While they are dormant through winter, deciduous fruit trees require specialized ‘dormant pruning’. Exceptions are rare. Most need major pruning that might seem to be excessive. Without such pruning, fruit trees produce more fruit than they can sustain. Excessive fruit is very likely to be of inferior quality, beyond reach, and heavy enough to disfigure limbs.
Dormant pruning limits the volume and weight of fruit that can develop during a following season. By eliminating structural deficiencies and maintaining compact form, it improves the structural integrity of trees. It eliminates diseased stems, and concentrates resources into healthy stems. Dormant pruning concentrates resources into less but better fruit too.
Dormant pruning is necessary because of extensive breeding to improve the quality and quantity of fruit that fruit trees produce. The ancestors of modern cultivars of fruit produce either smaller or less abundant fruit that they can generally support in the wild. However, even some wild fruit trees will produce better fruit with pruning to concentrate resources.
The many various types of fruit trees need various types of specialized dormant pruning. Unfortunately, such trees, which are so commonly available from nurseries, do not come with instructions. It is important to be aware of the sort of maintenance any particular fruit tree will require, prior to incorporating it into a garden. Some dormant pruning is extreme!
The various stone fruits are the most popular deciduous fruit trees. They are of the genus ‘Prunus‘. Their fruits contain single large seeds, or ‘stones’. This includes apricot, cherry, nectarine, peach, plum, prune, almond and all their hybrids. They need the most intense dormant pruning. (Almond nuts are stones of leathery fruits that are the hulls of the nuts.)
Although uncommon within the mild coastal climates of Southern California, pome fruits, primarily apple and pear, are very popular too. They require specialized dormant pruning that is very different from what stone fruits need. Likewise, persimmon, pomegranate, fig, mulberry, currant, kiwi, grape and cane berries, each need customized dormant pruning.