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Tips for pruning fruit trees in east Idaho

In the Garden

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If you own a home, then more than likely you have fruit trees on your property. Like many homeowners, you have no real idea how to make the trees be productive and have good quality fruit (They don’t give new homeowners a tutorial on fruit tree care at closing, but it would sure help).

Unfortunately, most backyard fruit trees are neglected and produce poor quality fruit due to many factors, including a lack of good pruning practices.

Here are a few tips on pruning your fruit trees:

  • Timing. As a general rule, pruning in late winter to early spring is the best time frame. The best time to prune is during late February through the entire month of March. While this time frame is best for the tree, it also helps us as there is less snow to have to stand in while pruning. The trees are still dormant in our area at that time of the year, and since the temperatures are still cold, we normally have a lower incidence of diseases in the environment that can infect our fruit tree since the pruning cuts are entry ways for diseases to enter the tree. Also during that time period, we have almost no insects out to possibly damage and infest our trees.
  • Do not leave stumps, but do not cut too close to the bud point or to the branch collar and branch ridge. Cutting too close or damaging the branch ridge/collar will make it difficult for the tree to grow tissue and bark over the opening that you have created by pruning the tree. On the other hand, if you leave a stump, it will take many years and sometimes even decades for the tree to grow over and cover the stub that you have left. Our goal with any of the pruning locations is to make a good clean cut without any fraying of the branch and make it as easy for the tree to heal over as quickly as possible.
  • Sharpen and clean your pruning tools. Using dull and rusty tools to prune is not going to give you clean cuts, and makes the work of pruning harder on you as well. Sharp clean blades that slice through branches make the work of pruning easier, and in my own personal experience, I have fewer aching joints when the pruners are in good shape.
  • Avoid pruning if there is a chance of precipitation within the next three days after pruning. Spring rainstorms that come through during late April and the month of May tend to move the pathogen around that causes fire blight. This disease normally affects pears and apples in our area, and roses as well. If you decide to prune in April, look at the weather forecast and do your best to not prune before a windstorm or rainstorm. This wet/windy weather spreads this disease and can infect a tree that hasn’t had time for its pruning cut wounds to begin to dry out.
  • Prune to shape the tree properly so you will have the fruit where you want it and the tree itself will have a strong structure to handle the weight of the fruit hanging out on the limbs. There are a couple of pruning styles that are used by backyard homeowners to shape their trees. The most common is referred to as the open center or open vase style of pruning. Another is the modified leader, which lends itself well for orchard production, but for most homeowners the open center works best.
  • Lastly, don’t prune off more than 30% of your tree during your annual pruning. Doing this can induce shock and damage the tree to the point where it could die and will likely lead to excessive water sprout development and suckers coming up from the base.

    These tips and much more are covered in the video included, and if you have further questions you can reach Lance at (208) 624-3102.