These fruit tree pruning instructions cover basic pruning theorys and techniques. For both young and mature fruit trees. In subsequent chapters we will discuss the particulars of apples, pears and peaches.
Pruning fruit trees is done to keep your trees healthy and easy to work in while pruning and gathering a bountiful harvest of large fruit.
Pruning is easy once you get the hang of it but a challenge to teach through the written word even with pictures. I will do my best to give you a start with basic directions. If you have more detailed questions feel free to go to my ask a question page.
Pruning fruit trees is an art and a science. First look at the trees with an artistic eye.Before you start to prune walk around your tree and view it from all angles and get an eye for what you would like your tree to look like and what general shaping ideas you have for the tree. Keep in mind that your trees are living creations and the cuts you make today will govern its shape for the years to come. This is especially true of young trees in their formative stages.
Think openness, sun, large fruit and good ladder sets
General fruit tree pruning instructions:
- Prune in the winter when the trees are dormant. There are a few exceptions to this.
- Prune out all suckers or water sprouts - Suckers are the young shoots that grow at the trees base.
- Cut out all broken or diseased branches
- Cut out all crossing branches
- cut out narrow crotches
- Thin branches to allow sun and air movement for fruit ripening
- When making cuts don't leave a stub, cut close to the trunk or branch
- Make pruning cuts just above an outward facing bud. In the spring this bud will grow away from the center of the tree.
use sharp tools for clean cuts. Hand pruners for smaller branches,
loppers for up to 1/2" cuts and a pruning saw for larger cuts
There are three basic types of pruning.
center, Modified central leader and
It is important to choose your
pruning system when you first plant your fruit tree as the first cuts
are very formative. If you are pruning an established tree prune to the
Open center pruning is primarily used for stone fruits such as peachs, nectarines and apricots. It can also be used for apples, cherries, and plums.
First Year fruit tree pruning instructionsWhen you first plant the tree prune back the roots slightly and then prune back the "maiden whip" to 3-5 feet off the ground depending on where you want your tree to branch. Prune to a bud with two buds below it. I like to start my tree forking at 4 feet so that the lower branches are easy to get under with a mower. We also let our cow in our mature orchard and she is hard on the lower branches.
If you buy your trees from some nurseries they prune them usually at about 3 feet and they usually have side branches, these are called "feathered maidens and should be pruned back to 3 or 4 strong shoots about 3 or 4 feet from the ground. Side shoots should be shortened by two thirds of their length to an upward or outward facing bud. Lower shoots should be removed flush with the stem. If this is the case and you want them to start taller just save the best leader and prune it to start branching higher up.
As the tree grows prune each winter to develop a strong scaffolding (main branches) and fruiting wood. Always think of a large tree with ladder sets and make sure your main scaffolding will allow for this.
main scaffolding branches
second year remove all but three or four main branches that are six to
inches apart, growing from the trunk at wide angles, and spaced evenly
the trunk. These will be your main scaffolding branches.
and forth Year
Now that you have the main scaffolding branches you want to start heading back. The pink colored parts of the tree show growth in the previous year, this should not be pruned. The black colored side shoots should all be pruned by a third.
Fifth year and beyond
done during the first three years is basically the same for all open
trees. Now you must start using pruning methods specific for the
fruit. In apples and pears, promote fruiting with spur pruning
apple trees fruit on second year and older wood. In peaches
you will need
to prune to develop new wood as peaches fruit on last years wood.
very little pruning after their basic shape is developed.
If your tree is just a "maiden" tree also called a "whip" cut the trunk to 24 to 48 inches which will stimulate branches to grow along the trunk with the up most bud becoming the central leader. If it is a "feathered maiden" develop your first scaffolding branches often called a “whorl”. Select 3 to 4 branches with good crotches, spaced uniformly around the trunk, not directly across from or above one another.
Second and third years Above the first scaffold whorl, leave an area of 18 to 24 inches without any branches to allow light into the center of the tree. Then follow the first set of scaffolding branches with another set of scaffolding branches. Alternating scaffold whorls with 18 to 24 inch openings for light and air up the leader to the desired maximum tree height.
Forth and fifth year to maturity Prune back the main leader shoot, but keep it as the highest part of the tree to maintain your pyramid shape. Keep that shape by pruning out water sprouts and any crossing, diseased, or unwanted branches. Head back all vigorous growth by 1/3 of the new growth. Try to keep the lower branches longer than the upper ones to maintain the pyramid shape.
The Modified Central Leader system has a main leader trunk and three or four lateral branches that are also given equal importance so these scaffolding branches are about the same size as the central leader. This tree is started at about 4 feet to allow for mowing.
Trees trained to the modified central leader system usually have five to seven well-spaced scaffold limbs 8" to 12" apart on the central leader radiating from the tree axis in different directions.Pruning starts out very similar to a Central leader system. Cut the "whip" to 24 to 48 inches which will stimulate branches to grow along the trunk with the up most bud becoming the leader.
If it is a "feathered maiden" develop your first scaffolding branches Select 3 to 4 branches with good crotches, spaced uniformly around the trunk, not directly across from or above one another. Make sure crotches have a wide angle 45 degrees is best.
Second and third years
Select scaffold branches that are at different heights on the trunk, make sure the branches that you select have good crotches that are not at a steep angle. Head back vigorous new growth by a third and cut out all suckers. Some heading-back cuts to scaffold limbs are also necessary during the first few years to encourage branching and fruit spur development. As trees begin to bear fruit, use thinning cuts and heading-back cuts to side laterals.
Forth and fifth year to maturity
Once five to seven scaffold limbs have developed, dormant pruning consists primarily of selective removal of crowded or crossing branches, water sprouts, root suckers, and other growth which interferes with light penetration and air movement in the tree canopy. Sometimes it is necessary to remove some of the weaker growth from the interior of the tree. Shoot and limb spreading which encourages wide crotch angles will also help maintain leader dominance and promote fruiting at an earlier age. If more scaffold limbs are needed, head back the central leader about 20" above the highest permanent lateral shoot. This will stimulate the development of lateral shoots from which additional scaffold limbs will develop. Continue to select laterals for scaffold limb development as described previously. After five to seven properly positioned scaffold limbs have been selected, continue to remove shoots which compete with the central leader during each dormant pruning.
In subsequent years, prune the tree to grow into a pyramid shape. Keep your tree to a reasonable height that you can reach from a ladder.Proper pruning
Proper pruning is most essential to insure quick starting and vigorous growth, correct shape, long life and big crops of fruits and flowers. Proper pruning of both tops and roots usually determines success or failure.
Pruning the roots when planting is just as necessary as pruning the tops. The plant is nourished by little feeder roots that start from the ends of the old roots. These little feeder roots will not develop properly unless the ends of the roots are pruned.This is often done at the nursery if you buy your trees so ask or look at the roots before further pruning.
In some cases summer pruning is appropriate, in general it slows down growth where dormant pruning encourages growth. You can use summer pruning to eliminate competing shoots where dormant heading cuts which were made (on the central leader and laterals) in the first year. Summer is also the optimal time to remove unwanted side shoots and excessive growth. All laterals should have a wide branch angle, and spreading of lateral branches is essential for many varieties. Personally I do very little summer pruning.
Unpruned trees are hard to work in and tend to produce crops of small, worthless fruit. The fruit is often damaged by pests and diseases, and much of the crop is out of reach at the top of the tree. Pruning is therefore carried out to achieve a balance between shoot growth, ladder sets and fruit production.
It can be quite the job to rejuvenate and bring an old fruit tree back into good production and easy picking. But it is worth it. You will have to do some radical pruning especially if the only recent pruning was done by bears. Don't try to do it all in one year, it will be to much for the tree and probably you too.
Remove broken or diseased branches and crossing limbsAny branches growing inward to the tree's center and any growing vertically or straight down.
Thin out enough new growth to allow light to filter into the canopy when the tree has leafed out so the fruit can ripen properly.
Shorten any branches that are too long to avoid over extended growth.
Shape tree evenly and remember apples flower and fruit on old wood, so head back new growth to direct energy back into the flowers and fruit. Remember to thin your fruit and you can also thin the fruit spurs if they are to thick.
You may have to do some major cuts to get back to 3 to 5 lower scaffold branches with good crotch angles and spaced around the tree. Limbs with poor angles, and excess scaffold limbs, should be removed at their base. You may also want to cut the top of major branches if the tree has out grown ladder heights. If you are at the top of your ladder and you can't reach the fruit I suggest cutting the tree back to a manageable height. I often use a small chain saw for these major cuts. It is essential that you make all large cuts clean and good. To make clean cuts, cut the branch once a foot from the base to relieve all the weight which will avoid tearing of the bark, then do a careful cut flush with the trunk so that it will heal. You may want to make your first cut with a chain saw and your second cut with a hand saw. You can put tar or other kinds of sealants on the cuts but I find that a good clean cut flush with the trunk heals better on its own. Make sure the cut is not flat and has an angle so that no water will collect on it as that is where rot will start. You may need to remove as much as 75% of a really old overgrown tree. This should be done over a three year period.
Renewal pruning is a useful technique for older or neglected trees. It takes advantage of the tendency of apples and pears to produce flower buds on unpruned two year old wood. Leave strong lateral branches on the outer parts of the tree unpruned during the first year. During the second growing season, these laterals will send out new vegetative growth from the tip. The rest of the buds from below that point will become flower buds. The following winter, cut back these lateral branch to the topmost flower bud. The lateral will then flower and fruit that year. After fruiting, retain this lateral as an elongated spur, or cut it back to one inch from the base to stimulate the formation of a new lateral branch to repeat the cycle.
Thinning Cuts are used to remove an entire shoot or branch back to a lateral or scaffolding branch.
Heading Cuts are used to remove only the terminal portion of a shoot. This type of cut promotes the growth of lower buds as well as several terminal buds below the cut.
Large cuts also known as bench cuts are used to remove vigorous, upright shoots back to side branches that are outward growing. Bench cuts are used to open up the center of the tree. They may also be used to take out excessive scaffolding branches left by improper pruning of young trees.
Careful pruning cuts will help the tree to heal quickly. Pruning cuts should be flush with the adjacent branch without leaving stubs. Also, when large horizontal cuts are made, they should be slightly angled so that water does not set on the cut surface as this will cause rotting and disease.
Some people like to use tar or other compounds to close the wounds but I have found that a good clean cut flush with the base heals best on its own.
Tools of the trade
Smooth, clean pruning cuts heal quickly and minimize the likelihood of rot and disease. Before making any cuts, become familiar with the various types of pruning equipment, their uses and limitations, and the basics of equipment maintenance. Be sure your equipment is properly adjusted, sharp and in good working order.
Pruning tools for all your pruning needs.
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