Get the most from your backyard orchard. Prune fruit trees to keep them producing. Shape trees and prevent fruit loss by timely pruning and fruit-thinning.
Things You'll Need
- Anvil Pruners
- Bypass Pruners
- Pole Pruner
- Pruning Shears
- Pruning Saws
Know what all fruit trees need: pruning to make the most of sunlight, to set and ripen tasty fruit, to renew and repair the tree. Develop your annual, dormant-season pruning plan for your specific fruit trees - apples need different pruning than peaches and figs.
Get the right-size pruning tool for the job, and keep it sharp so you can make clean cuts angled to shed water and absorb sunlight. If you must force a bypass pruner around a branch, switch to a lopper; if the lopper is too small, go for a pruning saw.
Prune roots and tops at planting time to establish your tree's proper shape. Read up on your trees. Are they right for an open-vase shape (with the main trunk cut down below the side branches) like peaches or a strong central trunk with branches like apples?
Establish your tree's most productive shape in the early years of the fruit tree's life, and always keep in mind its ultimate size. Select the three or four strongest branches to form the canopy and remove all the others - including any attached to the main trunk at a narrow angle.
Maintain the basic shape of your fruit tree by annual, dormant-season pruning so each main branch adds enough stems to keep the canopy of leaves that is essential to abundant, healthy fruit. Remove any new branches that grow at odd angles and any old branches that are damaged or diseased, and prune the tree overall to control its height and harvestability.
Take a deep breath and snip or prune the flowers and fruit off your trees in the first two seasons! It'll be hard, but ultimately the tree will be more rewarding. Leave the flowers on in the third year and let a few fruit ripen to let you know what's coming in future years.
Watch your mature fruit tree to see if it thins itself - some fruit-fall is desirable as well as inevitable. In bumper crop years, wait until after the last freeze and after the natural fruit drop to thin out the crop more if needed. A select crop will ripen sweeter.
Reclaim a worthy, old fruit tree with scaffold pruning done over two dormant seasons. Make a few large cuts the first year to thin the crown, to let light in and to lower the tree's height overall - and finish the job the second winter.
Tips & Warnings
- Fertilize with a slow-release fruit tree formula after pruning each year.
- Prune to remove diseased limbs anytime, but dip your blades in a solution of bleach and water (1 cup of bleach in a half gallon of water) between cuts.
- Snap off suckers with your hand while they are tender for least regrowth.
- Not pruning fruit trees drastically reduces (or stops) fruit ripening and can shorten your fruit tree's life.