on Thursday, January 2, 2020
Pruning is a critical part of proper tree care. It protects your trees from insects and disease and aids their growth. Trimming is especially important for fruit-bearing trees. It keeps them healthy and producing a bountiful crop.
But trees that bear fruit provide additional pruning challenges. As the beautiful blossoms become ripe fruits, the branches shoulder the burden. The additional weight of a bumper crop of fruit creates stress and pressure, which can be especially damaging for thinner, weaker branches.
Unfortunately, the natural growth and shape of your fruit tree is not always the way that leads to a healthy, fully-developed tree. Unpruned, the tree may struggle to grow or stop bearing fruit altogether. So it’s even more important to trim your fruit trees every year and use the proper pruning tools.
Choosing Your Fruit Tree Pruning Tools
There’s a wide variety of tree trimming equipment. For pruning fruit trees, most of those tools are unnecessary. Mature pear and plum trees are among the tallest fruit trees, yet they only grow to a height of 18 to 20 feet. At that size, branches aren’t as thick and you can easily reach the top of the canopy with a ladder, so you only need a few tools to get the job done:
- Pruning shears – Small, handy pruning shears can cut off stems and soft fruit canes up to ¾ inch. Bypass hand pruners provide a clean cut — just what you need for live stems. Anvil hand pruners can crush and tear healthy, growing stems. Only use them on damaged, dead, and diseased twigs.
- Loppers – Loppers can clip of branches and fruit canes up to 1 ½ inch thick. Choose loppers with telescoping handles to cut higher branches without the need for a step stool or ladder.
- Pruning saws – There are many pruning saws to choose from, but saws with fixed blades offer the strength you need. Bow saws are useful for bigger limbs but require space to work. Grecian saws can get into awkward areas. The curved blade only cuts on the down stroke, which works great in tight spaces. General-purpose pruning saws are just the right size to do the bulk of your pruning.
Trimming the Most Common Fruit Trees in East South Central States
The milder climate of Tennessee and Alabama supports a wide variety of fruit trees, like apple, peach, pear, plum, and cherry. Each species requires its own special care and timing for pruning.
Apple trees follow the traditional timing of late winter and early spring. February is typically the best time for pruning. A big problem for owners of apple trees is that their tree produces an overabundance of fruit that is too small. For normal-sized apples, thin out the fruiting buds so that they’re spaced at least six inches apart. As the seasons change and the apples grow, you can cut out smaller apples and leave branches that produce larger fruit.
Cherry trees aren’t the best fit for the climate in most of the region, but sour cherry trees can grow well in Alabama. They require less thinning than other fruit trees, and also a different pruning schedule. Sour cherry trees produce fruit early. In winter and early spring, the sap flow is active and can cause the tree to bleed. Wait until July, after the cherries have been harvested, and remove about a fourth of the fruit-bearing branches as well as any low-growing shoots.
Peach trees require fewer tools. You want to limit the height of the tree and keep an open center, so you can use shears and loppers and do your trimming from the ground. Remove any branches growing straight up or into the center of the tree. Peach trees need solid scaffold branches at about a 45-degree angle for best growth. Make flush cuts — another technique that goes against conventional wisdom — to discourage regrowth. Peach trees are more susceptible to cold damage after pruning, so it’s best to hold off until March or early April.
Like apple trees, pear trees are best pruned in February. The ideal shape is the same too. You want it to look like a pyramid. Pear trees require much less thinning. Prune the tree so that it bears an abundance of healthy-looking pears, ideally two per cluster, and the center gets plenty of sunlight and air circulation.
Plum trees are more flexible than other fruit trees. You can shape them like a peach tree with an open center or a pyramid-shaped apple tree. Springtime pruning, in late March or early April, helps prevent any cold damage from an unexpected frost. Aside from damaged, dead, or diseased shoots, you should only cut plum tree branches that failed to produce fruit in the previous year.
Whether you have a grove, an orchard, or a sole fruit tree on your property, pruning should be a part of your regular yard maintenance. Unlike mowing the lawn or trimming the hedges, this task has real rewards. Come harvest time, you can enjoy the fruits of your labor.
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