Fruit tree pruning is both a science and an art. It brings out the best in your fruit tree; providing you with a higher yield in fruits, providing the plant with health, strength and vigor, and providing an artful balance to your edible landscape. Winter time is the traditional time to prune fruit trees due to their being in a dormant state. Plus, it is helpful to see the form of your tree when the leaves are gone. Winter pruning stimulates spring growth and fruit abundance!
We prune for a variety of reasons. Pruning removes diseased and dead wood, encourages branching, directs growth in a particular direction, prevents crowded growth restricting sunlight from reaching the lower part of the canopy, reduces the size of the tree for easy harvesting, reduces disease problems, improves circulation and stimulates flowering.
There are two types of pruning cuts: thinning cuts and heading cuts. Thinning cuts remove entire branches, opening the tree up by allowing sunlight and air to reach the interior of the fruit tree. Heading cuts shorten the tree's stems by making cuts at a bud. These cuts reduce the overall size of the tree and will encourage growth in a particular direction, based on the bud direction where the cut was made.
The primary tools you will need for this task are pruning shears for stems and twigs and lopping shears for branches which are finger-sized or larger. A pruning saw may also be a good investment for more mature fruit trees with larger branches.
Begin with thinning cuts from the inside and work your way out. Select branches that are crossing or rubbing others and choose the worse rubbed or weakest branch to prune. Keep branches that are growing up and out from the center. Keep in mind you are opening up the center of the tree to allow sunlight to penetrate. Step back periodically to inspect your work, like a painter stepping back to view your canvas. Save heading cuts until thinning is done. Locate the longest branch first and follow it down to either cut it off to a side branch or a bud. Pay attention to the bud direction, as cutting at a bud will encourage that bud to grow in it's natural direction. Check out the videos below from Useful Plants Nursery on pruning apples and blueberries.
Remember you are engaging in a creative act which will impact the future growth and shape of your fruit tree. But also know that next year, you will return once again to the task of pruning your fruit tree. Keep in mind that badly pruned trees will recover with time. Do not be too cautious or timid. Be conscious, observant and intentional, as pruning is a creative an artful skill. It is an opportunity to actively engage with and shape our landscapes in mutually beneficial ways.