In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
January, 2008
Regional Report

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Dormant-season pruning will leave a skeleton with lots of buds to develop into fruit.

Pruning Fruit Trees

Now through mid-February is prime time for pruning fruit and nut trees. Beginners may prefer to do it once the first buds start growing so they can better see what they're doing. Basic guidelines for dormant pruning are to remove crowded or crossed branches, open the center for good light exposure and airflow, repair structural weakness, and remove vigorous vertically growing branches called water spouts.

The height or width of the tree also can be reduced. Take care not to leave stubs or to prune more than one-third of the tree in any single year, as this encourages excessive new foliage growth and less fruit.

An overgrown tree, however, requires more drastic measures. If a tree is very overgrown, it's best to at least get its height down to a manageable 7 to 9 feet now, and then fine-tune the rest of the pruning after the tree bears its fruit later this summer or fall. This will enable you to pick fruit and do requisite trimming without requiring a ladder -- which means you'll be more likely to do it!

Pruning citrus trees requires a different approach. Remove entire branches at the trunk. Heading branches back -- cutting off only portions -- will remove wood that would have blossomed and set fruit this coming season, and it also will stimulate more bushy growth.

Treating Cuts
Pruning cuts that are smaller than 1-1/2 inches across don't need protective covering. Paint larger cuts with an off-white or sand-colored interior latex paint that has a matte finish, not a glossy one. Black asphalt substances or dark-colored paint, especially on south-facing surfaces, are the worst thing you can use since they will concentrate the sun's heat, baking and killing the tissue that the tree is trying to heal.

Disinfecting Tools
An excellent, inexpensive, and easily used disinfectant for pruning tools is rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol. Wipe shears with the alcohol after every few cuts to avoid spreading any diseases. Clean the blades extra well before moving to another tree or bush.


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