Fruit Tree Pruning Guide

The 101 to Assisting Fruitless Fruit Trees

Fruit trees require a lot of care to bear the delicious treat that they are grown for. Whether you are buying trees this year and want to train them correctly from the start, have an old orchard that you want to rehab, or are somewhere in between these stages of growth, this guide is a good place to start!

Types of Pruning Cuts and Timing

Heading Cut

A cut in which you take only the end of a limb or twig. Usually taking between 16 and 20 inches. When done during the dormant season (winter) this will stimulate growth blow the cut by removing the dominant bud.

Bench Cut

A cut that can be made at any time, removing an unproductive offshoot of a fruiting branch. This is done to stiffen the main limb by reducing load and removing a non-fruiting branch, freeing up nutrients to promote the growth of tasty fruits!

Thinning Cut

Remove an entire branch leaving the collar intact (the collar is the folded bark tissue where the limb connects to the trunk or primary branch). This can be done for several reasons but is primarily a way to keep the optimal shape of your tree by removing problematic branches.

There are two things to watch out for when making a thinning cut, leaving too much of the branch on the tree will result in the growth stimulation of a heading cut and when a thinning cut is made, it often produces a lot of suckers near the site of the cut, make sure to remove these when you see them to keep maximizing growth.

“So, when should I prune my trees?”

Young trees: This is entirely dependent on your goals, pruning during the dormant season will stimulate growth, so when dealing with a newly planted or young tree this may be your preferred option as it will help cut down on the time it takes for the newly planted tree to begin bearing. This is also a good time to prune as it reduces the chance of infection by bacteria or fungus. Just like people, young trees have weaker immune systems than mature trees, so protecting them in this way can help maintain a healthy tree.

Mature Trees: When dealing with an older tree, rehabilitating an older orchard, or if your tree has reached the size that you want it to be, you should begin pruning in the spring of the year, after budding as begun. This can be any heading, thinning or bench cuts that you need to make. Then in August remove all the upright suckers that have newly sprouted with thinning cuts. By doing this you can effectively maintain the size of your tree, or reduce the size of an unmaintained tree, while still promoting a healthy, functional tree shape.

Training your trees or Manipulating Tree Architecture

If you are buying fruit trees for the first time or have planted some in the past few years, it is important to get them off to a good start. Just like building a house, a good foundation is vital for future success. You can spend as much time as you would like training trees, but there are a couple of things to remember:

· You are looking for the classical “Christmas tree” shape, this prevents the upper limbs from shading out those that are lower on the tree, allowing for better growth of those easier to pick, lower fruits.

· Even spacing of limbs around the main truck, this is accomplished with thinning cuts and proper training of the trees.

· Promote wide (>45 degrees) angles on the limbs. By doing this the limb becomes stronger and more able to bear the heavier loads of fruit. When trees are young, you can accomplish this by putting a clothes pin or toothpicks above the new shoot to force it to grow outwards, as the limb gets larger you may have to use a limb spreader to force it to maintain the correct angle, this can be done with a piece of lumber, or a stick pushed between the trunk of the tree and the limb.

Pruning your trees can be as simple or complex as you would like. By following these few simple steps, you can help to increase the productivity of your fruit trees.

Alternative Reasons for why your tree may not be producing fruit…

Cross Pollination

This is needed for most fruit trees to bear fruit. Unless the variety is listed as one that can self-pollinate it will not produce without another variety to give it the needed pollen. Check out this page for a list of bloom times of some of our most common varieties to make sure you have compatible trees!

Age

Just like with people, trees have a prime time in their lives where they are the most fit and productive. If you have just bought trees in the past year or two they may be too young to bear fruit and all you need is time! Trees can also get too old and age out of production, this is more common in dwarf varieties. Proper pruning can bring some back, but sometimes the trees are just at the end of their

lives. We recommend staggering the years you plant so that you always have some that are in the prime of their lives and as trees age out you have young, healthy ones coming in to replace them.

Water

Everyone needs it to survive, and to produce bushel of juicy fruit for us, these fruit trees require a lot of water! Some years like 2023, that is not a problem as mother nature provided all we needed and more this last summer. However, if a year like 2022 comes around and it seemingly does not rain for months on end you may have to water your trees heavily. This is especially true for trees that were just planted and are trying to establish roots. Make sure to water, water, water if it’s not raining!

Lack of Nutrients

Trees need to eat too! Okay, maybe eat isn’t the right word, but a lack of nutrients may be leading to a lack of fruit. Make sure to add some high-quality compost around the base of your tree every year. This will help keep out competing weeds and trap moisture too! You should apply a fairly thick but uniform layer around the base of the tree, but don’t let it touch the bark as it could allow for fungal infections.