You don’t just plant a fruit tree in the ground and watch it grow. Fruit trees need care and attention if you want them to bear fruit, and regular pruning is essential to keep your fruit trees healthy and producing good crops year after year.
When to Prune
Before you decide how to prune your fruit trees, you need to know when to prune your fruit trees, and this depends on what you hope to achieve.
Pruning is a dwarfing process that reduces the overall size of a tree, but dormant pruning produces the best new growth. For this reason, most pruning is done when a tree is dormant, i.e. the time after the leaves drop in late fall but before the buds begin to swell in early spring. However, there is a risk of winter injury if you prune too soon and the ideal time is just before the buds swell.
But if you want to reduce vegetative growth and prevent new shoots from developing, then early summer is a good time to prune. It is important to remember that pruning at this time of year will have an extremely dwarfing effect, first on the root system and then on the entire tree.
Pruning in midsummer has little or no effect on new growth, and is not as dwarfing as pruning in early summer. This makes it the ideal time to reduce the height and width of your trees by cutting back new growth. It will also let more direct sunlight into the center of the tree, allowing your fruit to colour. By reducing vegetative growth at this time of year you can produce sweeter fruit because more sugar is made available in the tree, but this will be at the cost of fruit size.
Pruning your fruit trees in the fall is not advisable if you live in a cold climate. The tree doesn’t have any energy reserves at this time of year and wounds won’t heal well. Young shoots that grow as a result of fall pruning may freeze and break if the winter is particularly harsh. If you are unsure about the timing of your pruning, it is best to seek advice from a professional tree pruning service.
How to Prune
If you want to build a good tree, you need a strong central leader and six to eight main branches. Remove any branches that form narrow crotches where they connect to the trunk of the tree and cut as flush with the trunk as possible.
The less pruning you do on a young non-bearing tree, the quicker it will come into production. Therefore, once you have established your central leader and selected your main branches, you only want to do minimal pruning until the tree is bearing.
When you prune a bearing tree, you want to increase the amount of sunlight and airflow in your tree. The first step is to cut out all broken, dead and diseased branches. Then look for branches that are growing in the wrong direction. Where two branches overhang each other or are closely parallel, remove the least desirable one.
Prune the areas of the tree where you want to stimulate growth but reduce pruning to an absolute minimum where growth is too vigorous. Do not remove branches unless there is a very good reason for doing so. Leaves are the food-manufacturing organs of the tree, and if the leaf area is reduced unnecessarily, the trees growth and production will suffer.
Beware of excessive pruning as this can have several negative side effects, including the loss of fruit colour, delayed fruit maturity and the growth of undesirable suckers and water-sprouts.
As you can see, pruning fruit trees is not a simple job, and if you’re unsure of what you are doing it is best to call in an expert tree pruning service. Martin’s Tree Service can help you evaluate your trees, decide what you would like to achieve and then prune your fruit trees accordingly.