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Recent entries

Kevin Hahn

Food Plotting

Orchards - Time to Prune

Sat, April 05, 2014

I always try to write my articles about food plotting in near real time as I am doing various activities.  It’s been a while since my last post on food plotting and I am blaming that on Mother Nature for she certainly has been dragging her feet getting to spring-time weather this year.  This extended winter has given me a case of cabin fever/depression and I just have not had much desire to get outside to do much until this week. 

My change of attitude is the result of a business trip to Carbondale earlier this week where the temperature was 74F, redbuds and daffodils were blooming, and the sun was even shining.  That was exactly what I needed to begin to recover from my cabin fever and during my drive back home I begin thinking about all the things that I needed to do at the farm this spring.  In almost a panic, I realized that I had not yet pruned the fruit trees in the orchard—something that in a “normal” year is always done during the month of March while the trees are still dormant. Pruning or removing the undesirable “dormant branches” results in the robust growth of the remaining desirable branches when dormancy finally does break.  Waiting to prune after dormancy break will not yield these same robust growth results.  Pruning during dormancy is especially important for young trees, enabling them to grow to fruiting size sooner.  The oldest trees in my orchard are just 4 years old, so I rearranged my scheduled Friday and headed to the farm to get the pruning done.

Not Pruning is harmful to the trees
The biggest mistake that can be made when it comes to pruning fruit trees is to not prune them.  I sense that most people do not prune fruit trees because they are not sure how to do it, think they might ruin the tree, or simply don’t understand that “not pruning” is actually harmful to the tree.  Pruning fruit trees, especially during the first 5 years after planting, is critical to establish the correct architecture of the tree and will proactively prevent many future problems.  Without the correct architecture of the tree, the trees will not be as productive, tend to have branches that break or split the main trunk, and have more disease and insect pressure which eventually affects the longevity of the tree.  Don’t be afraid to prune your fruit trees for failing to prune will inflect far more damage to the tree in the long run.

For more detailed tips on pruning fruit trees, Check out my post about pruning from last year.

If you are thinking about starting and orchard, check out my post on establishing an Orchard.

Some Pictures from the orchard yesterday
The whole goal of pruning fruit trees is to remove undesirable branches and create a tree shape with growth that is layered (scaffolds) and directed outward from the center of the tree.  This will allow air movement into the center of the tree which will help with disease control and also allow the tree to capture the most sunlight for fruit production.  For my apple and pear trees, I use the “center leader” system for shaping trees.  Here are some before and after pictures from Fridays pruning activities.

Pictures of apple tree before and after pruning to discourage inward growth and to establish scaffold layering of branches with outward growth.

Pictures of Bartlett pear before and after pruning.  Note: This particular tree wants to grow more vertical than outward horizontal.  I have been fighting this tree for 3 years to encourage layered outward growth with extremely heavy pruning.  If left unpruned, this tree would have heavy branching in the center of tree and would be the shape of a “raindrop”. This “raindrop” shape would limit fruit production to the very top and outside of the tree only.  Don’t be afraid to apply aggressive pruning during the early years of fruit tree growth to establish the correct architecture of the tree. 




About a week ago, I cut the central leader out of my Bing and Black Tartarian cherry to let sunlight in middle of tree. It is now wineglass or vase shaped. Is this ok?

Posted by coinman66 on April 05

Coinman66…I don’t have as much experience with cherrys but I do have one sweet cherry that when it gets a little tall I plan to remove the central leader as you have done in order the control the height and encourage outward growth with and open center as I do with my peach trees. So I think you are fine.  Picking cherries by hand is more involved and time consuming as compared to apples so I don’t want my cherry tree getting too tall for I don’t like the idea of being on a tall ladder stretching to pick cherrys.

Posted by Cooper on April 06

Thanks for the article. I have some peach trees and they have branches going everywhere. They are just 2 years old so i pruned them way down.

Posted by fredbear88 on April 06

Be sure to have u some copper sulfate powder on hand for those pear and apple trees. Fire blight killed my Bartlett last year before I knew how to treat it. Got any info on pruning blackberries,  raspberries and blueberries?

Posted by coinman66 on April 07

We never know how much and what to prune.  These before and after pictures are extremely helpful.  Thanks a ton!!!!

Posted by bw on April 07

as always fantastic information!!!!

Posted by Flatlander on April 07

coinman66…correct about copper for fireblight control which is a bacterial disease which fungicides ( for fungi) will not control.  Timing of application is very critical for controlling FB. Many pears and some apples are very prone to get FB.

BW, Fredbear88, and Flatlander glad you find the information helpful. Thanks for the feedback.

Posted by Cooper on April 07

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