Pruning Fruit Trees

How and when to prune fruit trees can be something of a source of confusion for many gardeners. It can be a little daunting trying to work out what to take and when. But learning the basics and pruning your fruit trees will help them to stay healthy and will usually result in a better yield for the gardener. Here then, is a basic guide to help you get to grips with pruning your fruit trees.

As a basic rule of thumb, free-standing trees grown in your garden or orchard should be pruned when the trees are dormant during the winter months, after the leaves have fallen but before the tree buds into new life in the early spring. Apple trees are one of the most common fruit trees for gardeners in the UK and apple trees are one of those that should be pruned during the winter.

Trees grown as espaliers, cordons, pyramids and fans, on the other hand, should usually be pruned in late August or early September. Stone fruits such as cherries are one of the popular trees grown in this way. This is just a basic rule of thumb however and there are exceptions to this rule. Free-standing plum trees, for example, should not be pruned in winter. So it is always a good idea to research when best to prune for your particular trees, so as not to put them under unnecessary strain or open them up to potential diseases.

Whichever type of tree you are growing, it is surely clear that the pruning needs of a free-standing bush shaped tree are very different to the pruning needs of a shaped tree, trained against a wall or fence, with fruiting spurs, that is more rigorously shaped. Pruning a young tree will also be a very different exercise to pruning an overgrown old monster.

Keep in mind the particular tree you need to prune, what your purpose is for doing so and what you hope to achieve. Sometimes, you will prune simply to remove dead or diseased branches, at other times you may wish to reduce size, at other times you may wish to improve spacing and allow more light to reach the centre of the tree while sometimes you prune to encourage a tree to take the shape you want it to take.

Whichever sort of pruning you will be doing, you will need secateurs, and a pruning saw for larger branches. These tools should always be kept sharp and in good working order as if they are not they can cause tear damage to your fruit trees.

Always think before you make any cuts and be patient – some very overgrown trees, for example, may need to be renovated over a few years in order to get them in line without doing them too much damage. Patience is also required with regards to shaping young trees, which can take a number of seasons. Pruning is a complex subject but it need not be overwhelming. As with everything in the garden it should be taken one small step at a time.

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