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Ultimate guide to pruning

Most fruit trees will benefit from an annual removal of branches to encourage vigour and healthy fruit, even though such pruning can appear brutal to the uninitiated. Once these few basic rules have been mastered, pruning should be a pleasure.

Tools of the trade

  • Secateurs

  • Pruning saw

  • Extended saw

  • Loppers

  • Ladders

Aims of pruning

Regular pruning is an essential part of fruit care if your trees are to be productive and look good all year round. There are four main reasons for pruning:

  • Firstly, it removes dead, dying and diseased parts of the tree or shrub, which could spread if left alone;

  • Secondly, by removing some of the branches, pruning allows air and sunlight into a plant, and this is essential for the development of fruit and to avoid dense canopies in which fungal diseases thrive. Pruning branches growing close gother also prevents them rubbing against each other, causing open wounds;

  • Furthermore, pruning improves the physical look of a tree or shrub, making it appear cared for. This is particularly important during the early, formative stages of a fruit tree’s life;

  • Finally, suckers or double leaders need to be removed so that the trees grow into the shape that you want.

Pruning cuts guidelines

  • Remove long, heavy branches in stages to avoid tearing the bark with their weight;

  • If pruning a branch back to the trunk, leave a small collar as this will help the tree to callus over the wound;

  • Make pruning cuts with secateurs at an angle just above a bu - never through a bud. Slant the cut downwards from 5mm above the bud. Where there are opposite buds, make a flat cut as a celular distance above the buds;

  • Always cut back back to a branch further down the tree of shrub, This branch needs to be at least one-third the width of the branch that has been removed.

Effects of pruning

Because pruning stimulates growth, vigorous trees should only be given a light trim to avoid an excessive reaction. Alternatively, instead of pruning, the branches can be festooned, that is, training downwards toward a horizontal position to encourage fruiting instead of vigorous growth. Fruit trees lacking in vigour should be pruned back hard to stimulate more growth the following season. Research has shown that it is best to keep the wounds left unpainted to allow them to heal.

When to prune

Apple and pear trees were traditionally pruned during winter, a convenient time when it was otherwise quiet on the fruit farm. It is also easier to see the shape of the trees when it is leafless, and free standing trees are still pruned in winter for this reason.

Pruning restricted forms of apple and pears in late summer is also becoming more popular due to the more pleasant weather and less growth is seen in vigorous trees.

Some fruits such as cherries, peaches, plums and apricots should always be pruned when the plant is in growth. This is to avoid disease problems that enter pruning cuts that are made in the dormant season.

Basic Safety

  • Thick gloves are partially important when pruning thorny plants such as gooseberries and blackberries;

  • Eye protection should be worn to prevent sawdust blowing into the eyes or sharp branches scratching them.

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