by Charlene Burgi
Last week’s blog discussed the basics of pruning and included some safety rules. Please review the ten rules here if you missed that post before you begin pruning.
Winter fruit tree pruning is important in that a tree left unpruned will eventually fail to produce fruit. This week let’s tackle the basics of pruning fruit trees. I say basics realizing that I am attempting to condense a subject that fills books.
The age of your tree will determine how you approach the job. A young tree needs to develop strength in its branches and trunk to support the weight of the fruit it will carry when the tree is mature. Begin by determining the natural shape of the tree. Some trees such as apples, pears and sweet cherries grow with a central leader. They have one main trunk and develop alternate branches to form an open goblet allowing light to come into to the center of the tree. In contrast, peaches, nectarines, apricots and plums require an open center method of pruning: Choose three to five well-distributed side branches and remove the central leader. They will look more like an upside-down bowl.
For all fruit trees:
- Begin pruning your fruit tree by following the basic rules from last week’s list.
- The lateral branches need to be spaced out equally throughout the tree.
- Remove the weaker of two branches growing on opposite sides of the trunk to achieve alternate spacing of branches.
- Peaches and nectarines need about 12 inches of spacing between the branches. Apples and pears will need about 18 inches.
- Remove lateral branches that form a tight crotch at the base of the branch.
- Determine where you want the bottom branch because branches will remain at that height in maturity. Consider, in future, if you want to walk under the tree and reach for the fruit or have the fruit at a lower elevation for easy picking. At a minimum, keep the lower branches at least three feet from the ground.
- Cut at an angle a quarter-of-an-inch above an outside node to prevent new growth from growing to the inside of the tree.
It is important to understand that some trees bear their fruit on old wood, while some bear on new wood. For example, apples, apricots, pears and plums grow woody spurs no more than four inches long. Apples form on those spurs, so it would behoove you to protect that wood from your pruning shears! Pears, apricots and plums will bear fruit on old wood and one-year-old lateral shoots, so don’t be afraid to snip back one-third of this past year’s growth to shape the tree and encourage more wood for next year’s fruit production. Peaches and nectarines grow on new wood, so be careful to prune back no more than one-third of the new branch shoot to maximize fruit production. Please find more details and examples of your specific variety of fruit tree on the internet or in a good pruning book. You will find a wealth of information out there.
The last part of the job involves raking up and removing all wood, dead leaves and debris around the tree to prevent disease. For example, shotgun-hole fungus will continue to transmit to the new leaves if the dead leaves are left on the ground. If last year’s leaves look like someone shot them full of holes, do not compost them!
The big job is done. Pat yourself on the back and start thinking of the wonderful bounty that awaits you!
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