There’s nothing quite like the crisp taste of a delicious apple straight from the tree. You can take pride in knowing where it came from and that you grew it yourself. Getting that fruit, however, takes year-round care. One crucial part of maintaining your fruit trees is having them properly pruned. This guide breaks down a few of the important reasons why you need to prune fruit trees and how it helps the tree to keep producing healthy, tasty fruit. There are many aspects to pruning and looking after fruit trees, these are some basics to think about.
How do Fruit trees react to Pruning cuts?
This may sound counter-intuitive, but the more that your fruit tree is pruned, the more the tree will grow the following year. It is important to know which wood the fruit is produced on and which wood is the structural part of the tree. Each variety of tree has its own unique pattern of growth and which wood that fruit is formed on.
Knowing what would be right for each type of tree is crucial to ensuring its proper growth and well-being. Two well-known terms which we hear a lot about are “topping” and “thinning.” These are both referring to the structure of the tree, the outer branches that determine its overall shape and inner branches that can crowd potential fruit production.
- Topping: This is a “header cut” that takes off just a portion of a branch. This is done primarily to keep the height of the tree manageable and the fruit within reach with a medium-sized ladder. It will cause new growth throughout the season and once you start topping a tree it will need to be done each year to keep the size and shape the same, much like a haircut.
- Thinning: This can be done by totally removing a branch or by partially removing a branch. These are called “removal cuts” or “reduction cuts”. A simple first step is to cut off any small branches completely from the lower trunk of the tree. These sprouts generally do not produce fruit and the tree doesn’t benefit from them. There are also vertical branches that grow on the sections of the tree that do not have fruit buds on them; these can be removed too. New shoots that grow straight up are often called suckers; the proper term is “water sprouts”. They take the trees’ energy away from fruit production and can block the ripening fruit from getting enough sunlight. Look for branches that cross over each other or rub together, these can cause overcrowding and become diseased from rubbing together. Take out any dead branches.
- Fruiting Branches: You must be careful not to remove branches with fruit buds or spurs. This is where next year’s crop will be produced. If you’ve had an abundance of fruit the previous year some of these branches can be reduced in length by about 30%. Branches that are hanging out too far from the trunk can break with too much fruit. You can also remove some of the buds to space them farther apart. Upwards facing buds should also be removed. This can be done in the spring and even during the summer if necessary.
How the Age of the Tree affects How Much to Prune and Trim
Different pruning techniques and timing can affect your trees in different ways. Knowing the age of your trees will help in deciding how much to prune and trim overall. Each tree will have a different need:
- Newly planted trees: trim down to a 24 to 30-inch (61 to 76 cm) stick. Pinch off all but two or three buds to encourage branches to grow low on the tree where they will be stronger.
Note: This is a very specific technique and most trees that you purchase from a greenhouse will have had this done already. You should be able to see 3-4 main branches that you will maintain as the tree grows. New young trees need minimal pruning.
- Trees that are 3-5 years old need to have a bit more structural pruning and this is done by maintaining the main branches and removing competing ones. Careful selection is important, a good rule of thumb is to remove less if you are unsure. You can always prune more the following year once you can see the resulting leaf and fruit production and growth.
- Older trees hopefully have their main branches established. Each variety of tree has its own special amount of pruning required. For example, apples need minimal pruning, but peaches require more aggressive pruning. With any kind of tree, occasionally a branch might be damaged or diseased and then removal is going to be required. All dead branches are also removed each year.
Know What You Want from Your Fruit Tree
As you can see, all fruit trees cannot be treated alike. Each different species has different growth patterns and needs to have different amounts of growth removed each year. Part of pruning decisions involve how much fruit you want, keeping branches low enough for easy picking and then topping and thinning for the nicest shape and best chance for ripe delicious fruit.
A Summary of Fruit Tree Pruning
Know what type of wood produces fruit before you start pruning. Fruiting wood should be carefully maintained, suckers removed and, in some cases, thin fruiting buds to eliminate crowding and allow full-sized fruit to form.
Pruning helps the tree to concentrate its nutrients and energy towards healthy supporting branches and fruit production
Pruning creates light and air to circulate through the branches. There should be a good balance between branches and leaves that protect the tree from sun damage and open areas that allow fruit to ripen completely.
Properly pruned trees not only provide more fruit, but they also bear larger fruit than unpruned trees.
Good pruning practices will help you to get more from your trees and to enjoy your trees’ delicious fruit for years to come.
If you are hesitant to take on this process alone, or do not have the time to maintain your fruit trees, have a knowledgeable company that is covered by liability insurance and trained staff that are protected by WorkSafeBC like Arcadia, come and do it for you. Contact us today and we can help make your trees the best they can be.