Dormant Pruning Promotes Fruit Production

Persimmon trees get pruned after harvest.

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.

The Fruits Of Our Labor

Quince and other fruit used to be much more common in home gardens.

The vast orchards of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys are there for a reason. California is one of the best place in the world to grow fruit trees. However, whether they are in vast orchards or compact urban gardens, even the happiest and healthiest of fruit trees need considerable and specialized attention.

Most of the classic deciduous fruit trees have been bred and selected and bred some more over the past many centuries to produce unnaturally large and abundant fruit. Consequently, most are unable to support the weight of all the fruit that they are capable of producing. This is why it is so important for them to be pruned while dormant through winter.

Pruning improves the structural integrity of fruit trees, and limits the abundance and weight of the fruit produced during the following season. With a bit of planning, pruning can keep much of the fruit within reasonable reach so that those picking it do not need to go dangerously high on ladders. Annual winter pruning also promotes vigorous spring and summer growth that is more resistant to disease.

Apricots, plums, prunes, nectarines, peaches and cherries are all related ‘stone’ fruits (of the genus Prunus), so need various degrees of similar pruning. Peaches need more aggressive pruning because the fruit is so heavy. Cherries and almonds need less pruning because the fruit is lighter. (Almonds can grow beyond reach because the nuts get shaken or knocked from the trees instead of picked.) Regardless of the extent of pruning, the ‘four D’s’, which are ‘dead, dying, damaged and diseased’ stems, should be pruned from all deciduous fruit trees.

Vigorous stems that grew last year need to be thinned and cut back but not removed completely since they are the stems that will bloom and develop fruit next year. The stems that grow from them this year will get pruned next winter to produce the following year. Apples, pears and quinces require similar pruning of their vigorous upper growth, but produce much of their fruit on lower ‘spur’ stems that do not elongate much and may never need pruning.

Fig trees are probably the most tolerant of pruning mistakes, since they produce fruit twice each year. Overly aggressive pruning may compromise their first phase of fruiting, but promotes the second phase. Light pruning does the opposite, compromising the second phase by allowing excessive production of the first phase.

Winter pruning of deciduous fruit trees will undoubtedly seem harsh to a beginner. Trees will need more pruning each year as they grow. Fortunately, pruning becomes more familiar with experience, and as the results of pruning can be observed over time. It is among the most important of gardening tasks for those who grow fruit trees, so is really worth studying more thoroughly.

Holy Guacamole!

This old article does not conform to the ‘Horridculture’ meme for Wednesday like ‘Anti-Community Garden’ would have; but I already reblogged that article, so can not do so again. (It can be found at https://tonytomeo.com/2017/12/09/hate-destroys/ .) At least this article is more amusing.

Tony Tomeo

P71202.jpgHorticulturists have a way of making all those long Latin names sound easy to pronounce. Lyanothamnus floribundus ‘Asplenifolius’ – Syzigium paniculatum – Metasequoia glyptostroboides. I do not know why proper pronunciation of their names is so important. They have no ears. They can not hear if we simply call them ‘Earl’. Even if they could hear, they would not respond.

Communication with other people is probably more important. Yet, we are so often unable to spell something as seemingly simple as the sound of a palm frond falling to the ground. Does it sound like “whoosh”, or “splat”, or some combination of both? What do the Santa Anna Winds sound like as they blow through a grove of Aleppo pines? What does a red flowering gum full of bees sound like?

Heck, Brent could not even tell me what an incident that he heard in his own backyard sounded like…

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Horridculture – Unpruned Fruit Trees

P90529They do not come with instructions for their maintenance. Deciduous fruit trees, particularly the stone fruit trees (such as cherry, plum, prune, apricot nectarine and peach) and pomme fruit trees (such as apple and pear), can be procured as easily as nasturtium seed or petunias. Whether bare-root in winter or canned (potted), they very often get planted into gardens where they are expected to produce their fruit as easily as daisies bloom.
Instructions for planting that come with bare root stock are useful for getting those particular trees started, but mention nothing about how even brand new trees need to be pruned after installation, and will need specialized pruning annually every winter thereafter. The same applies to rose, raspberry, blackberry (all varieties), grape, and to a lesser extent, fig, pomegranate, persimmon and several other fruit producing trees, vines and shrubs.
The problem with the stone fruit and pomme fruit trees is that they were bred to produce an unnatural abundance of unnaturally large fruits that are too overwhelming to sustain as they ripen, and too heavy to support. The others are in a similar situation, but are somehow able to continue to produce and generally support their own weight as they get overgrown and congested. Roses deteriorate and succumb to disease as they get congested.
This is why annual winter pruning is so important. Such pruning concentrates resources into fewer but superior fruits, rather than too many inferior fruits. It also limits and contains (closer to the main trunk and limbs) the weight of the fruit, so that limbs are not so likely to break as fruit develops.
These wimpy stems hanging vertically from the weight of the maturing apricots might be able to support the weight of the fruit, but the excessive fruit will be of inferior quality.P90529+

Apple

90130Some of us who enjoy gardening may not like to admit how useful the internet can be. There is a lot of bad information out there. There is also some degree of good information. It is impossible to fit much information about apples into just a few brief paragraphs. Therefore, the internet is likely the best source of information about the countless cultivars and specie within the genus of Malus.

The most popular apple trees produce the familiar crisp and sweet fruit that ripens anytime between late summer and late autumn, depending on cultivar. The fruit is quite variable. Some cultivars are best for eating fresh. Others are best for cooking or juicing. Some are very sweet, while other are quite tart. Each fruit is about the size of a baseball, but can be much bigger or much smaller. Crabapples are very small. Flowering crabapples make only tiny fruits that are eaten by birds.

The trees are quite variable too. Semi-dwarf trees can be pruned to stay low enough so that all of the fruit is within reach from the ground. Standard trees that grow in orchards can get as big as shade trees. All fruiting apple trees need specialized pruning each winter so that they do not become overgrown and disfigured, and to control disease. All apples bloom sometime in early spring.

Prune Now For Fruit Later

70726thumbModern fruit trees have been so extensively bred to produce abundant and unnaturally large fruit, that most types are unable to support the weight of the fruit that they can produce each season. Without specialized dormant (winter) pruning to limit production, the weight of excessive fruit breaks and disfigures the limbs of the trees that produce it. Fruit becomes too much of a good thing.

Pruning not only limits the weight of the fruit; but it also improves the structural integrity of the limbs that must support it, and ideally, keeps fruit more reachable. Concentrating resources produces fewer but better fruits, instead of wasting resources on excessive fruits of inferior quality. Fewer stems that grow in spring are more vigorous and resistant to disease than more stems would be.

‘Stone’ fruits (of the genus Prunus) generally get similar pruning. However, peaches and nectarines produce such heavy fruit that they get pruned more severely than apricots, plums and prunes. Cherries and almonds are so lightweight that they may not need to be pruned at all. Cherries may be pruned for height. Since almonds get shaken from their trees, height is not so important.

Stems that grew last summer should produce fruit next summer. They should therefore be pruned short enough to support the weight of the fruit that they can produce (or what stems produced in previous years). For peaches, stems may need to be pruned to only a few inches long, even if the new stems are several feet long. Upper stems that get too high can be pruned out completely.

Apples and pears benefit from the same sort of pruning, but can be cut back even more aggressively, since their new stems tend to be more productive at the base. Crowded clusters of vigorous new stems can be thinned to eliminate the largest and most dominant stems. Stunted ‘spur’ stems that do not elongate more than two inches or so each year many not need to be pruned at all.

The ‘four Ds’, which are ‘Dead, Dying, Diseased and Damaged’ stems, are the first to get pruned out, even if they happen to be in the right places. There is just too much potential for problems later. Young trees that do not need much pruning now should be pruned for structure. Dormant fruit tree pruning is so important and specialized, that it is worth studying in more thorough detail.