Homesteading Tips: Pruning Fruit Trees

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‘Tis the season for fruit tree pruning! Pruning should be done while the tree is still dormant (before the leaves grow back for spring). My fruit trees are HUGE. Larger than they should be really. We have a small orchard of 3 apple, 3 pear and 2 crabapple trees – all of them terribly overgrown. To promote good fruit growth, pruning will provide the tree with good shape, increase sunlight and remove dead/less productive wood.

(Disclaimer: I am by no means a tree pruning professional. I’ve pruned one tree with the help of a friend, and the following is what I learned.)

Tools required: Loppers (preferrably long and short), Pruning Shears, Hand Pruning Saw and, if your tree is tall enough, a Pole Saw

Note: When making a cut, it’s important to cut right at the proper place. There is a swollen point where each branch meets the trunk. This is called the collar and needs to be saved as that is where the tree will heal from the cut. The cut should be made just on the outside of the collar. If the cut is farther out then it’ll leave a stub which won’t heal. If the cut is too close to the trunk then it won’t heal either.

Dead = bad: I started off by removing any dead branches.

Look to the sky: Fruit trees like to see plenty of sunbeams right down the center. If the canopy is too thick then the trunk and branches won’t receive enough light. I wanted make sure I could see clearly through the tree to the sky so, I stood at the trunk of the tree and put a dot of spray paint on any big branches that crossed the trunk (the ones that were obvious sun-blockers). Jeremy then sawed them down. You do have to be careful not to thin it too much, however, because too much sunlight penetration can cause the tree to sunburn.

You can see where we cut a big branch out of the middle that was obviously blocking sunlight. Now you can look straight through the canopy and  see great portions of sky.

You can see where we cut a big branch out of the middle that was obviously blocking sunlight. Now you can look straight through the canopy and see great portions of sky.

Smothered: I then moved to the outside branches. It was easy to identify which branches needed to be cut by first finding which branches overlapped. Any branch hanging right over another branch will weigh it down when it bears fruit and rub.

Here we have a branch resting just above another. You can see that when the branch is weighed down by fruit, it will rub on the branch below.

Here we have a branch resting just above another. You can see that when the branch is weighed down by fruit, it will rub on the branch below.

3 is a crowd: Next, I found branches that forked off into 3 smaller branches, or branches that had 2 forks and then had a separate branch that crossed through the middle of them. I typically cut the middle branch out, unless one of the three branches grew vertical, and then I cut that one out. (wow, is that confusing enough?)

I cut the middle branch out of this fork of 3.

I cut the middle branch out of this fork of 3.

Sideways good, vertical bad: You’ll probably find plenty of branches that grow vertical. Since the good fruit spurs grow from branches that grow more horizontally, it’s best to cut the vertical branches. This will also allow for more sunlight penetration. There may also be many branches that start out growing horizontal and then bend to a vertical orientation (so they kind of form an “L” shape). Rather than cutting those branches clean off at the collar, you can make your cut at the bend of the “L” and try to train that branch to grow horizontally.

You can follow these steps, or you can do what I did yesterday and call a professional tree pruner. Haha. 🙂 It took us days to prune one tree last year, and with 7 more trees in equally poor condition as the first, we decided that it was worth it to pay someone to properly prune the rest. However, now that my trees are all in great shape, I think I’ll be able to maintain them myself in the years to come.

I’ll admit, it kind of hurt to cut their pretty branches, and I could almost hear the trees weeping as I trimmed them. I couldn’t help but think of an address given by LDS church leader, D. Todd Christofferson, As Many as I Love, I Rebuke and Chasten. My fruit trees were gorgeous and they provided perfect shade in the summer. However, fruit trees are made for bearing fruit, not for providing shade. I reminded myself that I was only helping these trees to become what they are supposed to be. It may hurt a little now, but in a few months they will bear more fruit than I have Mason jars to fill. It’s a lesson that we can apply to our own lives too. God provides us with tests and trials, not to hurt us, but to prune us, urge us to become better and to help us to eventually realize our true potential. Funny how so many of life’s lessons can be found in the garden!

Hugs, Adi

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