Fruit trees are a wonderful addition to any garden, as they provide delicious and nutritious fruits, shade, and beauty. However, fruit trees also require some care and maintenance, especially when it comes to pruning. Pruning is the process of removing unwanted or excess branches from a tree, to improve its health, shape, and productivity. Pruning can also prevent diseases, pests, and damage from storms or animals. In this blog post, we will explain why, when, and how to prune your fruit trees for better harvests.
Why prune fruit trees?
Developing and maintaining a strong framework of branches that can support the weight of the fruits.
Opening up the tree canopy to allow more sunlight and air circulation, which are essential for fruit ripening and quality.
Encouraging the formation of fruiting buds, which are the parts of the branches that produce fruits.
Removing dead, diseased, damaged, or crossing branches, which can reduce the risk of infection and decay.
Controlling the size and shape of the tree, to make it easier to harvest and manage.
Enhancing the appearance and aesthetic value of the tree.
When to prune fruit trees?
The best time to prune fruit trees depends on the type of fruit tree and the climate. Generally, fruit trees should be pruned during the dormant period, when there are no leaves on the trees. This is usually in late winter or early spring, before the buds start to swell. Pruning during dormancy allows the tree to heal faster and reduces the risk of disease and pest infestation.
However, there are some exceptions to this rule. For example, stone fruits such as plums, cherries, and apricots should not be pruned in winter, as they are susceptible to a fungal disease called silver leaf, which can enter the wounds and kill the branches. Stone fruits should be pruned in summer, after the harvest, when the sap flow is low and the wounds can dry quickly. Similarly, some fruit trees such as figs, persimmons, and pomegranates may need a light summer pruning to thin out the fruits and improve their size and quality.
How to prune fruit trees?
Pruning fruit trees requires some tools, skills, and knowledge. The tools you will need are :
Hand pruners or secateurs, for removing small branches and twigs.
Loppers, for cutting larger branches up to an inch or so in diameter.
Folding saw, for sawing off branches up to three inches in diameter.
Pole pruners, for reaching high branches that are out of reach.
Gloves, goggles, and protective clothing, for safety.
Knowing the anatomy and physiology of your fruit tree, such as the difference between fruiting buds and vegetative buds, and the branch collar and the branch bark ridge.
Knowing the pruning objectives and techniques for your fruit tree, such as the central leader system, the open center system, the modified central leader system, and the renewal pruning.
Knowing the pruning rules and guidelines, such as removing no more than one-third of the branches each year, making clean and smooth cuts, avoiding stubs and flush cuts, and pruning at the right angle and direction.
Inspect your fruit tree and plan your pruning strategy. Stand back and take a good look at the tree before you start cutting. Identify the main trunk and the scaffolding branches, which are the main branches that grow from the trunk at a 45- or 50-degree angle. These branches form the basic structure of your tree and should be evenly spaced and balanced. Also, look for any dead, diseased, damaged, or crossing branches that need to be removed.
Remove any dead, diseased, damaged, or crossing branches. These branches are non-productive and can harm the health and appearance of your tree. Use the appropriate tool for the size of the branch and make the cut just above the branch collar, which is the wrinkled part near the base of the branch where it joins the trunk. The branch collar has the cells that can heal the wound and prevent infection. Do not cut into the branch collar or leave a stub, as this can cause decay and disease. Also, do not cut flush to the trunk, as this can damage the branch bark ridge, which is the raised part where the branch and the trunk meet. The branch bark ridge helps to seal the wound and prevent water from entering.
Thin out the tree canopy to allow more light and air. Remove any suckers, which are the shoots that grow from the base of the trunk or the roots, and any water sprouts, which are the straight and vigorous shoots that grow from the branches. These shoots are non-fruiting and can drain the energy and nutrients from the tree. Also, remove any competing branches that grow parallel or opposite to the main branches, or any inward-facing branches that clutter the center of the tree. Aim for an open and airy canopy that you can see through, with no more than two or three branches per scaffolding branch.
Shorten the branches to control the size and shape of the tree. Cut back any excessively long or vigorous branches to a lateral branch or a bud that points in the desired direction. This will encourage the growth of new fruiting branches and make the tree more manageable and easier to harvest. Do not cut back more than one-third of the length of a branch, as this can stress the tree and reduce the fruit yield. Also, do not cut back the central leader, which is the main vertical stem of the tree, unless you want to limit the height of the tree or create an open center system.
Clean up and dispose of the pruned branches and debris. Do not leave them on the ground or near the tree, as they can harbor diseases and pests. You can compost, chip, or burn them, depending on the local regulations and conditions.
Pruning fruit trees is an essential and rewarding task that can improve the health, beauty, and productivity of your trees. By following these tips and guidelines, you can prune your fruit trees for better harvests and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Happy pruning!