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Early Spring Means Pruning Fruit Trees NOW
Fruiting trees depend on proper pruning to keep them highly productive, healthy, and balanced. Good pruning helps extend the longevity of a tree, and helps avoid unnecessary injury during severe weather, and also helps prevent disease from forming in old and weakened tissues. It also improves the appearance of a tree. In some cases for example, old and healthy apple trees are some of the most beautiful tree specimens out there- not just for their flowering display in the spring and for their tasty fruit in the fall, but also for their gnarled and distinguished branching structure that becomes better with age. Yes, healthy fruit trees are not only giving with their delicious fruit, but also highly prized ornamentals if kept in peak condition. And again, this is achieved with proper early spring pruning.

The reason early spring is the best time of year to prune fruit trees is because trees like apples produce flowers (and eventually fruit) on spurs located on old wood, or previous year’s growth. This isn't the past season’s green soft growth. It’s the barked over, woody growth from several years back that produce eventual fruit. Systematically clipping back new growth encourages the tree to put more energy into the spurs on the old wood, creating more flower buds, and therefore more fruit. You want to prune your tree after the deepest temperatures of winter have ended, but before they begin to flower in the spring. For most gardeners, this means the middle of February through most of March.

There are lots of things to consider when pruning a fruit tree. The first thing to consider is making sure you have the right tools. A good pair of hand pruners is ideal for very small branches under 1 inch diameter. Anvil Loppers are good for thinker branches (max1 inch diameter) that are still fairly new and easy to cut.  For making cuts that are high off of the ground or up to 1-3/4 inch diameter, the safest tool to use is called a pole saw pruner lopper. This is a tree trimming saw and by-pass lopper designed for branches that are out of reach that need to be trimmed while safely standing on the ground. Another tool that you’ll need for larger branches that you can reach without the help of a ladder is called an ATSS tree saw. This is a specialized curved saw designed specifically for easily sawing down larger, thicker old wood that’s too thin for a chain saw, but too thick for a lopper tool. Clean tools are also essential, especially when working with multiple trees. Disinfect each tool as you move from tree to tree, just in case of possible infection.

Generally speaking, when pruning a fruit tree you want to focus on trimming broken, diseased, and very old growth. Next, focus on branch crotches that are growing at weak angles (usually crotches with narrow angles). Trim out branches that are crossing other branches in strange angles. Trim suckering branches. Aim for a balanced tree with healthy growth that’s balanced and with plenty of old wood spurs for fruiting. Coupled with the right tools, this is an easy and enjoyable gardening task that anyone can accomplish, resulting in beautiful, healthy, and productive fruit trees.

Check us out next week as we discuss best trimming practices for more specific tree types.
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