Last summer was the first for the SNOW Block Alley. It was a season spent not only building all the hardscaping but planting a lot of edible perennials including blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and fruit trees. Now comes the part where I learn how to take care of them all.

Fruit Tree Pruning 101

I have never had fruit trees before and now suddenly I have multiple – apples, a cherry, a pear and an Asian pear. I’m a girl that knows when to ask to help, so I put out the call to John Dodson. John has a degree in horticulture and over 40 years experience, including most recently ten years of teaching at Boise State and College of Western Idaho. Plus he’s a nice guy and as nice guys do, John came to the rescue.

Just a quick note here: because our garden has limited space, most of our fruit trees are espaliered but trimming techniques are the same regardless.

The Equipment

  • Clippers – I like bypass clippers as the two curved blades give a clean cut. But more important than the type of pruners you have, is that they are sharp! A dull pruner can mangle the branch which makes it harder for the plant to recover and heal itself.
  • Sanitizing – It’s important to disinfect your pruners between cuts. If that’s asking just too much, at least sanitize them between trees. Otherwise, you run the risk of spreading disease – disease you might not even know your tree has… yet. There’s commercial products available but I’m all for making this easy (and affordable). A  solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water will do the trick but make sure you wash and dry the blades when you’re done for the day as bleach is very corrosive.

Timing

The best time to do pruning is in the spring when the buds are just starting to swell (aka: now).

03172016_Pruning-Trees-Broken-and-Crowded-Limbs

The Steps

  1. Remove any dead, diseased or broken limbs.
  2. Prune out any limbs that are crossing or crowding each other.
  3. Trim for the shape you want and make sure that the canopy is open and airy to allow for light throughout. This helps with flower bud and fruit development.

Making the Cut

There’s two kinds of pruning cuts. Fewer branches means less fruit and while that might sound like a bad thing at first, producing less actually helps the tree give all it’s energy to the fruit that’s left, making it bigger and higher quality so don’t be afraid to get in there and take some branches out.

03172016_Pruning-Trees-How-to-make-a-thinning-cut

  1. Thinning cut – This type of cut helps create the tree form. Here the whole branch is removed all the way down to another branch (don’t leave a stub) and cut at an angle.
    03172016_Pruning-Trees-How-to-make-a-heading-cut
  2. Heading cut – Here a branch is “tipped back” meaning it’s removed to just above a node (the slight bump on a branch where new leaves emerge), encouraging the growth of a lot of new branches. This kind of pruning controls tree size and is used to encourage fill in foliage.

03172016_Pruning-Trees-What-nodes-look-like

Assuring a Fruitful Future

When pruning it’s important to consider the fruiting pattern of the variety of tree you’re working with. According to Dobson, “Virtually all of the fruit trees: apples, pears, cherries, peaches, apricots, nectarines, plums, etc. will only begin to form fruit on wood that is at least one year old. For example, a branch that formed in 2015 may sparsely flower and fruit in 2016, but it will not be until 2017 that the branch that grew in 2015 will begin to really produce fruit. Fruit only forms on older growth on these varieties.”

With eight new fruit trees in the alley and John’s advice, it sounds like it’s time to sharpen my clippers and get this pruning party started!

03172016_Pruning-Trees-Before-and-After-Apple-Tree-Pruning

For more information visit the University of Idaho’s Master Gardener’s chapter on fruit trees.

There’s more gardening tips to be had along with recipes at BistroOneSix.com.

John Dodson can be found at AProfessorsPotager.com.

  • Gretchen Anderson

    Linda! This is fantastic stuff! Thank you for all the GREAT photos!