You took the time to lovingly plant your fruit trees, water them, and help them grow, but now you’re facing overgrown scraggly trees that could really use some attention. The good news is that the best time to prune your fruit trees is right now.
The key component to keeping fruit trees beautiful is yearly pruning. However, for some the act of pruning is intimidating. Truthfully, you have nothing to fear because pruning is not as complicated as most people think it is. Experienced gardeners may tell you that different trees are pruned in specific ways, which is true for some fruits, but you can actually follow a simple three-step process that works for most fruit trees.
Most gardeners in the U.S. have pome fruits such as apples, quince, and pears or stone fruits like peaches, plums, and cherries. The three-step method we’re introducing to you applies to both.
A lot of organic gardeners believe in the misconception that summer pruning is best but the truth is that winter makes the process a lot easier. When the trees are bare you can see what you’re doing.
Step 1: Clean house
The first thing you should do is clear away the dead, diseased, or damaged wood. Then, take a look at the trunk. Do you see any sprouts on the base? If so, remove them because they’re just “suckers” that grow on the rootstock and are not part of the fruiting portion on top.
Then, be on the lookout for sprouts that grow extremely straight. These vertical branches look like waterspouts and should be removed from the main branches.
Once you’ve made all these clean-up cuts, start to prune the branches back so they’re even with the larger limb they’re growing on. Take care not to leave little stubs or your efforts will be in vain.
Step 2: Get thin
The purpose of doing all the thinning you do in step one is to bring light and air into the tree canopy since that will improve fruit production. You should also notice fewer pests and diseases once the canopy has more air and light.
Your next step is to remove any branches that are growing downward, those that are pointing to the center of the tree, and those that crossover other branches.
With these branches out of the way, take a step back and look at the tree. You should strive to have evenly spaced branches that spread out from the center in a fractal-like pattern.
Don’t forget to look for places where multiple tree branches compete with each other since that will create problems later. If you come across any branches that are growing at an odd angle or more than one growing out of the same intersection, get rid of them.
Keep thinning the tree until each branch has between 6 and 12 inches around each branch. Note that the smaller the branches are the closer they can be. And just as you did with step one, make sure your cuts in this step are flush to the branch.
Step 3: Maintenance
This step is the easiest because now it’s time to prune the outermost growth of the branches. With this step, you’ll train the tree’s branches to grow short and strong as opposed to long and gangly, which translates into bountiful harvests.
Cut back between 20 and 30 percent of last year’s growth. To find out what grew last year, simply look at the wrinkly bark ring around each stem. Find the buds on each branch and think about which direction you want the branches to grow in. Prune each branch back to a point one-quarter inch above a bud facing in the direction you desire. For example, if you spot a close branch on the left side, prune back to a bud on the right side of the branch.