Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Pruning Apples and Pears

Proper pruning increase the harvest.  The white powder is Kaolin clay an organic insect deterrant.

The goal of pruning is to improve the health, fruit yield, and appearance of the tree. 
When to prune:  Before the buds swell.  This is when the tree is dormant.  Late winter or early spring is ideal.

Three easy steps to pruning:

1.  Health and Healing
Prune out all diseased, dead, and damaged branches.  Prune out any branches that cross or rub.
No dead or diseased but lots of crossing and rubbing branches.

2.  Heading cuts:  
Purpose:  Heading cuts are designed to control the height of the tree and encourage branching off the main limbs. 
Procedure:  With a heading cut, part of a shoot is  removed by cutting 1/4 inch above a lateral bud leaving behind a stub. Heading cuts stimulate growth of buds or branching below the cut because apical dominance has be en removed.
 Another variation of the heading cut is to cut back to a lateral shoot instead of just a bud.  Choose a lateral branch that is directed outward and upward with a good angel and make cut just above that branch.  Less growth is stimulated by this type of cut. (Pruning Fruit Trees by Mark S Burnell)
This is a standard tree.  The canopy will be headed back by 10-20% to control the height.  I don't have a fence around my orchard so I don't want my trees too short or the deer get the harvest not me.

3.  Thinning Cuts

Purpose:  Thinning is necessary because fruit trees produce too much new growth which shades lower wood and will reduces flower bud formation and fruit development.  The goal of thinning is to reduce crowding, increase air circulation, and sunlight penetration to lower parts of the tree. Thinning cuts are also used to establish the main scaffold branches by removing unwanted lateral branches when the tree is young and being trained.
(Pruning Fruit Trees by Mark S Burnell)

Procedure:  Thinning cuts remove entire shoots, leaving no stub behind.
  When thinning branches, the angle of the branch will be the factor that determines whether to remove the branch or leave the branch.  The ideal branch angle is between 45 and 60 degrees.  Branches with this angle will develop into very strong branches that can bear the weight of the fruit.  Branches with a narrow angle, less than 45 degrees, can be bent down to the proper angle when they are young and flexible, using toothpicks, sticks, clothespins, or by tying them down.  Branches at a narrow angle that have hardened and can’t be bent are probably best removed.
(Pruning Fruit Trees by Mark S Burnell)

Thinning cuts are also used to thin out crowded spur systems. They should be 4-6 inches apart.

Too many vigorous shoots thinning needed.  The spurs on underside of  the branch can also be removed because they will be shaded.

Still a little unsure?  Here is a step by step process suggested by the Royal Horticulture Society:

To start with

  • Always use sharp bypass pruners, loppers and a pruning saw
  • Start by removing crossing, rubbing, weak, dead, diseased, damaged and dying branches


  • Shorten the previous year’s growth on each main branch  by about one third to a bud facing in the required direction. This will encourage the development of new branches and spurs and maintain a good shape 

  • Leave young laterals (side-shoots) unpruned so they can develop fruit buds in the second year 

  • Only remove the young laterals if they are crossing or if the growth is too crowded, i.e. growing closer 4-6 inches at the base 

  • Remove strong shoots 6in  growing towards the center of the tree 

  • On older trees, remove/thin out any spur systems that have become congested. Where thinning or removal is required, remove spurs on the underside of the branches, where the developing fruit will not receive enough light, and produces inferior fruit (Royal Horticulture Society)

This apple variety Sungold seems to have a very upright growth habit.  It's best to spread limbs when the tree is young.  I did not do that, but suggest that training trees the first few years makes pruning easier and is less complicated and discouraging than correcting a mature tree. 



As sections of the branch framework are removed the pruned tree is likely to produce watershoots - which are tall, upright branches, that produce no flowers or fruit. By only remove 10-20% of the canopy per year fewer watershoots will be produced.

If watershoots arise, there is no need to remove all of them but they will need thinning out;
  • Consider if any strong, well placed watershoots may be used for as replacement branches in the future and tip prune them by about a quarter to an outward facing bud to encourage branching 

  • If well placed and not causing congestion of the crown, leave some of the weaker (thinner and less upright) watershoots unpruned. They may produce fruit buds and act as secondary branches 

  • Remove any remaining water shoots 9 inches or more in length at the point of origin
  • If you spot new watershoots, rub them off during the growing season as they appear

Avoid giving your trees a "hair cut"

 I cringe when I see tree topped off.  It looks like you took a chain saw to the tree and cut off the top.  When this is done you will have a thicket of young growth shot up from each cut.  It will be non fruiting wood that will have to be removed each year.  Not a healthy practice for the tree or the pruner. 

Pruning is one area that I did not take the time to learn properly when I planted my orchard.  I did not train my trees when they where young because I didn't understand the purpose of pruning and how essential it is to having  larger yields and well sized fruit.  Also with apples lack of pruning will result in biennial fruit bearing and very small fruit.  So take the time to read and learn from experienced people in your area, the extension office, and other resources.  Managing an orchard is a lot of work but the harvests are worth it! 

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