Fruit trees produce better quality and more fruit when they are properly pruned. Pruning can help you achieve the best shape, size and resilience for your fruit tree while also improving its aesthetic appeal in your garden.
There are many different fruit tree pruning tips to consider when it comes to your specific goals for your fruit tree. Whether you want a tree that produces tip-bearing or spur-bearing fruit, or you just want a beautiful and shade-producing tree for your garden, the right prunes can make all the difference!
1. Remove dead or diseased limbs.
Fruit trees, like all woody plants, need pruning on an annual basis to maintain good tree structure. Pruning also helps prevent rots and pests from re-infesting the tree.
First, remove any dead or diseased limbs. Dispose of these away from the tree and burn any that are badly diseased.
Next, remove any limbs that are crossing or rubbing against others. These limbs can cut into the bark of the other branches and cause rubbing injury.
Next, prune suckers (branches that grow from the base of the tree), whorls (branches that grow from and encircle another branch) and water sprouts (thin branches that usually grow straight upright). These are extraneous shoots that sap energy from the plant and do not produce fruit.
2. Remove water sprouts.
Water sprouts on fruit trees typically appear after pruning, a particularly bad injury or infestation, or the tree is otherwise stressed. Regardless of why these shoots have emerged, they are undesirable and should be removed.
They can cause the canopy to look crowded and tangled, block light for photosynthesis, inhibit air circulation within the tree, and limit the quality of fruit produced.
To remove them, you can either cut them back partially or completely. The key is to get as close to the trunk or branch as possible, minimizing the scar left behind that can encourage regrowth.
3. Remove crowded limbs.
Fruit trees require good light penetration and air circulation in their canopy to ripen fruit. This can be achieved by removing crowded limbs that overshadow, cross, or compete with each other.
After pruning a tree, the remaining healthy, uncrowded limbs can be left alone to grow and flower. But if you want to keep the tree in shape and promote fruit production, it’s important to prune them regularly.
Removing crowded limbs can be accomplished by cutting them to the desired lateral branch height (figure 4). Be sure not to leave any stubs, as they won’t heal and could become a launching pad for wood rot fungi.
A popular method of training fruit trees is called “espallier.” This technique involves growing a trellis that supports a fruit tree against a structure or wall and is often used on pears and apples.
4. Shape the tree.
Fruit trees can be pruned to have a natural shape or to be trained into a specific shape. It is up to you whether or not you want to shape your tree, but if you choose the latter then it is important to be sure that the pruning cuts you make are appropriate.
Formative pruning is carried out in the first year of a young tree to establish a framework of main branches. This can be a vase or central leader shape and the resulting tree will need to be pruned each year to maintain the desired shape.
When pruning a young fruit tree, be sure to start with selecting branches that will become the main scaffold limbs, which will support all other branches. Having these scaffolds on the tree is very important in minimizing the need for large, complicated cuts later.
5. Remove weak limbs.
Trees with a dense canopy tend to block light from reaching the lower limbs and can discourage flowering. Pruning can correct this natural tendency and make the trees more fruitful.
When pruning mature apple trees, remove weak or very strong limbs that compete with the main scaffold branches (figure 17). Open ladder bays between the scaffold limbs so you can reach them from your ladder and prune to promote branching.
Next, head the scaffold limbs back to half their length, 24- to 30 inches. This will encourage low branching and equalize the top and root system.
After a few years, stop heading and thin out the crowded upper limbs to a height that you can reach from your ladder. This will create an open area for the sun to penetrate, which improves fruit quality and quantity.