Pruning fruit trees is an important part of keeping them healthy and producing a good harvest. Pruning fruit trees is a delicate process and, if done incorrectly, can damage the tree or inhibit its growth. There are different techniques for pruning different types of fruit trees, but the basic principles are the same. In this blog post, we will discuss how to prune fruit trees so that you can enjoy a bountiful harvest!

Start with clean up

When you start pruning, a good rule to follow is to remove anything on the tree that is dead, damaged or diseased. 

Additionally, you will want to remove any sprouts (or suckers) coming from the base of the trunk as well as “watersprouts,” the straight sprouts that grow erect and perfectly vertical from some of the main branches.  

When you are completing these clean up cuts, make sure you prune the branches back flush with the larger limb they’re growing from and don’t leave any little stubs.

Next, thin the tree

After cleaning up the tree, you’ll want to thin some branches to allow light and air into the canopy, which boosts fruit production and reduces problems with pests and disease.

To do this, remove any branches that grow downward, toward the center of the tree or that cross paths with another branch. The goal here is to create a tree with evenly spaced branches splaying out in a fractal-like pattern from the center.

Next, examine any branches that compete with each other. This includes two or more branches growing from a single crotch at a narrow angle, or from different points but in a parallel fashion, one hovering over the other. If you notice any branches like this, thin out all but one branch, keeping the branch with the healthiest appearance and best crotch angle (roughly the 2 o’clock or 10 o’clock angle from the center of the tree). Keep in mind that wider angles can break when laden with fruit and narrower angles lead to bushy growth and fruit that is too high to pick.

Continue thinning until the tree has 6 to 12 inches of air space around every branch. The smaller the branches are, the closer they can be to each other.

The same rule applies to thinning cuts as to clean-up cuts, make sure all are made flush to the branch without any stumps.

Lastly, complete the heading back process

Heading back the tree means cutting off 20 to 30 percent of last year’s growth. Previous year’s growth can be distinguished from two-year-old growth by the wrinkly ring of bark encircling each stem. Depending on the tree, this may be anywhere from two inches to 4 feet back from the tip of each branch.

Unlike when cleaning up the tree and thinning it out, the heading back cuts should be made part way into each branch. Exactly where you make the cut is important, too. Prune each branch back to a point one-quarter inch above a bud that faces the direction you want that branch to grow in the coming year. If there is another branch close by on the left, for example, prune back to a bud on the right side of the branch.

The purpose of this step is to prune back the outermost growth of the tree so the branches become shorter and thicker as they grow, rather than long and gangly. This keeps them from snapping under the weight of the fruit and makes for smaller, more fruitful trees.

Need help pruning your fruit trees in the Sacramento, California area?

Pruning your trees can feel overwhelming, especially if you have several trees! When you begin pruning, keep these tips in mind: 

  • Sharpen your shears for clean, easy cuts. If you are unable to sharpen your own, many hardware stores offer the service for a small fee.
  • To prevent disease from spreading on your trees, dip your pruning shears  in isopropyl alcohol for 30 seconds to disinfect them between each tree.
  • Don’t forget to clean up! Clean up the pruned wood from around the tree when you are finished to keep any diseased parts from infecting other trees.

If you would rather hire a professional to prune your fruit trees, trust the experts at Tree Care Incorporated! We can help with all of your fruit tree pruning needs in the Sacramento, Roseville, and surrounding areas! Contact us today!