Just like when trimming grapes, there is a good way to trim a fruit tree and a bad way to trim one. If your goal is to trim your fruit tree for optimum fruit production, there are a few key things to consider while pruning.
How to Trim a Fruit Tree.
Apple trees and plum trees are the most forgiving if you heavily prune them. They readily produce sucker growth and water shoots. More delicate fruit trees, such as peaches and apricots should be pruned less aggressively. Take too much off and you will stunt the tree’s growth and production. There are a few very basic rules for all fruit trees.
- Start with the right equipment and don’t stint on price. You’ll want good-quality 18-inch loppers, pruners and handsaw. There are many different styles, lengths and price ranges on pruning equipment. The trick is to not buy more than you need but be sure to buy what you do need. Make sure it is sharp enough, long enough, sturdy enough and easy to sharpen for what you will be pruning. If you need to use a ladder, be sure it’s a sturdy one in good condition.
- The best time to prune is late fall after leaves are off, but any time from December through February before they start to bud again will work.
- Remove dead, dying and diseased limbs first.
- Take out crossing limbs and remove limbs that grow down or straight up.
- Clear out the center of the tree, and prune the top of the tree more heavily than the lower portion.
- Only take out one-third of the limbs at once, and for a peach or apricot, only take out about one-quarter every 3-4 years and only if necessary to promote better fruiting.
On young trees, pruning encourages a strong, solid framework for future fruit and picking; on mature trees, pruning encourages fruit production to continue at high yields if so desired. The final cut on each unwanted branch needs to be alongside the “branch collar”, a raised ring of bark where the branch intersects with another branch. Growth cells concentrate in these nodes, causing fast bark regrowth which seals the cuts. The idea is to leaf a slight nob where the cut is as shown in the photo.
Usually when you purchase fruit trees from a nursery, they are already trimmed the way they should be to get them through the first 3-4 years. Once they start getting a lot of new growth, that’s the time to tame the beast a bit.
Step by step how to prune apple trees.
1. Clean up
Start by pruning away branches that are diseased, damaged or dead. If there are any sprouts coming from the base of the trunk, prune those out too. These are known as suckers and they originate from the rootstock rather than the fruiting tree grafted onto it. Prune away any straight stems sprouting from main branches – these are water shoots and are often a sign of over vigorous pruning over one season.
2. Thin out
Aim for the open goblet-shaped canopy which opens up the crown to allow light in and air to move around freely. It boosts fruit production and reduces disease. To create this shape, prune out upward growing interior branches, especially those that rub against each other or criss-cross other branches.
You can also remove leading branches that compete with each other or points where two or more branches grow from the same point and seem to compete with each other. Retain the healthiest branch that’s in the best position. When you’re doing this, keep stopping, stand back and check your work and overall shape of the tree. Make sure you’re working towards evenly spaced branches and the open goblet shape.
3. Make heading back cuts
Heading back means pruning the outside branches of the tree to shorten and thicken them, especially in young trees. It stops branches from getting long and gangly and at risk of snapping. Heading cuts are necessary when pruning young trees, but you’ll make fewer heading cuts as trees mature. It generally involves cutting away 20 to 30 percent of last year’s growth. You can tell which growth is last year’s growth – look for the wrinkly ring of bark encircling each stem. This could be a few centimeters to over a meter back from the tip of the stem. But it depends on the vigor of the tree.
Unlike the previous steps, these cuts will be made part way along each branch. But where you make the cut is really important. Make the cut just above an outward-facing bud. It will cause a new shoot to grow from the direction the bud is facing in the coming year. It will stimulate growth and encourage branches to grow in the direction you want.
Heading cuts should be avoided once the initial shaping of the tree has been completed as it can cause the tree to become overcrowded. In mature trees, if you need to use a heading cut to shorten a long and thin branch make the cut in old wood as this causes less new growth.