Pruning Fruit Trees

    • It’s bare root season, which means you can save money on fruit trees and shade trees by planting them now. A wide selection is now available.
    • Onion plants can be set out now for early summer harvest. Choose your favorite varieties.
    • Blueberries are a delicious fruit that can be planted now from young plants. Give them a rich, acid bed prepared with lots of peat moss.
    • Spray fruit trees with a dormant oil spray after you prune them. Spray from the bottom up, including the undersides of limbs and the ground around the tree, to prevent early spring insect infestations.
    • FREE Fruit Tree Pruning Class this Sunday, January 29, from 10 AM to 3 PM. Meet at Mendocino County Museum, 400 E Commercial St, Willits, and look for the signs. Call 459-9009 for more information.

Pruning Fruit Trees

The main purpose of pruning a fruit tree is to create a tree with delicious high quality fruit at a height where you can pick it safely.

When fruit trees are young, 1-4 years old, the main object of pruning is to establish a well-formed framework of branches that will be capable of holding and bearing the fruit. This framework can take many forms from the traditional open-vase or central-leader systems to the newer spindle-bush system.

The traditional open-vase is an excellent form for most fruit trees and it is the easiest to do. Remember that as the tree grows, a given branch will always be the same distance from the ground: it does not grow up with the tree.

For a fruit tree to fruit properly, it needs 6-8 hours of sunlight a day. Proper pruning will allow sunlight to penetrate throughout the tree so that all the flowers, fruit spurs, and fruit get all the sun’s energy they need in order to grow properly and produce fruit.

In order to maintain a balance between fruiting wood on the tree and vegetative growth, which will become new fruiting wood in time, trees must be pruned moderately, avoiding large swings of growth brought about by heavy pruning. This will also help the trees bear regular crops every year, especially on trees that tend to bear heavily one year and lightly the next.

Proper pruning also distributes the fruit evenly throughout the tree. And it creates better air circulation, which helps prevent certain diseases.

The two basic pruning cuts are a heading cut, which removes part of a branch, and a thinning cut, which removes a branch all the way back to where it meets another branch. We use these two types of pruning cuts at different times to achieve our pruning goals. Height control on fruit trees is best done with summer pruning, while winter pruning causes lush regrowth, especially in the top of your tree.

Sometimes a large, old, neglected fruit tree must be pruned in order to bring its height down to a more manageable level and to improve its fruit quality. This takes careful work over 2-3 years.

Pruning should always include the removal of dead, diseased and broken branches, cutting out unwanted growth like water sprouts, suckers, and crossing or rubbing branches, and improving the structure of the tree by removing narrow or weak branch attachments.

Learn where the fruit is produced on your trees so that you can prune your trees properly and not prune off the fruiting wood.

Proper pruning will make for a strong, healthy tree that will give you bushels of fruit for years to come. There is a lot to know about pruning, so take a pruning class, read books and observe carefully the results of your own pruning on your trees. Have fun and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

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