“Hit The Gym & Shape Up Those Fruit Trees”
By Model Gardener Kelly Emberg
My reoccurring New Year’s resolution is to get my butt in the gym! Coincidentally, it is an excellent time to trim my orchard in shape too! Unless you are harvesting cool season veggies, there isn’t a whole lot going on in your garden right now. But don’t use that as an excuse to sit back and relax so fast! It’s time to pay attention to those deciduous trees that will compensate you with the most succulent, plump, delectable fruit your mouth has ever laid its tongue on!
Maybe you’re like me and arbitrarily decided your garden was not a garden without a few fruit trees. So you carefully selected fruit-bearing specimens, located the ideal spot, planted them and walked away. Well you need to do a little more than that to keep your home orchard happy, healthy and productive.
WHEN TO PRUNE
Once the coldest days have gone, your trees are bare of leaves and the buds are just about to pop, it’s time to prune your fruit trees. So towards the end of January through February pull out those loppers, pruners and saws and get started.
By cutting dead branches, opening up the middle of the tree, removing suckers and crossing branches, thinning out buds and topping your fruit trees will insure better quality fruit and a healthier tree.
PRUNERS-Use these on young trees and smaller branches to cut out dead spurs.
LOPPERS SHEERS-Also good for young trees and smaller branches. Don’t cut branches bigger than ½ inch in diameter with the loppers; otherwise you will smash the wood, allowing disease to enter. A nice sharp pair of Vineyard loppers is lighter weight and ideal for trimming your trees.
NICE HAND SAW-“Corona Razor tooth Pruning Saw” is used for more mature trees and can handle larger branches.
POLE SAW & PRUNER– For tall trees you will need a pole saw. The general idea is maintain your trees height so you won’t have to use this too often.
PREVENT DISEASE – Use a spray bottle of rubbing alcohol or dip in a bleach solution, “dip and cut” to prevent you from spreading diseases from tree to tree.
1st-The ‘four Ds,’ which are ‘Dead, Dying, Diseased and Damaged’ stems should be pruned out.
2nd-Thin out and cut back the vigorous stems that grew last year without removing them completely. Those stems will bloom and develop fruit the following year. Pruning promotes aeration and light penetration to the fruiting wood.
3rd-To prevent some diseases, cut out branches and limbs that cross or touch so abrasions do not develop.
4th-Remove any suckers growing off the rootstock above or below the ground. You will find that heavy pruning encourages the formation of water sprouts and vegetative growth at the expense of fruiting woods. Light pruning, on the other hand, encourages heavy fruit set which results in smaller fruit of poorer quality and possible broken branches. Since home growers must also keep trees to manageable sizes, strive for a balance between heavy pruning and renewing fruiting wood.
KEY PRUNING TIPS
• Prune fruit trees while it is dormant, before growth starts. It is easier to see where to cut and to remove some of the buds when the leaves have dropped.
• The removal of dormant buds invigorates the remaining buds. Keep buds that face down and remove the ones that face up. Fruit that sits on top of the branch will get heavy and eventually fall off or twist the branches causing disease.
• Prune young trees fairly heavily to encourage growth without fruit rapidly for the first 3 years. The small horizontal branches are left untouched for later fruiting.
• Remember: topping a vertical branch encourages vegetative growth necessary for development of the tree and opens the tree to more sunlight. Topping horizontal branches renews fruiting wood and thins out excessive fruit. If you don’t trim the horizontal branches, the tree will bear earlier and heavier crops cause damage to branches and small inferior fruit.
• Vertical branches mostly remain vegetative and vigorous while the horizontal branches are typically more fruitful. It is necessary to have a combination of both so your tree will fruit now and in years to come. Remove suckers, water sprouts and most branches growing straight up into the tree. Cut off the hanging part of downward bending branches because they eventually lose vigor producing only a few small fruit.
• Remember new growth occurs where you make the cut; the buds within 1 to 8 inches of the cut surface will fruit and flourish. The more buds cut off, the more energy is put towards the new shoots – resulting in superior fruit.
• Pruning the top of the tree is essential so the lower branches are exposed to sunlight. Sun exposed branches will produce the largest fruit. Shaded branches will stop fruiting unless you renew the tree by drastically topping it.
• Make clean cuts (within 1/4”) of bud; don’t leave stubs. Cut at an angle so the water stays off the fresh cut.
• To train vertical branches of upright young trees to a 45-degree angle, use spreaders or tie downs.
• It is customary to remove 50% of last year’s growth on peach and nectarine trees. With Fig, Apple, Pear, Plum and Apricot trees, remove about 20%.
• Don’t trim trees that have already gone into flower; you will possibly lose that branch because the sap is flowing and your tree can literally bleed to death.
Always remember, the goal is to open up the middle of the tree like an upside-down umbrella, the main branches representing the ribs of the umbrella. Trim your tree so you will be able to pick your fruit once it comes. About 6 feet, depending on who is picking the fruit?
Once you are finished pruning, pick up all branches and throw them away to prevent disease and pests.
Every year I am apprehensive before I start trimming my trees! Remember, just like a bad haircut, it will always grow back! Make a dozen cuts and stand back and see what the shape looks like and go back in for more!
New Year’s Resolutions encourage people to accomplish personal goals that will improve their life. How fitting is it to begin this year trimming up your body and orchard at the same time? The result will be luscious, plump, delectable fruit, tight abs and a rockin’ body! Good way to start off the 2018!
Check out my YouTube video on “Pruning Peach & Nectarine Trees”!
See you next year!
Kelly Emberg, the model gardener
For more gardening tips, follow me on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube & Twitter.