by Maureen Sexsmith-West ISA Certified Arborist Depending upon whom you speak with, fruit bearing trees are either appreciated or despised because of the bounty they provide. Managing the crops they produce is the key to your enjoyment. Many fruit trees are fast growing. They provide a beautiful display of flowers in the spring. Depending on climate conditions and the number of pollinators that visit the blossoms for nectar, the resulting fruit can be an overwhelming issue later in the year. All pruning has an initial dwarfing affect. The volume of wood and location of cuts has a direct impact of the tree’s growth and fruit production the following season.
Response growth will attempt to replace lost twigs and leaves as well as add new growth in balance with the root system. It is important to avoid removing too much live tissue in any one growing season. Excessive pruning results in water sprouts (along twigs) and/or suckering from roots. Most fruit bearing trees should be pruned at least every other year.
There are several advantages to pruning during the LATE dormant season. An arborist can see the architecture or structure of the tree very easily. Weak limbs, crossing and rubbing branches, overcrowded and excessive fruiting spurs can be detected and addressed. Diseases can be removed at a time when the risk of transfer is at its lowest.
Insect infestations can also be identified – allowing you to have them treated by a licensed applicator during the dormant season. This will reduce populations after the tree has leafed out and the insects have emerged to feed on the succulent new growth. Ideally, you should begin ‘training’ your tree during the first 3-5 years. Training juvenile trees is CONSIDERABLY LESS EXPENSIVE both during initial pruning and over the life of the tree. This allows you to create the form you desire – Open Centre, Central Leader or Espalier. Well made pruning decisions redirect growth to fill voids, avoid fences or structures, balances form and maintain branch spacing. Height and form management makes harvesting fruit easier.
Opening and creating a balanced canopy permits good sun penetration, air circulation and the ability to apply products that aid in pest and disease control more efficiently when needed. Thinning crops once fruit has set is another control method that can be used.
Creating and maintaining good structure should result is fewer, larger juicy apples/plums/pears and lower the instance of insect and disease problems.
Older unpruned or neglected trees
Unpruned trees are hard to work in and tend to produce crops of small, worthless fruit. The fruit is often out of reach at the top of the tree. They also have a higher incident of pests and diseases. Pruning of established and neglected trees attempts to correct issues with larger cuts that could have been easily managed during their formative years. It will be impossible to achieve everything necessary in one growing season without causing stress. Pruning should be carried over a period of a few years to achieve a balance between shoot growth, branch spacing and fruit production. It can be quite the job to rejuvenate and bring an old fruit tree back into form. But it is worth it.