintain annual cropping.