Pruning Fruit Trees (cont)
By: Lee Reich
A Few Tips and Tricks
Suppose a sprout is emerging in a perfect position to become a side branch, except that it forms a narrow angle with a leader. Widen the angle by inserting a clothespin or toothpick as a wedge between the sprout and the leader so they form a 45- to 60-degree angle. If no side branch is growing where you want, cut a notch into the bark above a bud to make that bud produce a shoot. If a well-positioned side branch is trying to grow more vigorously than the leader, weigh it down just above the horizontal to slow its growth. What if the leader makes only feeble growth for the first season? Cut it back severely when it's dormant, or early in the season, to stimulate vigorous regrowth.
Mature Trees: Prune for Size and Regular Crops
Even after your tree starts bearing well in the garden, it will need annual pruning, but for different reasons than when it was young. Prune an established, mature tree to keep it from growing too large, to keep it healthy, and to keep it bearing regular crops of high-quality fruit.
Contain the growth of an overgrown tree by cutting back a few large branches either to where they begin growth or to weak side branches. Ideally, you should start pruning your tree to limit its size before it reaches full size. You can do this in two ways. Shorten the leader to a weak, horizontal side branch. Or, bend the leader over and weigh it down to weaken it. Use one of these techniques before it grows as high as you want your tree to grow.
Skillful pruning strikes a good balance between shoot growth and fruit production. How much pruning is needed to achieve this balance depends on how -- or, really, where -- the particular tree bears its flowers and hoig its fruits are. At one extreme are trees such as peach and nectarine. They bear fruit only on stems that grew the previous season, so they need fairly severe annual pruning to stimulate a flush of vigorous new shoots for the next year's crop. The traditional recommendation is to prune enough off a peach tree so that a bird can fly right through the branches. Apple trees, at the other extreme, produce fruit on long-lived, very short, knobby branches, called spurs, so they need little such stimulus. Many fruit trees lie between these two extremes.
Remove Some Potential Fruits
Pruning also balances crops by removing potential fruits. Especially with trees that produce large fruits, such as apple and peach, individual fruits tend to be undersized and less sweet if the crop is too heavy. Also, a heavy crop one year can result in a light crop the following year. By removing some stems that would have borne fruit, pruning prevents crop production only in alternating years and maximizes production of better fruits in terms of size and sweetness, particularly for large fruits. (Picking off some small fruits early in the season, just as they form, also improves the remaining and future garden crops.)