Pruning

Learn to Prune Your Fruit Trees by Following These Eight Easy Steps

Pruning is an important part of fruit tree health and productivity. The following is an outline that includes tools, anatomy, steps, and techniques to help you correctly prune your fruit trees.

Tools You Will Need to Prune Your Fruit Trees

Before you start pruning your fruit trees, let's make sure you have the tools you will need to do the job right.

Hand Pruners - These are small scissor like tools that work great for cutting small branches up to 1" in diameter. Make sure you choose a pair that is sharp, clean, and comfortable in your hands.

A Good Pair of Shears Will Be Your Best Pruning Tool
Loppers - These are two handed shears for lopping off larger branches up to 2" in diameter. A good pair will be sharp, clean, and have some type of system to increase your leverage when cutting large branches. Also, make sure the handles do not come together to avoid pinching your knuckles.

Pruning Saw - A pruning saw is a saw with a curved blade with many fine teeth. Your pruning saw should be designed to cut branches up to 6" in diameter, although if your prune your trees consistently each year, you shouldn't need to make any cuts that big. A good pruning saw will be clean, sharp and comfortable in your hands. Ideally your pruning saw blade will fold into the handle. This will help protect the blade from getting dirty and dull, it will also protect you form accidentally cutting your clothing, or even worse, your hands.

Pole Pruner - A pole pruner has a blade similar to your loppers on a long pole with a rope and pulley system. This tool is designed to cut high branches that cannot be reached with a ladder. A good pole pruner will be light weight and will have the ability to extend so that you can reach all of the branches in your tree.

Pole Pruners Assist in Reaching High Branches
Disinfectant - Before your start pruning your trees, make sure you have disinfected your tools. This will make sure that you don't spread disease from one tree to another. If you are pruning a tree that is infected by disease, make sure your are disinfecting your tools between each cut.

Ladder - With the right tools, you should only need to use your ladder in a few places that cannot be reached with your pole pruner. Make sure your ladder is sturdy and that you are using it according to the manufacturer's recommendations. Safety doesn't happen by accident!

Pruning Ladders Help to Reach Tall Branches

Anatomy You Will Need to Know to Prune Your Fruit Trees Right

When we discuss the eight steps to pruning your fruit trees and the professional tips that you will need to know, we will use some terminology that might be new to you. Below is a brief description of each term. Follow the links for more detailed information.

Leader - The dominant stem or trunk of a tree.

Canopy - The area of the tree in which branches are present.

Co-dominant Leader - Where a tree has two or more competing stems or trunks.

Co-dominant Leaders are Weak

Scaffold Branches - Horizontal branches that extend from the trunk or leader of a tree.

Suckers - Small branches that grow from the base or roots of a tree.

Water Sprouts - Fast growing branches that grow vertical from a tree's scaffold branches. These branches do not produce fruit.

Collar - The folded bark tissue found at the transition point between branches.

The Collar Will Seal Pruning Cuts
Ridge - Where the bark tissue from one branch or stem meets the bark tissue from another.

Node - The part of a branch where a bud or fork is located.

Make Cuts Below a Node

Internode -  The space between nodes.

Spur - A short branch with little or no space between nodes

Terminal Bud - The bud found at the tip of a branch

Terminal Bud Scar - the mark left on a branch where a terminal bud was located from previous years.

Eight Easy Steps to Pruning Your Fruit Trees

Before making any cuts to your tree, it is important to decide what form you would like your tree to take. Options include open center, central leader, modified leader or espalier. Sometimes, on older trees, this decision has already been made, or your tree has grown naturally in such a way that forces you to fit its current form.

Step 1: Remove any suckers that are growing below the graft union.

Suckers Should be Removed From the Base of Your Tree
Step 2a: Remove the lower two branches if the canopy of the tree is growing too close to the ground. If the lowest branches are at the desired height, or they are too large to remove, skip step 2 and proceed to step 3.

Step 2b: Once the canopy is at a desirable height, remove the leader if your decide to use the "open center" or "modified leader" form of pruning.

Step 3: Remove water sprouts from your tree, leaving only the ones that will fill a space that needs to be filled.

Step 4: The Four D's! Remove all dead, damaged, diseased or dying branches.

Remove Broken Branches
Step 5: Remove any crossing branches or branches growing towards the middle.

Step 6: Height reduction. Remove the larger of the two co-dominant leaders and tip back branches that are growing above the desired tree height. 

Step 7: Remove weak, unproductive branches and "lion's tails".

Step 8: Continue thinning your tree to allow for good air flow and light penetration through the canopy of the tree. Look for parallel branches that are filling the same space, this will help you decide which ones to remove. Also, take this time to shape your tree in order to achieve balance or symmetry. 

Professional Fruit Tree Pruning Tips

Disinfect all tools before you start pruning and before moving to another tree. Make sure tools are sharp and are working properly to ensure a clean cut. Use the right tool for the size of branch you are cutting. A clean cut will seal off faster than a rough one.

Removing suckers from the base of trees often stimulates more sucker growth when the tree comes out of dormancy. Pulling suckers during the growing season before they harden off and become woody will suppress sucker growth and simplify pruning in the future.

For large trees, after you have finished step 3, pick a major branch and focus your pruning (steps 4 - 8) on that branch. Start from the trunk and work your way out to the tips. Once completed, move to the next major branch. How do you eat a whale? One bit at a time. How do you prune a large fruit tree? One branch at a time.
 
When cutting a branch, make sure that you cut it back to a node (fork or bud). If you cut a branch at a fork, make sure you cut it perpendicular to the direction of the branch so the wound is as small as possible. When you cut a branch back to a bud, cut it at a slight angle so the bud is at a point on the end of the branch. You can control the direction of growth by cutting a branch back to a bud that is facing the direction you want to tree to grow.

When cutting branches, make sure the collar and ridge stay intact. This will allow the tree to heal properly.

The Collar and Ridge are Important for a Tree to Heal Properly
Make sure you leave spurs intact. Most of the blossoms and fruit occur on spurs.

Remember pruning your trees should be fun and the best way to learn is practice. If you feel like you didn't get the results that you wanted, don't stress, you will be able to try again next year.

We hope you enjoyed this outline and we would love for you to reach out to us if you have any questions about pruning techniques, the eight steps to pruning, fruit tree anatomy, or the tools that we use to prune fruit trees. Please follow this link to join our Backyard Fruit Growers Facebook Page. If you live in Utah please email me at russ@simplytreesut.com and we hope your trees are healthy and productive.