The general purpose of pruning fruit trees is to regulate growth, increase yields, improve fruit size and quality, and reduce production costs. Pruning is also necessary to shape trees and repair of damage.
Pruning is an accepted practice for the orchard, frequently carried out in the rose garden, but haphazard elsewhere. Most often it is only performed when a shrub or tree begins to encroach on its neighbor, a path, or a building.
Most pruning is done during the dormant season, preferably just before active growth begins in the spring. At this time, pruning wounds heal quickly, flower buds can be easily recognized, and injury from low winter temperature is avoided.
Summer pruning (late July through mid-August) may be done to help train trees to the desired form and maintain small tree size, and should consist of thinning cuts to branches half an inch in diameter or smaller. For maximum yield of high quality fruit, prune only as necessary to establish a tree strong enough to support heavy crops and to allow penetration of sunlight, air, and spray material for good fruit development and pest control.
Proper Technique Is Essential
Pruning is often viewed as the answer to make a barren tree fruitful. Carried out correctly, it will—eventually. However, years of neglect cannot be rectified in one season. If you do not know how to properly prune, you may end up with no flowers or fruit at all due to excessive cutting or carrying out the task at the wrong time of the year.
When pruning, remember the “three Ds.” Remove anything that is dead, damaged, or diseased. Prune out branches that cross over and rub the bark of one another because this can be a likely spot for disease to gain access. Prune to allow airflow and sunlight to reach deep inside the canopy. Consider training tree branches to grow in a horizontal position. This will strengthen them and encourage them to be more fruitful.
Keep The Balance
It is important to remember that pruning alters the balance between the tree top and root system. Thus, you will need to adjust your fertilization program when you prune. Severe pruning or excess fertilization can increase the vigor of the tree and decrease fruiting. Excessive vegetative growth tends to bear less fruit. Regular pruning will diminish the need for severe pruning. Established plantings generally require little added fertilization, and a soil test will help ensure excess applications are avoided.
Pruning Resources Available From UNH Cooperative Extension Experts
UNH Cooperative Extension offers detailed information on growing and caring for fruiting plants at extension.unh.edu. In the top right-hand corner of the homepage, select “Publications” and search “pruning” for a complete list of resources. Looking for a first-hand demonstration of fruit pruning techniques? Extension is offering a series of demonstrations around the state. Visit their events calendar for more information.
Guest Blog provided by UNH Cooperative Extension’s Education Center