Proper pruning is significant for the size management of fruit trees. Fruit trees that are left unpruned elevate the challenges of picking, pruning and spraying.
It is essential to know whether the tree is worth saving and the effort involved to achieve success. Peaches and nectarines are not worthy of being renovated as it is easier to plant a new tree.
Apple and pear trees are the most adaptable to renovation. Cherries can also be candidates for renewal. Investigate the structure and health of the tree before you begin the process.
Trees that have gone unpruned and are unmanageable require properly selected pruning cuts. These pruning cuts tend to be larger than if pruning had adequately occurred in the young life of the tree.
Consider the quality of the fruit and the type planted. Newer varieties may be a better selection for disease resistance than reworking the existing tree.
Fruit tree pruning typically occurs while the trees are still dormant, from mid-February to early April. When cutting large branches, waiting until early April can allow the wounds to close more quickly.
Large limbs should be pruned moderately, not removing over a third of the canopy at one time. Reduce the height to the desired level over three years.
Start by removing all dead and broken branches, then work at the removal of others to train the tree into a more desirable shape. All of the pruning cuts should be carefully selected.
Remove any sucker growth at the base of the tree. Prune out drooping branches and others that don’t have functional, structural integrity.
Examine the tree for scaffold branches that are growing away from the center of the tree. Scaffold branches selected should be positioned on different sides of the tree for proper distribution of the fruit crop.
Proper pruning allows for adequate sunlight penetration into the canopy. For example, red fruit coloring of apple is dependent on the amount of light exposure to the fruit. Branches pruned to allow sufficient spacing and orientation will benefit the overall tree health.
Excessive pruning on any fruit tree can cause a delay in fruit production. It is easy for time to lapse without taking the time to care for fruit trees properly.
Pruning is essential and necessary on an annual basis. Planted fruit trees are a commitment of time and effort, but the rewards of pruning are tremendous and worth the effort.
Andrew Holsinger is University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.