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Thursday, September 26, 2019

Guidance for Pruning Fruit Trees

Q. I need guidance on when and how to prune my fruit trees that are 3 to 5 years old. All of them have been producing fruit in the last couple of years. This includes an orange and a Meyer lemon along with a Blenheim apricot and a dwarf peach tree. All I have done in the past is basically ‘shape’ the trees; keep the height manageable and remove dead branches. 

A. Look for my Classes

I have fruit tree pruning classes posted for next January on Eventbrite. Consider signing up for one of these offered on a Saturday morning for some hands-on training with real fruit trees. These classes can answer specific questions you might have.

Lite Pruning Anytime

            Light pruning with a hand shears, removing wood that is less than half inch in diameter, can be done anytime of the year as long as it’s not overdone and opens the canopy too much. Pruning out too much allows for sunburn and borer problems to get hold in the trees. Make sure your hand shears are sharp and sanitized before you start cutting away.
            Major pruning is done from December to January, the winter months, in all deciduous fruit trees, waiting until leaf drop. With citrus, however, very little pruning is needed after you establish its structure early in its life. But when pruning is done, it’s performed soon after the fruit is harvested.

Control height

This is done to make it easier to pick and spray the trees when there are pest problems. The maximum height should similar to distances between trees. Having trees too close together, which creates crowding when they get older, forces fruit production towards the top of the trees.

Start on your knees

I find it easier to prune fruit trees working from the bottom and progressing towards the top. Remove entire limbs from the trunk to about knee height. The lowest limbs should support fruit easily harvested but the lowest fruit should not touch the ground when it’s ready to harvest.
            Remove most of the wood by pruning from the trunk and major limbs. Most pruning cuts remove entire branches. These are called “thinning cuts”. It orients major limbs so they emerge from the tree in different directions like spokes on a wheel. Most growth growing straight up or straight down should be removed. It’s not productive.

Fixing Crossed Branches, Broken Branches

            Once the overall structure of citrus trees is established, very little pruning is done. Focus on removing a branch that crosses another, sucker growth from the base of the tree and limbs that “shoot for the sky” and eliminate a branch interfering with another.
            Once the form of an apricot tree is established, only about 10% of its new growth is removed each year. I have had apricot trees that required no pruning. Much of that depends on the variety and its rootstock. Control its height if it’s too tall and get rid of any strong growth going up or down.

Genetic Dwarf Peach

            True genetic dwarf peach is pruned differently than a “normal” peach. Usually controlling height is not a problem. If the tree is overgrown, it’s canopy is thinned out so that speckled sunlight can penetrate to the interior.
            Fruit production comes from flowers growing on shorter shoots at the ends of branches. This is where most of the light pruning takes place. Most short shoots that contain the flowers are removed leaving behind only one or two of these short shoots.            

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