Basic Pruning Principles
Garden tip from Fruit Trees in Small Spaces by Colby Eierman, Timber Press, paperback, $24.95
If you want to create your own private mini-orchard, Fruit Trees in Small Spaces covers everything you’ll need to know about choosing and nurturing fruit trees in your own backyard.
Fruit trees are pruned for several reasons: To create a solid framework for fruit production; to help balance the crop load; to remove suckers and water sprouts; to remove anything that is dead, damaged, diseased or disoriented. There are as many different approaches to pruning as there are sets of pruning shears in the world, but here are a few basic pruning principles:
- Always maintain cleanliness. If you are removing diseased plant material, be sure to disinfect your tools before moving to another branch or tree. All you need is a small spray bottle with a 10-percent bleach solution and a clean rag. Keep diseased plant material out of your compost pile.
- Seek balance. Try to encourage even growth around the tree, keeping the overall tree form in mind. Visit your tree often and combine winter and summer pruning to keep growth in harmony.
- Work the angles. Acute crotch angles tend to be weak unions that are highly susceptible to breakage, and they are usually out of sync with the overall form of the tree. Vertical branches tend to remain very vegetative and vigorous. As a branch drops to below horizontal it tends to become weak and fruit productivity declines. Branches that emanate from the trunk from horizontal up to a 45-degree angle tend to be fruitful and strong.
- Prune for multiple leaders. Many fruit trees exhibit apical dominance, in which the growth tip or tallest branch of the tree releases a growth-suppressing hormone that inhibits growth in the buds below it. Pruning to multiple leaders can keep each leader branch in balance, as each competes for dominance. Summer pruning can also help, as can training to lower angles or allowing the weight of fruit to pull a branch tip down.