90130thumbThe vast orchards of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys might make the impression that production of fruit is easy. The trees naturally bloom in spring, and develop fruit over summer, as if they do most of the work prior to harvest. In reality, those trees have been so extensively bred to maximize production that they need, among other maintenance, very specialized pruning in winter.

Without pruning, deciduous fruit trees produce more fruit than they can support. The weight of the fruit breaks and disfigures limbs. Excessive fruit production exhausts resources so that, although more fruit is produced, it is of inferior quality. Diseases and insects proliferate in crowded stem growth that lacks vigor. Unharvested fruit that is beyond reach in upper growth may attract rodents.

Well pruned deciduous fruit tree produce fruit of much better quality, and are able to support it on well structured limbs that are reasonably within reach. They are less susceptible to diseases and insects. Such pruning seems severe to those who are unfamiliar with it, but it is necessary, and the trees appreciate it. Because it is so severe, it is done while trees are dormant through winter.

Different types of fruit trees need distinct types of pruning. Furthermore, different cultivars of each type may need different degrees of the same type of pruning. All should get the ‘four Ds’, which are ‘dead, dying, damaged and diseased’ growth, pruned out of them. Because figs produce early and late crops, they can be pruned less for more early figs, or more severely for more late figs.

Most of the deciduous fruit trees are either stone fruits or pomme fruits. The stone fruits include apricot, plum, prune, nectarine, peach and cherry, which are all of the genus of Prunus. Pomme fruits are apple, pear and quince. Because the winter pruning of deciduous fruit trees is so specialized and so intensive, it is worth studying, preferably before planting the fruit trees that require it.

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10 thoughts on “Winter Pruning Of Fruit Trees

    1. Is it too cold for the first crop? I know in colder climates, the new growth gets frozen back if not pruned off, so that the only fruiting stems are those that start growing in spring, and fruit late in summer.

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      1. Oh, you mean that summer is too cool for the second crop to develop; in which case, you would prune as little as possible, so that growth from the previous year would set fruit for the early crop.

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      2. Of course, that is only if the new growth does not get frozen in winter. If the weather is not conducive to growing them, they might not be worth the effort of growing.

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  1. It is always such a big relief when I finally get the pruning done — only four trees, and two are easy, but it is challenging for me, a newbie of three years at this pruning thing.

    I get more practice now that I have started using the techniques in Grow a Little Fruit Tree by Ann Ralph, because I am pruning my plums at the summer solstice as well as wintertime. The goal is to keep the tree small, appropriate for a backyard garden, easy to prune and care for without a ladder, and not producing too much fruit for a family to use. It is hard to keep up with my Elephant Heart Plums, though; they are vigorous!

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    1. Summer pruning is very effective, particularly for the more vigorous stone fruit trees. I just dislike it because it is not the technique I grew up with in the Santa Clara Valley. The trees that I knew were grown for maximum production, obviously. Even in our home gardens, where we need to confine the trees, we tend to get as much fruit as possible from them.

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