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News / Life / Clark County Life

Gardening with Allen: Here’s how to prune fruit trees

By Allen Wilson
Published: February 10, 2024, 6:08am

My fruit trees have not been pruned for two or three years. Could you give me some suggestions on how to prune them?

It is best to prune fruit trees every year about this time to get the best quality of fruit. However, the principles are the same, you will just need to do a little more pruning.

Most fruit trees are grafted onto semi-dwarf root stocks, which means they will mature at about two-thirds normal height. They can be kept at a height of about 12 feet if the tallest branches are pruned just above an outward facing side branch at a height of about 10 feet. If they have not been pruned for a couple of years those cuts may need to be made with a saw on branches that are 2 or more inches in diameter.

The next job is to reduce the number of branches This will remove excess branches so light can reach the inner and lower branches. Without regular thinning they will gradually produce less fruit where it is easy to pick and more on the upper and outer branches. Regular pruning will also help keep most of the fruit-bearing branches within easy reach for harvesting. More branches may need to be removed if not pruned every year. Branches need to be followed clear back to where they originate so that the entire branch is removed. In some cases this may be an entire larger branch that has some side branches. Up to one-third of the branches can be removed.

Branches growing straight up or inward are the ones to remove. Leave those branches that are growing outward. Side branches that have grown more than 1½ to 2 feet the previous year can be shortened. They should be pruned back to a side branch or bud that is facing the way you want the branch to grow. Generally outward-facing buds and branches are chosen.

Many times a number of vigorous vertical branches (called suckers or water sprouts) grow from the trunk or main branches after spring pruning. These are best removed (thinned) in June when shoots are less than a foot long. Extra vigorous side and top branches can also be shortened at the same time. Apple, pear, cherry, apricot and plum trees bear most of their fruit on short, twiggy branches called spurs. These should not be removed unless dead or broken. Of course some spurs will be removed with the excess branches that are removed.