Saturday, March 15, 2003

Pruning keeps mature fruit trees healthy, productive



If you grow a fruit tree that has reached a mature size and is bearing fruit, it should be pruned regularly. Pruning will open branches to sunlight so that they stay productive.

You may remove some branches that have fruit buds, but the quality of those that remain will be better. After you prune, the tree will produce a flush of leafy shoots that will provide new bearing wood.

How much you cut depends on the tree: Trees that flower on year-old wood, such as peaches, benefit from a more severe pruning than trees that flower on old wood, such as apples and pears. Some trees, including cherries and plums, bear on both year-old and older wood.

The best time to prune a tree is from the time it goes dormant until it blossoms in the spring.

Make your cuts with sharp pruning shears, loppers or a pruning saw.

Step one

Start by cutting back dead or broken branches to the trunk or to healthy buds. Such branches provide an entry for disease. Dead wood is obvious in late winter or spring because it is shriveled.

Next, check twigs or branches for evidence of disease. Cut off infected wood 6 inches back from the diseased area.

Step two

As the tree ages, the highest branches grow the most vigorously, shading the lower ones. Removing some large limbs will contain your tree and open it to light.

Remove large limbs to their origin or shorten them back to small, healthy side branches. To avoid stripping the bark when cutting a large limb, undercut the branch slightly before sawing it from above. Saw off the stub last, and leave a slight collar to promote good healing. Sealant is not necessary.

Step three

The best fruiting wood on an apple tree is moderately vigorous wood that grows horizontally from the major limbs. Remove any water sprouts or suckers at base of limbs. Also remove weak twiggy branches from the undersides of limbs.

Step four

Apple and pear trees bear most of their fruit on long-lived spurs - fat, stubby growths that elongate less than an inch each year. If crowded, remove a few spurs so the fruit is evenly distributed, but not crammed. (This step does not apply to other fruit trees.)

Contact Tim Morehouse by Web site:; mail: c/o the Enquirer. (If writing, enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope.)

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