Mid-February is time to begin pruning your fruit trees! I have been pruning for two decades now and I am still learning better ways to prune my trees. Even the experts need to learn new tricks! I don’t own any fruit myself, but I care for my mother’s apple orchard, a privately funded community orchard, and one of my high school classmate’s orchard. The first thing to do is to gather your tools and make sure they are in good order. A good hand pruner, well-oiled and sharpened is necessary. You will also want to have a pair of loppers, a hand saw, a small chainsaw, a leaf rake, and an eight foot ladder.
Different kinds of fruit trees require different pruning styles. Most people grow a variety of fruit, instead of large orchards of a single variety. Apple, pear, peach, plum, apricot, and cherry can be found in most gardeners landscapes. Cherry and apricot generally require very little, if any, pruning. Cut out dead and broken limbs, suckers, and watersprouts. Suckers grow at the base of the tree and can make appearance unsightly. Suckers provide no useful benefit to the tree, and should be removed throughout the season. Watersprouts are vertical shoots coming off main scaffold branches. They are stimulated by heavy pruning and improper care. Occasionally, a watersprout can be left to grow if there was heavy damage to the tree by storms or fruit load.
When trimming peach trees, remove small limbs that are growing on the underside of the branch, limbs growing into the middle of the tree, and narrow, vertical limbs. If you have fruit tree on non-dwarfing rootstock, you may want to top the tree to limit size. To do this, you will need your ladder and a lopper. Pick the height of the tree you desire and make a cut on an upright scaffold branch above a bud facing outward, but not up. This will force the tree to strengthen the scaffold and send a shoot out from the bud in the direction it is headed. Use this picture as an example.
Apples, pears, and plums can be trimmed similarly. Remember to cut out dead, broken, crossing, rubbing, and disease limbs, as well as watersprouts and suckers. With plums, it may be necessary to clean your pruners after each cut-there is a fungus that affects plums and can be easily transferred from one diseased branch to another.
When you are done trimming, rake up your prunings and burn them. If you cannot burn them on your own property, most cities have yard waste dumps to take your trimmings to. Prunings left on the ground will harbor insects and disease. Follow these pruning guidelines for correct pruning and trimming. Be sure you know how to prune before you go out and start.