Pruning Fruit Trees in Late Spring

Flickr image courtesy of Alice Henneman per CC license
Flickr image courtesy of Alice Henneman per CC license

Fruit trees can be a lot of work to keep them producing well throughout the growing season. One of the most important activities to do for high production from your fruit trees, is pruning. Pruning is important, but it also must be done correctly to ensure healthy trees.

Pruning of fruit trees is best completed at the end of February and into March, when no leaves are present on the tree. Pruning trees in the spring allows them to heal the wound and put on new growth early in the spring when the weather is more enjoyable and not so hot and dry.

When pruning a tree, do not prune more than one-third of the tree off in one growing season. The tree needs to retain enough leaf area to produce enough sugar to compensate for the loss of limbs. Also, do not cut off branches that are one-half the size of the trunk or larger. This is too large of a wound to leave on the tree; it won’t heal correctly and can lead to decay in the tree.

For basic fruit tree pruning, start by removing any dead, diseased, or damaged branches. Next, prune out any water sprouts, which are branches that shoot straight upward off of the main branch. After that, remove any crossing branches and those that are growing weakly. Crossing branches can rub on other branches, which can lead to a wound on the branch where diseases and insects can enter the tree. Branches that are growing weakly are those that have a narrow crotch to the adjacent branch or growing closely parallel to other branches. Narrow branch attachments are weak and can easily break in storms, which would cause more damage to the tree.

If the pruning has been neglected for a few years or more, it will take multiple years to get it back to a healthy branching habit. If pruning on a fruit tree has begun at the beginning of the life of that tree, it will be easy to just prune a few crossing or damaged branches and a few small branches for airflow every year to keep it healthy and productive. However, a neglected tree can be brought back to good health with pruning over a few years.

Photo courtesy of Kim Todd, UNL Department of Agronomy and Horticulture
Photo courtesy of Kim Todd, UNL Department of Agronomy and Horticulture

When pruning, be sure to use the correct tool for the job. You can choose between hand pruners, loppers for larger branches, and handsaws for the largest branches. Use the smallest tool you can for the job. If you use a handsaw on a half-inch twig, you may tear the branch and it won’t be able to heal correctly. Also, make sure your pruners are sharp and clean. If you are pruning any diseased branches, dip the pruners in a bleach water solution to reduce the spread of the disease to other trees or throughout the infected tree.

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