Time to Prune Fruit Trees

by Don Trotter


Hello fellow Earthlings and welcome to the documentary "George Washington, America's first fruit tree pruning expert". I'm not sure how good he was at running the country, but he gave that cherry tree hell. This is the third and final installment on deciduous fruit trees. We have covered feeding, dormant spraying, and this installment is pruning for tree health as well as maximum fruiting. So let's take a stroll down to the fruit trees with all our pruning weapons in hand... Don't forget your gloves.

Fruit tree pruning is an art form that is not at all difficult to excel at, and it is very easy to mess up as well. The wonderful part about a messed up pruning job is that it only lasts for one year. The tree forgives you and gives you another chance the following year. I'm here to help you avoid those mishaps and to help you to help your tree be happy and fruitful in the spring and summer.

In this column we will be covering basic techniques for the most common types of fruit trees grown residentially. First we will touch on the pruning tasks that are universal to each of the fruit types we will cover here. If you have any questions that require a more detailed response e-mail or call me with your question at the numbers at that always appear at the end of my column.

When pruning deciduous fruit trees it is always helpful to remember three steps to a good basic pruning job.

  1. Eliminate all dead or diseased wood.

  2. Eliminate crossing or touching branches in favor of the stronger growth when possible.

  3. Keep the center of the tree clear of branches for good air circulation.

These three steps will assure you of a pruning job that keeps your fruit to the outside of the tree for easy picking, keeps the center of the tree open for air circulation that will reduce pest and disease problems, and keep the tree tidy and free of decaying wood that serves no purpose. Some specific information regarding the most often grown fruit trees is as follows and speaks of the age of "fruiting" wood. For example, wood that was formed during last year's growing season will be considered second year wood and wood that was formed two seasons ago is referred to as third year wood. Wood that will be formed during the growing season coming will be call first year wood.

Apples and pears; Most fruit is formed on second and third year wood. Apples and pears produce a type of fruiting wood called a spur. Spurs are where a lot of fruit can be produced, they look exactly like stunted branchlets and should be saved unless dead or in a spot where they conflict (cross) with other growth. Apples and pears also produce fruit along the middle section of second year wood. Apples and pears do best when pruning is limited to cleaning and shaping. No more than 25% of the previous year's growth should be removed to maximize fruit production.

Apricot, Peach. Plum, Nectarine; Due to the briefness of this column, I must group these trees together. Most of the fruit for all of these fruit varieties is formed on second and third year wood. Plums can also form spurs like Apples and this growth formation should be saved whenever possible. Crossing branches should always be eliminated and the long whip-like growth that was formed last year on some branches can be reduced up to 60%. Apricots also produce these whips and they can be treated similarly. Most of the fruit is produced in the middle third of the growth that was formed last season (second year wood). All precaution should be taken to preserve this wood whenever possible. Having an open center is very important to all of these varieties of trees to reduce the possibility of disease and pest infestations. It is always a good thing to apply a dormant spray immediately after pruning to seal and disinfect and open cuts in the tree before next year's growth begins. My favorite pruning sealer is good old Elmer's white glue. Rub it or brush it on the open cults in your tree to seal out bad guys.

Pruning your fruit trees is not nearly as daunting a task as many like to make it. Simply cleaning your tree of dead wood, elimination of crossing branches, and shaping your tree is often enough for residential fruit trees so they maintain their shape and attractiveness in the garden. Next we will be spending the entire month of January on roses. I'll see you in the Garden!


Got Questions? Email the Doc at Curly@mill.net Don Trotter's natural gardening columns appear nationally in environmentally sensitive publications. For lots more helpful tips check out Don's books Natural Gardening A-Z and The Complete Natural Gardener, available at bookstores everywhere and at all on line booksellers. Both are from Hay House publishing www.hayhouse.com

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