Tips & Proper Time for Pruning
The back of winter has broken! By early spring the ice is starting to melt on creeks and rivers, buds are forming on trees, and defiant green wisps challenge the remaining snow piles. The first 40 degree day might find you with shorts on soaking up some rays in your back yard! While you’re out there, you might notice your fruit tree and wonder when the blossoms will burst and fill your world with the beauty of spring.
That is the ideal time to spend a few minutes pruning your fruit trees so you can maximize your fall fruit harvest. As early as February and throughout March (maybe into April) are the best months to prune fruit trees, including apples, pears, plums, cherries, peaches, and apricots. If you are reading this article further into spring, consider this a primer for next year.
You will want to get out there when it is still cold enough that the tree hasn’t come out of dormancy but not cold enough that you get frostbite while out pruning. It will decrease the chance of disease infection at the wound, reduce the time that the wound is exposed before it seals over and make it easier to see the branches without having leaves in the way.
Pruning is important to promote tree health and fruit quality. Many insects and diseases thrive in humid environments, so the more air flow you have through the tree canopy, the faster the leaves will dry out and the less likely you will run into issues. Also, sunlight is needed for quality fruit, so it is important to allow for light penetration through the tree.
Another benefit of pruning is that many apple varieties are prone to biennial bearing- where they produce an overabundance of fruit one year, and the next year they don’t produce any as they rebuild their energy supply. To help a tree get out of that cycle, pruning heavily before the overly abundant year can allow the tree to have energy to produce the following year.
BASIC PRUNING STEPS INCLUDE:
- Remove any broken or diseased branches
- Cut off all water sprouts (shoots coming out of the trunk or older branches) unless you need to fill in a gap in the canopy
- Remove any branch that is growing downward, crossing another branch or a weak branch that is parallel to another
- If the canopy needs additional thinning, remove spindly branches first, then remove branches that are shading lower limbs or are in the center of dense areas of the tree.
When pruning, make sure all tools are sharp and clean. Only use shearers that are meant for pruning trees. Rinsing pruning shears in a 10 percent bleach solution or 70 percent alcohol can reduce the likelihood of spreading disease between cuts. All cuts should be smooth and close: leave the branch collar, but not a stub (less than ½ inch of the branch) because that will result in new growth at the cut site.
If you are interested in learning more about pruning fruit trees, visit http://fruit.wisc.edu.
So enjoy an early spring day outdoors and take pride in the knowledge that you’re one step closer to a successful fall harvest. And don’t forget to wear sunscreen!