Admittedly, a fruit tree seems a bit large to be a component of a small kitchen garden. However, it’s inescapable: if you want to grow certain fruits, you must grow trees. Besides, many homeowners ended up with fruit trees when they bought their houses; my yard had three apple trees, a pear tree, and a peach tree growing out-of-control when we moved in.
To get the best crop of fruit from your trees, you need to prune them. This is a late-winter job; it’s best to prune while a tree is dormant. I prune in March; in hardiness zone 5b sap starts flowing in late March or early April. I’ve gotten an early start this year so I can explain pruning here in time for you to get your trees in shape.
Advantages of Pruning Apple Trees
If apple trees did come with your house, or if you have some old trees you’ve ignored for a season or longer, your trees may be a bit wild. In just one season of neglect (which, typically means two seasons of growth), a tree can mess itself up pretty severely. In two or three seasons of neglect, a tree can turn itself into a three- or four-year reclamation project.
Unless a tree is rotting through its trunk, you shouldn’t have much trouble getting it under control. There are a number of advantages to pruning, and they define the guidelines I follow as I tackle this relatively pleasant off-season gardening task. In no order of merit, here are advantages of pruning:
- Pruning limits the size of a tree. By pruning, you keep a tree from competing with surrounding plants; from shading out your living spaces; and from interfering with wiring, clothes lines, buildings, walkways, and driveways. You also keep fruit within reach—fruit that grows on very high branches may go to waste.
- Pruning opens spaces for light to get to the lower and inside branches of a tree.
- Pruning removes dead and diseased wood.
- Pruning simplifies a tree and makes it easier for you to work in and around the tree.
- Pruning encourages new fruit-bearing growth.
- Pruning tricks a tree into producing larger, meatier fruits.
Before you Prune
Before we get our hands on pruning tools, there are a few important points to stress:
Be patient—you can make significant changes to a tree’s appearance in a single season. However, a particularly wild tree may require several years of pruning to get it into top form.
Stop when the tree emerges from dormancy—even if you haven’t completed your pruning agenda, don’t continue into the growing season. Once sap is flowing, it can accumulate at a cut and drip onto lower branches. The moisture and nearly undetectable sweetness can attract insects and feed pathogens. Opening a wound during the growing season causes unnecessary stress.
Don’t overdo it—never remove more than 20% to 25% of the tree’s leafing branches in a season of pruning. If you’re not confident about estimating 25%, be light-handed.
Tools matter—use sharp tools that make clean cuts, and clean the tools before you start pruning. It’s also wise to clean blades periodically while you’re pruning. A wipe with rubbing alcohol will disinfect tools so they don’t carry disease from one plant to another or spread disease to healthy limbs of an infected plant.
Pruning Tools and Techniques
In my next post, I’ll show you the tools I use and I’ll list the guidelines I follow as I prepare my fruit trees for a new growing season. If you have specific questions you’d like me to address, please leave comments; I’ll either respond with my own comments, or incorporate your questions into upcoming posts. For the discussion, I’ll talk about pruning apple trees, but the information applies as well to nearly any deciduous tree.
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Here are links to other articles with information about pruning apple trees:
Pruning Fruit Trees with Knives – by Jeremiah Wright. More apples are grown in Great Britain than any other fruit. The reason of course is that the climate suits this fruit particularly. Apples can he grown to start the season in August, and to end the season in June by …
Pruning Apple Trees – Each Little World. Pruning trees and shrubs is one of the few reasons we northern gardeners have for venturing into the garden in the winter. And even at that , pruning at our house is generally limited to our two full-size apple trees. These 50-year-old trees…
How to Prune Apple Trees – Today we’re talking about Pruning Trees. In the coming weeks this will be a job to done, if you’d like more fruit. How to Prune Apple Trees by: Paul Curran. In this article you will find out how to prune apple trees. …