Pruning should be started when a tree is young to improve tree structure for the rest of it’s life, but can be done on a tree of any age if you are determined. This will ensure that it will grow into a tree which is easy to pick from for years to come, improves fruit quality, resists disease, and will not break under its load when bearing heavily.
Pruning is best done in late winter if you are growing apples or pears and either during the summer or late winter for peaches, apricots and cherries. More on why later.
If you’ve never done it before, pruning fruit trees can be intimidating since it requires making some bold cuts. However, it’s such an important part of growing fruit that it is definitely worth learning a few basic techniques.
Pruning a tree is actually fairly easy to do and does not take much time. Even newbies like us should be able to prune a young tree in less than 5 minutes once they get the hang of it.
Pears and apples are known as pome fruit. Cherries, apricots, and peaches are known as stone fruit. They are pruned differently and at different times, and you must know the difference in how to do this before you start. It is easier than I thought it would be, but a bit of time is needed to learn.
Here are a few videos to start you out. This one is on a young peach tree. Peach and cherry trees should be pruned in the summer to prevent introducing disease into the cuts. [Note: some prefer to prune apricots, peaches and cherries in late winter. It may be a regional thing.]
Here is an excellent video on pruning a young apple tree with information that is better to hear and see (if you are a visual learner as I am) than to read.
- Fruit trees must be pruned every year, usually during the dormant period…
- Apple trees should be pruned in late winter, but you can prune into the spring and summer if you must…
- You want an ‘open center’ (the vase shape) for good sunlight penetration and air circulation.
- You want to encourage the outward growth of future limbs. See graphic below for right and wrong ways to make cuts.
Some basic, but important, rules:
- Don’t prune cherry trees until after they bear in the summer.
- You want somewhat of an ‘open center’ for good sunlight penetration and air circulation.
- Again, you want strong branches which come out of the trunk at 45 degrees. Greater or lesser angle makes for a poor weight-bearing branch later in the life of the tree.
- You want to encourage outward growth of future limbs. Where you cut determines which way the new branch will head. This is called a heading cut.
- This image below is for a heading cut.
The notches mentioned in the image above refers to the degree of angle. of branches to the trunk of the tree.
When we were selectively ‘trimming back’ our little orchard (only 9 trees at this point), we soon understood the real reason we prune. It is to encourage correct growth and a excellent outcome. As we worked, our minds were making all kinds of associations to the pruning God does in our lives. It makes so much sense when YOU are THE PRUNER (aka the vine-dresser, the husbandman, the gardener)!
Every cut has a desired future goal.
Note: While late winter is the right time for some kinds of pruning, there is one more thing. If you want to keep your standard trees small, though, do another prune in mid-summer (about the summer solstice is a good time) to limit the size of the tree. This way you can have dwarf trees on hardier, longer-lived rootstock.
One of the reasons I am so sad that our culture is moving more and more away from an sustainable and simpler lifestyle is because we are losing our understanding of these foundational principles in life!
How wonderful to teach these concepts to our children and their children as we teach and work side by side in the orchard/garden.
Purposeful teaching, especially when we can do some hands-on is necessary for leaving a rich biblical legacy for our families.
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. ” ~John 15: 1-2
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