As the cold weather hits, it’s time to think about pruning fruit trees. The ideal time for pruning is anytime after the leaves fall and before bud break in the spring (although dead branches can be cut out any time of the year).
The reason we prune when trees are dormant and have dropped their leaves is not just so its easier to see what we are cutting out. It’s also so we don’t encourage new growth at the wrong time of year when that tender new growth could be susceptible to cold damage. After the leaves drop, the tree should be dormant and growth has stopped until the spring when the sap starts running again. Please note: it is no longer advised to use pruning paint because it has been found to trap moisture which can cause issues at the cut.
There are 3 main reasons to prune fruit trees.
- Shaping. Pruning can be used to shape a tree to a pleasing shape, size or for strength and resiliency. “Heading back” is a term used to describe cutting back branches that are growing in an undesirable direction or shape.
- Removing dead or diseased branches. Deadwood weighs a tree down and diseased branches can spread to the entire tree so they both need to be removed.
- Fruit production. Pruning keeps trees healthy and encourages new growth. Sometimes, a tree will send out branches from below the graft line. Most fruit-bearing trees are now a combination of 2 trees, a root stock tree and a fruit stock tree (or scion). The bottom portion of the tree is a variety that is more disease resistant, frost tolerant, heat tolerant, or whatever desirable growing traits the nursery is going for. The top portion of the tree is chosen for its superior fruit production. If suckers form from below this scarred graft line, they will probably not produce quality fruit, so they need to be pruned away.
Please note, citrus is an exception to the normal pruning rules because citrus doesn’t require pruning since they are actually a bush, not a tree. If you do decide you’d like to try and create a more tree-like shape for your citrus tree, never cut off more than 20 percent of the branches at any one time or you will trigger sucker growth which does not produce fruit but instead saps energy away from fruit-producing branches.
For a more in-depth look at pruning fruit trees, visit: http://blog.countrytrading.co/2014/07/23/an-introduction-to-pruning-fruit-trees/