Pruning fruit trees can seem like an intimidating undertaking. You might be asking yourself if you even need to prune your tree. And if you do need to prune, how to go about it? In this article, we will keep information on a basic level to help beginners understand the hows and whys of pruning.
Why Do We Prune?
Fruit trees are pruned to aid in the health of the tree, and to increase the quality of the fruit. When pruning for health, remember to remove any limb that crosses and rubs against another limb. This can create a wound inviting disease and pests. Remove all limbs growing downward or an inconvenient place. Additionally, remove any water sprouts. These are limbs that grow vertically from an existing scaffold limb. Lastly, remove any growth coming from the roots or below the graft union. This is your root stock growing, not the variety of tree you purchased.
This image shows the cuts needed to achieve the central leader structure. Upon planting, the tree, or whip, is cut to two to three feet tall with all side limbs removed. It is allowed to grow the first year. The winter after planting, the cuts bring back chosen scaffold branches by one-third. Scaffold branches need a strong crotch, need to grow around the trunk at even intervals allowing sunlight to hit each branch and only one upward growing branch will be left as the new leader. The third year is a repeat of the second-year pruning in addition to the pruning for health as discussed earlier.
This image describes the method used to create the open center. At planting, the tree is trimmed to 2-3 feet tall with all side limbs removed. You can begin training the tree with a summer prune or wait until it is dormant again. Either way, the central leader is removed, three or four strong branches are chosen as scaffold limbs and the tree is pruned for health, as previously discussed. Scaffold limbs should be equally spaced around the trunk to allow sunlight on all branches. Scaffold limbs need strong crotches of around 45 degree angles. You can train one tier of scaffold branches or two. If two is your choice, be sure to leave a distance of eight to twelve trunk inches between the tiers.
Trees that are chosen to be grown with their natural structure need only pruning for health. This can be done when the trees are dormant or, as in the case of citrus, after the final freeze. This is usually early March in our area.
Finally, it is good to remember that your tree will live. Pruning very rarely results in death. Should you make a mess of it, the tree will repair itself and you can try again next year. Lastly, invest in the proper tools and keep them clean. Reduce the spread of disease by disinfecting your tools with a 10% bleach solution after pruning each tree.