I read that I should prune my fruit trees every year. Mine have not been pruned for several years. Could you please explain how and when to prune fruit trees?
Fruit trees should be pruned every year. The best time to prune is late winter or early spring before they start to grow. Pruning fruit trees is quite different from pruning shade and other ornamental trees. The goal is to produce good yields of high quality fruit that is relatively easy to pick. Most fruit trees are grafted onto semidwarf root stocks. Semidwarf trees can be kept in a size range of 10 to 12 feet with regular yearly pruning. Without yearly pruning they will often grow twice that height or more. Most of the fruit is then not within easy reach and must be harvested with a ladder. Trees on true dwarf root stocks can be kept even shorter.
Without yearly pruning, fruit trees develop a very thick branching system. Upper and inner branches shade lower branches. Without adequate light, lower branches quit bearing fruit.
Fruit develops best on branches that are relatively horizontal. Upright, vertical branches do not bear as much fruit. Inner branches, especially those growing toward the center of the tree, also bear little fruit.
If your trees have not been pruned for several years, you may need to remove some rather large branches. Large vertical branches above 10 feet (or even 6 feet in younger trees) may need to be shortened back to an outward growing branch. Inner branches may need to be removed back to their origin from the trunk. The idea is to have fewer branches so that light reaches all of them.