Properly Pruning Fruit Trees
by Lee Wyatt
(last updated December 27, 2021)
Just as with any tree, pruning fruit trees can often be a daunting task to a beginning gardener. Keep in mind though that it only seems to be daunting because you haven't done it yet. There are some very simple guidelines that anyone can follow to ensure that they properly prune their fruit trees, and it is a good idea to follow them. Pruning does more than simply make your tree look great. It can help promote the general health of the plant, and encourage a great crop of fruit. Simply follow these guidelines to ensure that you are pruning fruit trees the best possible way.
- Annual. Generally speaking, it is a good idea to do your major pruning in the early spring time. This is when you can easily tell the difference between branches that are healthy, and those that are dead, diseased, or dying. The easiest way to tell is to take a look at the branches, and if there are leaves blooming, then the branch is healthy. If there isn't, or if there isn't as many leaves as there should be, then remove the branch.
- Seasonal. Know what type of fruit tree you are dealing with. While there is a general health guideline for pruning trees, many fruit trees require a specific pruning time to encourage growth. For example, if you are growing sour cherries, then you want to begin pruning in the midsummer, right after fruiting. Compare this to the best time to prune for pear trees, which is in late winter for bush type trees.
- Proper tools. Before you begin pruning fruit trees, make sure that you have the proper tools for the job. Typically, all you will need is a pair of sharp pruning shears. Check to make sure that the blades are sharp; otherwise you run the risk of causing lasting, and permanently damaging your trees. For example, a pair of dull pruning shears can allow harmful bacteria or fungus to enter the tree and cause the entire branch to rot or even die.
- Proper shape. Believe it or not, there is an actual shape that you should try to get your trees to grow into. Encouraging your fruit trees to grow in the funnel shape can help to dramatically improve the overall health of your tree. The overall design of this shape is to have the taper (or narrow) portion of the funnel pointing to the ground. This shape encourages as many branches as possible to get sunlight, and help ensure that healthy young branches don't get overshadowed by the older healthier branches.
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