Nigel’s Fruit Tree Pruning Tips
Training of a fruit tree begins in the early years, and the aim is to develop a well-balanced framework of branches that are capable of supporting the fruit crop. This permanent framework provides the reference points for pruning a mature tree.
Early pruning should only be enough to establish this desired framework; heavy pruning on a young tree can delay fruiting. I find open centre pruning is the most common and the most beneficial to use on fruit trees; this is the style I will explain today.
Open style pruning produces a bowl or vase-shaped tree with no main central branch but instead many of the major limbs, or scaffold branches, angle outwards from the main trunk. These branches usually start at about 2 to 3 feet above the ground and should spiral around the tree with about 6 inches between each of the branches. Being able to identify the difference between new and old growth and what is a fruiting spur and a fruiting bud is important when pruning.
New growth has shinier bark than old branches. Fruiting spurs and fruiting buds occur on older wood and are the parts of the tree that will result in fruit production. The goal of pruning is to renew these fruiting sites and to keep them exposed to sunlight. Too much shading during the growing season will result in a smaller and lower quality crop.
For mature trees begin pruning by removing any dead or diseased wood, any branches that are too close and are rubbing together and any crossed over branches that are interfering with each other, then remove the obvious suckers and water sprouts. These are the branches that grow straight up and are usually very long and have younger shiny bark.
Cut these right back to the trunk and don't leave any little nubs. Next, remove any undesired limbs completely. It is best to thin out these branches rather than just cutting the heads of them back; this will avoid stimulating a lot of new growth at that part of the tree.
When cutting a larger limb out, do this in two stages. First, remove most of the length and weight by cutting two-thirds of the branch off (this can be done at any place.) Next, remove the stub of the branch just above the collar where it joins the main trunk or branch. Again, don't leave any short nubs. By doing this in two stages, you reduce the chance of the branch tearing the main trunk. Larger neglected trees may take many seasons to get back into the desired shape, but by removing the most obvious problems first and then moving onto thinning and shaping for fruit production you can again have a nicely shaped tree giving good fruit yields.
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