2018 Orchard Partner Survey Summary

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POP surveys all of our orchard partners at season’s end and we like to share what we’ve learned each year! Each year, we ask partners about their orchards, orchard challenges, orchard value, community involvement, yields, distribution methods, how we perform as partners, our educational offerings, and how to improve. In all, 52 of 62 POP partners (84%) participated in our annual Partner Survey in November and December.

52 of 62 (84%) of POP orchard partners participated in this year’s annual survey.

Orchard Value

For the first time, ‘Gathering and Community Space’ was rated most often as having the “highest value” (37%) with a close second between ‘Educational Opportunities’ and ‘Beauty and Neighborhood Greening’ (35%). “Beauty & Neighborhood Greening”, “Educational Opportunities”, and “Community Health and Nutrition”  were rated as “High Value” by just under half of respondents. Voting drops off significantly in categories of “Moderate Value” with half of respondents electing not to assign both “Low Value” and “Lowest Value”. Among the votes cast in these lower categories, “Food Production and Distribution” received the most votes followed by “Environmental Impact”. The 44% of partners that rate “Food Production and Distribution” as “High Value” or “Highest Value” tend to be more established plantings, organizations centered around food access, or organizations with market-based endeavors. Smaller urban spaces with few trees will be more valued for their educational impact rather than their impact on the food system, while some orchards are either too young or are struggling with pest, disease, and weather related factors preventing them from seeing full yields.

Stories illustrating the value of the orchard always provide some heartening responses that help provide qualitative support for the impact of POP’s work. Repeating themes include educating and exposing people to new fruit (17), the availability of fresh fruits and herbs (11), people’s reactions to tasting something for the first time (5), the response of children to the environment and tasting fresh fruit (14), community members coming together (13), profound or healing experiences of gardening or the natural world (8), the urban orchard as a vehicle for talking about social issues (6), and the excitement that comes with seeing fruit trees mature and produce over time (7). Link here to read some of our favorite POP partner stories from 2018!


POP partner orchards serve a wide array of constituents across the city of Philadelphia, which are primarily neighborhood and community based. Some orchards serve specific demographics within a neighborhood or are in a neighborhood consisting of fairly specific demographics, while others are located in incredibly diverse neighborhoods. Many orchard partners have child, youth, or young adult based programming. Some are wide open to any and all people, and some prefer to work with a specific population. Some orchards are located within rapidly changing neighborhoods.

On average, orchard partners self reported that 61.4 % of populations served qualify as low-income, which is close to the average of 65.1% reported last year. The change in reported low-income populations served may be a reflection of development and changing demographics in certain areas, a change in perception, or a change in estimation methods. Depending on the partner, these numbers were gathered via census data, FMNP voucher collection, HUD criteria, and well-informed estimates and guesses. This should be compared to other methods POP uses to assess demographics served, however our orchard partners know their communities the best and we will continue to value their reporting on demographics served.

Community Involvement

Our survey found that there were significant increases in regular attention, participation in regularly scheduled workdays, and the number of people participating in educational programming in our partner orchards. This past year 428 people participated monthly in orchard care (up from 2017’s 350), 2404 people participated at least once in orchard care, and 4,435 people tasted something grown in a POP partner orchard. Larger gains were seen with 7,190 people participating in education programs in POP orchards (an 84% increase from 2017’s 3,900) and 8,923 people using a POP partner orchard as community gathering space this year (a 65% increase). These improvements in just one season are encouraging indicators that our increasing number of orchard spaces and maturing orchards are reaching more people.

Partners reported that an all time high of 8923 people used POP orchards as community gathering space in 2018; this function also was most commonly rated as the highest value of orchard spaces by our community partners.

Yield Distribution

Distribution methods vary greatly from one group to another, as expected from distribution plans submitted in partner applications and the varying missions of partner orchards. Similar to past years, over half (51.5%) of all recorded harvest yields at POP partner orchards were made available to community members for free.  If averaging distribution methods across all partners, each partner weighted equally, over 70% of partner harvests are slated to be harvested directly by or distributed to community members for free either onsite or through outside emergency food service organizations. When accounting for production levels reported by each partner within their distribution methods, the scales are tipped heavily by 16 partners (30%) reporting much higher harvest weights than the majority of POP partners. It may be important to note that most of these 16 partners have well established plants, and thus more access to harvest, as well as some of the highest recorded rates of interaction with their orchards, enabling higher yield utilization and tracking of harvests.

Most of these percentages are very similar to last year’s, except that free harvest by community members has decreased, and the percentage sold at on-site farmstands has increased again for the 2nd year in a row. The increased entrepreneurial use of these orchard spaces is most likely an indication of increased youth and community engagement through jobs, internships, and a need to consider economic components as a factor in sustainability.  It should also be noted that the on-site farmstands led by our urban farm partners generally feature very affordable prices to accommodate their communities and a high percentage of sales are through FMNP or SNAP programs, meaning additional free distribution to Philadelphia residents in need.  

Orchard Production

Total orchard production of over 3580 pounds was reported in 2018, and the majority of produce was harvested by or distributed directly to community members for free. In total, 21 orchards answered that their spaces had higher yields than last season, while 16 reported lower yields, 11 were unsure, and 4 were too new to answer. It is difficult to accurately track yield between spaces that are used in a wide variety of ways by different partners, including public spaces, organizations with limited or no staff, and where free harvest from community members is encouraged. However, estimates continue to improve with each passing season. POP has taken measures to provide partners with volume-to-weight conversion charts to aid in estimation, notebooks for writing yield recording, gifting scales when asked for in annual tool lotteries. As always, new orchards will have little to no production and should follow POP’s advice to remove all first-year fruit to enhance tree growth. Despite challenges in accurate tracking at some sites, aggregate yields reported by our partners correlate to and reflect climatic factors, pest and disease pressure, frequency of planting, and sometimes people branching out into new ‘fruiterritory’.

Fruit Tree Production

Based on survey analysis of tree fruit production, figs, peaches/nectarines, Asian pears, plums and paw paws again had the highest yields, with pie cherries, plums, and apples seeing the most significant increases in yields since the previous season. These numbers are partially representative of the frequency at which POP partners plant these fruits, and numbers may be skewed by new or immature plantings. For example, despite most of our paw paw trees having a ways to go to reach maturity, paw paws show a higher harvest because they are the second most planted fruit tree next to Figs. Our most common fruits like apples, peaches, pears, cherries, and plums also face the most challenges in pest and disease, significantly impacting reported yields. While most nut trees planted at POP partner orchards are fairly immature, hardy almond yields are steady and should grow with more plantings in recent years. We saw a first recorded yield of hazelnuts, partially due to the addition of Saul High School’s mature plantings as a supported partner.

It is important to note  that 14 of the 39 full partner respondents are 4 seasons old or younger, meaning their fruit trees and berry bushes are immature or possibly too young to be bearing any fruit at all. Additionally, several POP Partner orchards are semi-public or entirely public. Whether intended to largely be harvested for free by community members or not (many of our partner orchards are), open public access mean a significant portion of harvests go unrecorded, which makes tracking orchard yields difficult. Weather was again a significant factor this year, but in a manner different from last. This year, a cold, cloudy, wet fall affected our fall harvests of European and Asian pears, apples and figs. Stone fruits, especially plums, saw a rebound in yields this year after being negatively affected by frost damage following early blooming due to a mild winter in 2017. It’s a good idea to plant a variety of fruits, so you hopefully end up with some production despite the challenges of a given season!

Plums were the fruit that rated most productive per tree in 2018, largely escaping crop losses due to early blooming that were problematic the previous year.

For the first time, we also attempted to quantify the average productivity of each type of fruit tree. While it is difficult for us to accurately do this across all partner sites, our data does inform us what plants are producing well and are utilized by partners, reflected in their yield reporting. One should note that there are a hand full of 11 year old orchards coming into fuller fruit bearing age, a few mature “supported POP partner” orchards planted prior to POP’s involvement, several 5 year old orchards beginning to bear small quantities, and orchards between those ages all being averaged here, each with different arrays of tree crops. Totaling yields and number of trees across partners over 5 years old, we see that plums are currently by far the highest yielding and utilized fruit or nut tree at POP partner sites. Pie cherries and peaches follow, with a next tier of productivity for sweet cherries, pawpaws, and the recently producing hardy almond. Closely following, persimmons, apricots, figs, and asian pears are reliable producers across partner sites above 5 years old. The fruit trees our partners struggle with the most to get good yields are apples, largely expected given they are the most pest and disease prone of any species we plant. Mulberries and jujubes are likely underutilized and chestnuts have a ways to grow before full bearing potential. While sweet cherries seem to be mostly for the birds in some partners’ cases, some of our more uncommon fruits may continue to be underutilized because, well, they may still be somewhat unfamiliar to many folks. They also tend to be smaller and may require some processing.

Berry and Fruiting Vine Production

Berry and perennial vegetable yields were tracked again and we saw an increase in total yields and/or usage of smaller orchard fruits in 2018. However, we did see a significant reduction in reported raspberry yields this year. The previous year, many berry and perennial vegetables had seen a dip in yield or usage, which some crops (strawberries, blackberries, currants, goumis, and hardy kiwi) rebounded from in 2018. Some yields persisting at lower than previously reported levels may be a reflection of a number of things, including strawberry patches that need rejuvenation, brambles needing thorough pruning, fungal issues that affect Ribes species, changes in tracking methods, or maturing fruit trees beginning to shade out lower growing berries.

Herbaceous Production

Culinary and medicinal herbs were tracked again this year and reported yields of our most common herbs, aside from comfrey, increased across the board in 2018! This is encouraging and may reflect efforts to provide further education on the benefits and usage of herbs in the orchard. We like to hear partners are making use of these herbs that also provide important ecological benefits to holistic orchard ecosystems; POP will continue to expand information and workshops on the subject. Fennel, mint, and lemon balm were among the highest reported yields, perhaps reflecting their tendency to spread and quickly increase their offerings. Has the comfrey craze subsided!? Time will tell…

POP partners reported increased harvest and use of culinary and medicinal herbs planted as companion plantings to fruit trees in food forests and orchards.

Of total respondents, 42% of partners would like more assistance in learning how to make use of their orchard plants, down from a high of 72% reporting the need in 2016. This is an indicator that POP’s educational outreach has improved confidence in harvest utilization, while perhaps there is still a deeper level of understanding to achieve. As orchard ecosystems mature, an understory of plants in abundance contribute to better overall maintenance and orchard value. The use of these plants for nutrition, medicine-making, fiber production, culinary flavoring, and value-added products is still uncharted or mildly dabbled in territory for many modern farmers, though a way of expanding yields.

The best ways to improve yields from all orchard plants and overall yields from orchards will be to increase capacity of orchard partners and community members in pest and disease management, regular orchard maintenance procedures, and yield utilization through educational programming, distribution of educational reference materials, and providing resources in the form of tools, pest and disease control supplies, and interpretive signage.

Production Challenges and Recommendations

When asked to rate challenges in the orchard from 1-5, responses from partners averaged out to 3, which is neither very easy nor very challenging. 30 respondents (57.7%) believe it was easier to maintain their orchards in 2018 than last year. It does seem that the orchards which are more mature and with more consistent caretakers across multiple seasons are becoming easier.

Many spaces that reported higher challenges are also undergoing staff transitions, which can naturally create some difficulties in the continuity of orchard care. According to survey responses, 14 of our partners are going through definite staffing transitions and there are two foreseeable additions to that number. While we are aware of additional staffing transitions not represented in survey responses, this clearly demonstrates high turnover rates within the field of urban agriculture which may relate to wages and organizations’ abilities to employ full time. We find POP support to be helpful in these times of transition, as we are able to provide orchard history, orientation, and training to staff that are onboarding to orchard care as a new role.

When comparing frequency of orchard care against rate of difficulty, an obvious takeaway is that we do see a correlation between challenges in orchard care and frequency of care. While those that report mild to moderate challenges fall across the board in terms of frequency of orchard care, all respondents rating orchard care as relatively or very easy tend to their spaces monthly, if not more often. Everyone reporting orchard care as ‘very easy’ tend to their spaces twice a month or weekly. This is understandably not possible for all partners, though we recommend monthly care to keep up on orchard needs.

The most frequently identified challenge is the amount of time available and other responsibilities. While this is the first time we asked, this outcome is no surprise. Understanding the nature of being split between many responsibilities and needing to be most effective with your time and effort, POP has plans to craft a list of recommended practices for community and volunteer organizing to share with orchard partners this coming season. Organizing robust volunteer work days for certain tasks like weeding and mulching may take a load off your back, as the old adage indicates: “many hands make light work”. With time constraints and other responsibilities in mind (often vegetable production taking priority for urban farm partners), organizing or sharing leadership in monthly volunteer workdays in addition to POP visits could significantly lessen orchard challenges.

The most commonly reported challenges in orchard production and percentage of orchards reporting these challenges were: available time and other responsibilities (59.6%), squirrels (48%), birds (40.3%), insect pests (34.6%), plant diseases (32.7%), weeds (32.7%) staffing transitions (26.9%), background knowledge (24%), and watering schedules (13.5%). POP sends out orchard care tips, pest and disease identification, as well as management information through our blog and email lists. When asked, 48% of partners are usually or always reading these tips, 36.5% are occasionally reading them, 4 never read them, and 4 newer stewards need to be added to our email list. With available time and other responsibilities being our biggest challenge and the modern age of overflowing email inboxes, this is understandable. It is important to note that all of our pest, disease, and orchard care tips are also available on our website, easily obtainable through our website’s search function. When polled, 46% of our partners do not utilize this resource when they discover an issue, though 21% often do, and 33% do occasionally. POP will continue to remind partners this is available and that guidance on most growing challenges is readily available.

In 2018 POP created and shared easy to use, photo-based scouting guides to help orchard partners identify and manage pest and disease challenges.

Pest and Disease Management

In 2018, POP released orchard pest and disease scouting guides for our most common and commonly affected fruits including apples, pears, cherries, peaches, and plums. While 37% (19) of survey respondents indicated they haven’t seen or used these yet, 60% (31) of respondents did see these and found them useful. When asked if we should produce more pest and disease guides, 85% of respondents said yes. In addition to supporting the production of additional pest and disease guides, 36 out of 52 respondents would like more guidance in holistic and organic sprays. Ultimately, a pest, disease, and spray calendar/guide could prove extremely useful, given the understanding that seasons vary and biological cycles of all players follow different timelines year to year.

Pest and disease identification and management is the most complicated aspect of orchard care, requiring the most knowledge, time and resources to become well versed in. Highest reported diseases by POP partners are the most common and easily identifiable diseases. Based on this years responses, it seems that fire blight may be spreading; peach leaf curl is getting addressed; brown rot, black rot, gummosis and aphids are mainstays; pest and disease knowledge could still improve; squirrels and birds are having a field day; and we’re safe from the pear shrew for now. On average, partners feel that 19% of their yields are lost to birds and squirrels, and while we haven’t thought of how to solve this aside from extensive netting systems, obsessive trapping and the encouragement of bird predation seen at commercial orchards, we continue to inform our partners about recommended approaches to pest and disease. POP partners estimated that 16.5% of their orchard yields were lost to pest and disease in 2018.

Expanding Orchard Education Efforts

In March 2018, POP hosted its 4-part Community Orchard Resilience Education (POPCORE) course for the second time as a 4-week offering. Additionally, three of the four classes were offered at least one other time throughout the year. Among our partner respondents, Winter Pruning is our highest attended class at 18 partners, while attendance declines to 14 at Pest and Disease, 6 at Plants and Usage, and up to 9 at Permaculture.

According to 2016 and 2017 surveys, at least 85% of respondents were interested in participating in these courses. However, 60% of this year’s respondents still haven’t attended any. Of those that haven’t attended, only four are not interested, with the remaining evenly split between definitely wanting to and perhaps wanting to attend. No one that has taken at least one class does not want to attend another, and all four survey respondents that attended the full course offering have indicated they would like to continue coming. While this survey is for partners only and our courses are offered to the broader public, this is a good indicator of the successes and challenges of the program. We are pleased to see those that have attended one or more classes are 100% interested in continuing. This indicates our educational offering is valued, and that perhaps our efforts to gather and incorporate feedback, update and include new content is inspiring return students.

POPCORE offerings will continue to be held in multiple formats at different locations and times of year to meet the availability needs of our partners. Producing educational video content is also a new goal for 2019.

Similar to 2017, there is an even split between a preference for a 4-week course in Winter and one course every 2-3 months. The March course has been more consistently well attended, as of course more growers are willing and able to attend a workshop in the off season. Day and time preferences were similarly split, with weekday evenings and Saturday afternoons being the most preferred. POP will continue to offer POPCORE courses in both formats and with both timing options to try to accommodate and reach the most participants.

We asked our partners “Considering your natural tendencies, commitments, and accessibility, what is the best way for you to learn?” If you lump ratings of “good”, “great”, and “best” together, each mode of learning “works” for at least 50% of our partners, which reflects a natural spread of prefered learning modalities, tendencies, and personal availability. The #1 preferred mode of learning is hands on, working for 93% of responding partners. Hands on workshops were also highest category rated “best”, by 69% of partners. Perhaps not so surprisingly Philly, the 2nd most popular mode of learning was experimenting on one’s own with 83% happy to learn in the classroom of life. The next most popular mode of learning, a sign of the times, is video, which will work for 77% of our partners, followed by in person lecture at 75%. Published online materials work for 63% of partners, while hard copies and infographics both work for 57%. That said, there is a segment of partners that each of these categories doesn’t work for, and we should continue to diversify the modes we provide educational materials and resources through.

The main barriers to participation in continuing education are cost, location, and time of day. 30 POP partner respondents indicated they are associated with a building or outdoor space that could host an evening or weekend class, with 9 additional partners potentially able to extend the opportunity towards us. The ability to utilize these resources plays a large role in our offering of POPCORE and POP HarvestED workshops both in central and dispersed locations in Philadelphia on a sliding scale. Continuing to vary locations and times of workshops will make POP educational offerings available to the most people possible, while posting electronic materials as downloads or video and reminding partners these are available to help this information spread.

POP Harvest and HarvestED

Expanding our effort to highlight and educate partners and the public about unusual fruit, we piloted the POP HarvestED program in 2018 as an extension of our POP Harvest gleaning program. This new education program brings in community teachers to lead gleaning workshops focused on the end use of lesser known fruits, nuts, and herbs that are widely available through POP orchards and the Philadelphia region.
This season we held four of these workshops on the topics of Ginkgo berry processing, Trifoliate Orange based fire cider, Herbal Oxymels, and Black Walnut processing for edibility, fabric dye, wood stain and medicinal properties. When asked, 87.5% of partner respondents would like to attend these workshops in the future whereas a similar amount have not attended any yet. This is an encouraging percentage, while only 42% of partner indicated they would like more assistance learning how to use the plants in their orchards. This may indicate POP partners are getting to know their plants, and that there is interest in this model of hands on community education with more unusual, yet abundantly available harvests. We intend to continue this series with 8-10 workshops in 2019. Suggested topics predominantly include nut and herb usage, but also a variety of specific plant care intensives, in-depth harvest preservation methods, propagation, permaculture, and tree tapping are desired.

The pilot POP HarvestEd workshop series this year included an event harvesting trifoliate oranges at Historic Strawberry Mansion for use in making Fire Cider.

Organizational Improvement

On a scale from 1 to 10, respondents’ average rating of POP as an overall organization was a 9.2 (a tenth of a point higher than last season)! Partners continue to believe that POP staff are supportive, adaptable, and easy to reach, though there are always ways that we can improve. Some partner suggestions or desires include increased engagement through more frequent visits, hands on assistance, check ins and classroom time, increased number of volunteer orchard liaisons, increased staffing, more frequent plant health checks, collaborative facilitation of partnership and community building, spray tips and services, more plants, and help finding mulch. A number of partners wouldn’t change a thing and think “continuing to do what we do together will bear much fruit”. Pun intended.

POP exists to support our Philadelphia orchard partners, primarily through educational programs and materials; hands on assistance in the form of consulting visits and volunteer workdays; and access to design services, plant materials, and tools & equipment. Our model and current resources allow us to do our best to visit each orchard quarterly, additionally on an as needed basis, while seeking to empower our partners through educational offerings. Due to limitations of staff capacity, it is unlikely that we will be able to visit most partner sites more than quarterly, but a solution for sites desiring more engagement may be in the orchard liaison system. By growing this program, POP staff hours can be multiplied to increase support across the city through a growing network of trained volunteer orchard liaisons. This alongside community and volunteer organizing recommendations may go a long way, while continuing to build out niche reference materials and workshops.

Dedicating staff time to implementing and reporting back on a pilot program of more intensive pest and disease management practices at a few partner orchards will be a worthwhile step to take. As POP, our effort is best served empowering our partners to manage their spaces confidently as caretakers through our programs in the most effective and accessible ways that address a number of preferred learning methods. While POP provides information and experiences in a variety of ways, the production of video is a mode of instruction POP has not yet pursued. Survey responses indicated instructional videos would work for a majority of partners as supplementary learning opportunity, which may enable us to reach partners for whom attending workshops is a challenge. POP aims to pilot new educational video content in 2019.

When asked “what would make 2019 better?” 3 or more partners self identified the following strategies or areas of improvement: more volunteers or staff, planning and leadership efforts, setting a schedule for one’s self, assistance identifying something, physical infrastructure, compost and signage. POP has developed plant signs for most of orchard and food forest plants we plant, though they have not yet been widely distributed. We are in the process of further developing these signs and identifying the most cost effective and weather/sun proof options. 34 POP partners that don’t have plant id signs want them and 6 partners need sign replacements. Additionally, we’ve also developed signs to explain what food forests and community orchard are. 35 partners want a food forest or community orchard sign, 11 have them, and 6 are uninterested.

POP has steadily grown its staff, interns, liaisons, dedicated volunteers, and confident partners, as the capacity and understanding of what it takes to properly maintain orchard ecosystems in our network improves with each year. Despite the notion that orchards and perennial ecosystems are slow to produce and take care of themselves, the amount of time needed to learn care of the plants and ecosystems we work with, manage a range of growing challenges, and to harvest maximum yields is equally as great or greater. Patience, routine, time for observation, and preventing problems rather than treating them could be valuable, applicable orchard and life lessons. As such, much of the work POP pursues is attempting to shorten that span of time and bring awareness through hands on experiences and informational resources. POP continues to refine our efforts, programs, and support services based on the valued input of our orchard partners across the city.

This blog post was written by Orchard Director Michael Muehlbauer with input from Executive Director Phil Forsyth.

SUPPORT US!  If you found this entry useful, informative, or inspiring, please consider a donation of any size to help POP in planting and supporting community orchards in Philadelphia: phillyorchards.org/donate.

Edible Perennial Propagation: Cuttings and Layering

Posted on Categories Blog, Home, Plants, PropagationTags , , , , , ,

By 2015-2016 POP Education and Outreach Intern, Alyssa Schimmel.

In this edition of our Edible Plant Propagation series, we’ll cover cuttings and layering as easy and inexpensive methods for generating new fruiting vines and berry bushes for your garden or orchard.

Black-Eyed Susan is an easy-to-propagate herbaceous perennial planted in many POP community orchards as an insectary plant.
Black-Eyed Susan is an easy-to-propagate herbaceous perennial planted in many POP community orchards as an insectary plant.

Cuttings and layering are two forms of asexual or vegetative propagation in which we use leaves, stems, or roots from a parent plant to regenerate genetically identical clones. One of the main advantages of this is that it allows us to regrow the strongest plants we may have started from seed and have grown out into full maturity with less time than it would take for us to wait for seedlings from the parent to mature with their varying characteristics.

Often, we’re choosing plants for the strength of certain desirable traits – like beautiful foliage, biggest or sweetest fruit, resistance to disease, early ripening, or attractive flowers. The Bartlett pear and McIntosh apple we’ve come to enjoy are examples of plants that continue to be asexually propagated through cutting and grafting since their selection in 1770 and 1811, respectively. Grafting is the method of joining plant parts so they will grow as one plant – often combining wood from a cultivar with the hardy rootstock of another, as is the practice with many apple, pear, cherry, peach, and plum varietals (and a subject for another post to come). Link here for our article on grafting fruit trees.  

While leaf and stem cuttings are frequently used to propagate herbaceous perennial herbs, flowers like pyrethrum and Black-Eyed Susan and some woody species that occupy space in the understory layer of many of POP’s orchards, root, hardwood, and softwood cuttings are the main methods we use to propagate fruiting species.

Plants from the Ribes genus are great candidates for cuttings and layering experimentation.
Gooseberry botanical drawing. Plants from the Ribes genus are great candidates for cuttings and layering experimentation.

Seasonally, now is the time to focus on root and hardwood cuttings as we ease from the winter cold into the first awakenings of spring. Later in the season as we approach mid-summer, we’ll focus more on softwood cutting where we’ll use the soft, succulent tips or stems of new growth to propagate plants like lavender, lemon balm, lemon verbena, oregano, rosemary, scented geranium, sages, thymes, certain ground covers and vines, as well as many shrubs and trees.


Root Cuttings

Root cutting provides a fast method for growing blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, elderberries, currants, and gooseberries. To do so, dig up the whole 2-3 year old plant during the dormant season when the roots have a large carbohydrate supply, or if you’re concerned with disturbing the plant too much, cut down close to the main stems of the plant with a sharp shovel and dig up a segment of the root mass.

If the plant has small roots, take 1-2 inch segments with a knife and pruning shears and lay cuttings horizontally below 1/2 inch of soil medium.

Black raspberry canes are very easy candidates for first-time cuttings.
Black raspberry canes are very easy candidates for first-time cuttings.

To begin with, you might start with a soilless mix that consists of one part coconut coir or peat moss blended with one part perlite, vermiculite or sterile builders sand.  This combination allows proper drainage and aeration for rapid root development. Combine ingredients with a small amount of water until evenly moist.  Add a small amount of organic starter fertilizer or seaweed extract to the mix. Replace with a richer potting mix once signs of growth are present.

Peat Moss is a major component of "soilless mixes" for rooting cuttings and air layering.
Peat Moss is a major component of “soilless mixes” for rooting cuttings and air layering.

If the plant has large roots, make a straight top cut, and then a slanted cut 2-6 inches below the first. Store for three weeks in moist sawdust, peat moss, or sand at 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Outside, insert the cuttings vertically 4 inches apart with its top level at the surface of the rooting medium in a well prepared bed. Sprouts should appear after a few weeks. Transplant to a permanent location after the sprouts have grown for a least a year in the bed.

Hardwood Cuttings

Hardwood cuttings are the choice method for propagating fruit trees such as figs, pomegranates, mulberries, quince, some varieties of plums, and for fruiting shrubs and vines like currants, gooseberries, grapes, and kiwi fruit. Because cuttings from dormant hardwood lack leaves, it isn’t necessary to provide a high humidity environment to stop the cuttings from drying out before they take root, as with other herbaceous perennials.

When the plant is dormant in the winter or early spring before the buds break, take 6-15 inch hardwood cuttings from the tips of branches with a pencil-width diameter. Cut off any unripened green growth at the tips as you’re wanting to select mature hardwood. It’s recommended to take cuttings from where the current season’s wood, one-year-old wood joins the second year growth at the base of this junction as it has the greatest potential for root development.  

At the tip, make a “sloping cut” (diagonal) away from the bud. At the base, make a horizontal cut and, using a knife, exposing some of the cambium – the light green layer you see under the bark when you scrape it away.

At this point, you can dust the exposed base with rooting hormone to increase chances of stimulating root growth, and tap the branch to remove any excess powder. Another method of supplying your cuttings with excess rooting hormone is to water with willow tea or stick willow cuttings in your potting mix to permeate the root zone. 

Inserting cuttings from the growing tips of any willow branches or watering with willow tea will supply the plants' natural infection-fighting chemicals and rooting hormones to your cuttings!
Inserting cuttings from the growing tips of any willow branches or watering with willow tea will supply the plants’ natural infection-fighting chemicals and rooting hormones to your cuttings!

Place cuttings in a container filled with propagating medium (as discussed above), placing as much of the hardwood branch below the surface of the soil – while exposing the top three buds to sit above the soil. Place in a greenhouse or cold frame to speed the process of root development. Cuttings will be ready to plant in the fall.  If you choose to plant the cuttings outdoors, mulch them in securely to keep them moist and allow the cuttings to stay in a well prepared bed for a full year – providing them with occasional treatments of liquid fertilizer or manure for several weeks – before transplanting them to their permanent location.


If you’ve been lucky enough to find a plant whose fruit, foliage, or flowers beckon you to beget another, you might choose layering as a method for propagating a new plant from your selected parent. Like cuttings, it’s a type of asexual or vegetative propagation, but where it differs is that you are encouraging development of new or “adventitious” roots on a stem while it is still attached to the parent plant instead of first being removed from it. Once the plant develops new roots, it can then be separated from the parent to grow independently. There are six types of layering: air, simple, tip, trench, serpentine, and mound, which can be read about here, with the most common methods being air-layering and simple, which we’ll explore here.

Air Layering

Developed by the Chinese centuries ago as a way of propagating difficult-to-root plants, air-layering became a method whereby a stem or branch was wounded, dusted with rooting hormone, and packed with sphagnum moss or a similar rooting medium until a new root system developed. Success with air-layering has been documented for many fruiting species including citrus, apples, pears, pecans, hardy kiwis, figs, cashews, and many others. Generally, it’s said that plants that can be propagated through stem cuttings will also most likely root through air-layering. One important thing to keep in mind is that success is largely determinant upon your ability to keep the rooting medium moist so the wounded or girdled section of branch that is to the develop roots does not dry out. Plastic wrap works well to keep the developing roots inside the moss bundle happy.

Fruit trees can be air-layered at any time during the year; but if you choose to start them in spring or summer when the tree is naturally experiencing its most vigorous growth, you could have a new tree ready to plant as early as fall.  

Air Layering Pictogram

To begin, select a pencil-sized shoot and and measure 12-15 inches from the branch tip. Remove the leaves and any twigs on the stem 3-4 inches above and below the layering point so the branch is completely clear of any foliage. Make parallel score cuts on the branch to create a 1-inch ring and remove the bark to expose the bright inner green of the cambium layer. Dust the exposed area with rooting hormone and wrap the exposed site on the branch with damp sphagnum peat moss that has been soaking in water for several hours. Using metal twist ties, secure plastic wrap around the moss bundle on either side like a tootsie roll on either side of the girdled branch.

In as little as a month for some plants, you’ll see roots forming inside the plastic pouch. When they’ve fully formed inside the pouch, remove the plastic keeping the moss surrounding the roots, and using sterilized pruning shears, cut just below the root ball. Your new tree is now ready to be transplanted into a container where it can continue to establish itself or be moved into its permanent location.

Simple Layering

Simple layering is just as easy and works best with shrubs that have flexible branches that can be bent to the ground to root at the site where they make contact. Examples of plants that can be propagated using this method include blueberries, currants, chokeberry, hazelnut, filbert, quince, gooseberry, and saltspray rose. As with any plant to propagate, select healthy plants, free of disease and insect infestation.

Choose a low growing branch about a pencil-width in diameter that has a leaf bunch at its tip. The tip of the branch should extend beyond the level of the soil as this section of the uppermost portion will be needed to photosynthesize energy for the new growth underground. Remove any leaves where the branch makes contact with the ground and wound its underside by using a sterilized knife to create small thin slits.

In layering, plant parts to be propagated/cloned are left attached to the mother plant to root.
In layering, plant parts to be propagated/cloned are left attached to the mother plant to root.

Dig a shallow trench where the branch meets the soil and dust the wounded, exposed branch with rooting hormone. Peat-moss mixed into the trench will help retain soil moisture.  Using a stake secure the wounded branch below grow, created a mound above ground. If you’d like, for extra security, you can place a large stone above the portion of the branch below ground. Stake the branch’s tip above ground with a small wood stake to ensure that it grows straight.

Keep the site well-watered. In the early fall, check for root growth; if properly developed, you’ll then be able to transplant the new plant to a well-prepared bed.

With these methods in hand, you’ll be propagating plants in no time!







The Maryland Master Gardener Handbook






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Pruning: Bushes, Brambles, and Vines

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Pruning the prolific black raspberry canes at The Village of Arts and Humanities and PhillyEarth permaculture site
Pruning the prolific black raspberry canes at The Village of Arts and Humanities and PhillyEarth permaculture site

These categories of woody perennial edibles are are often considered much lower maintenance than fruit trees. As a result, it’s come to POP’s attention that they may not be receiving the attention they deserve when interplanted in our community orchards, so we’ll be working this season to highlight what to watch out for and how to properly care for them throughout the orchard seasons.

Just as winter is time to prune your fruit trees, it’s also time to prune and tend your berries to ensure a boom harvest this season!

Tools needed: gardening gloves (especially for thorny bushes), pruning shears, loppers, pruning saw, isopropyl alcohol (for sanitizing tools before each plant)

BRAMBLES (cane-bearing shrubs)

Raspberries and blackberries are unique in the world of berry bushes in that they don’t have any permanent wood.  Each cane (branch growing from the ground) only lives for 2 years.  In old-fashioned bramble varieties, first year canes have no flowers or fruit and then bear in spring/summer of their second year.  Newer ‘ever-bearing’ varieties flower and fruit on new canes in the fall of their first year and then again in spring/summer of their second year.

Dead second-year canes are generally easy to identify by gray/brown coloration, pealing bark, and more side-branching.  Newer canes tend to have more reddish/green coloration and a more upright habit.

Blackberries (Rubus): In winter, remove all 2nd year canes and thin out to 8 or 10 strongest new canes. Shorten canes to 7’ and laterals to 15”.  In summer, pinch out tips of new canes when they reach 3’ height.

Raspberries (Rubus): In winter, remove all canes after 2nd year. Thin out weak or crowded 1st year canes. For “everbearing” varieties, shorten remaining canes to below previous fruiting.

Sometimes dead canes will easily snap off or pull out of the ground, leaving your young canes behind with more breathing room. The colors of the canes often make it very easy to see what's young and old/dead.
Sometimes dead canes will easily snap off or pull out of the ground, leaving your young canes behind with more breathing room. The colors of the canes often make it very easy to see what’s young and old/dead.

All other berry bushes fit in this category (we’ve listed some of the ones we plant most often below).  Use thinning cuts for a less bushy effect. This increases light and air circulation to the interior of plant. Remove stems that are more than 4 to 6 years old, sometimes younger for certain species. Older stems are less productive, so their removal enables younger stems to take their place. When pruning, cut stems to l-2” above crown of plant.

IMPORTANT: avoid removing more than 30% of living wood in one growing season, or there will be a flush of vegetative growth as the plant tries to restore its former food-producing capacity. The same can be said for fruiting trees.

Blueberry (Vaccinium): Cut back stems older than 4 years.

Currant/Gooseberry/Jostaberry (Ribes): Remove shoots after their 3rd year. Remove all but 6 new stems.

Phil demonstrating currant pruning at the Teens4Good 8th & Poplar community orchard. Remove dead and diseased wood, and then move onto removing the oldest wood and any far-reaching runners.
Phil demonstrating currant pruning at the Teens4Good 8th & Poplar community orchard. Remove dead and diseased wood, and then move onto removing the oldest wood and any far-reaching runners.

Elderberry (Sambucus): Cut out wood older than 3 years and thin new suckers.

Goumi (Eleagnus): Minimal pruning needed. Cut back stems and suckers to desired height and girth.



Grapes: During the First year after planting, simply cut to 2-3 buds.

During the second year, you must select a training system. If you have 2 wires, use the 4-arm kniffin method, if one wire, use single-curtain cordon method, if you have a fence, use the fan system to utilize the area of the fence. Decide on a height for the trunk and thin the plant to a single trunk. Cut back to just over the height of the highest canes you want. If no vine reaches the desired height, repeat simple first year pruning to focus energy from the weak roots into 2-3 good shoots, one of which will be chosen next year as the trunk.

During the third year select 4 vines of first year wood. Always choose thick, vigorous vines with at least 6” between nodes (places where this year’s buds will grow). Cut them to 10 buds on each, then select 4 other vines and cut them to 2 buds each.

Each subsequent year select the 4 best vines (usually from the 2-bud stubs you left last year) and cut to 10 buds (for Concord grapes 15 buds is okay) for this year’s bearing wood. Remove last year’s bearing vines, but leave four 2-bud stubs to produce next year’s bearing wood

To prune an overgrown vine, select the canes to save, choosing from the canes which received the most sun during the previous season. They are usually darker in color and larger in diameter (at least as thick as a pencil). Cut Concord grape vines to the best 60 buds, cut less vigorous varieties to 40 buds (these are the maximum numbers for a mature, healthy plant, which lead to good quality grapes).

Tom Zabadal has an extensive series of YouTube videos on maintaining grapes if you’re interested in learning more and expanding your production.

This prolific kiwi at SHARE orchard needs summer pruning to open up its fruit to air and light!
This prolific kiwi at SHARE orchard needs summer pruning to open up its fruit to air and light!

Hardy Kiwis (Actinidia): Regardless of the structure they are growing on, kiwi vines should be pruned initially to a single trunk and trained straight up by tying to a post (no twining!). At the appropriate height for the structure, the vine should then be pruned into two permanent cordons (main branches) in opposite directions. Thin out laterals growing from the cordon to 12” apart. Additional summer pruning is needed to keep these vigorous vines under control. Here’s a great video to assist and a guide with photos from Penn State Extension to read through as well.

Adapted from POP’s Pruning Guide, amended by POP Program Director, Robyn Mello and Executive Director, Phil Forsyth

SUPPORT US!  If you found this entry useful, informative, or inspiring, please consider a donation of any size to help POP in planting and supporting community orchards in Philadelphia: phillyorchards.org/donate.


The Pruning Book, Lee Reich

Grow Fruit Naturally, Lee Reich

The Holistic Orchard , Michael Phillips

The Backyard Berry Book, Stella Otto