News release: Pruning Trees, Part II

Tim Baker, MU Extension Horticulture Specialist
102 N. Main, Suite 1, Gallatin, MO 64640

Release Date: February 20, 2014

Headline: Pruning Trees, Part II

In my last column, I discussed a few general principles on pruning trees. This time, I would like to give some specifics to consider when pruning fruit trees.

When considering major corrective measures for fruit trees, think “light,” especially if you are dealing with a peach tree.  Basically, you want to open up the center of the tree so that light can get into the middle... an “open vase” shape.  Branches that cross over other branches should be removed, for example.

With apples and most ornamental trees, you want to retain a central leader, with side branches coming out.  Getting good light penetration to the fruiting branches is still important. Again, branches that cross over other branches should be removed, especially if they are rubbing on good branches, or are just in the way.

With most fruit trees, you usually want to control the height of the tree, so keep that in mind.  If the tree has a central leader, you will need to cut it off at some point.

Remember when pruning fruit trees that you are removing potential fruit as you prune, and you are therefore reducing your crop.  That is because the fruit buds were formed last summer, and as you remove wood, you remove fruit.  So while pruning is necessary, and even beneficial for the tree, don’t get too carried away and remove your entire crop.

After you have finished pruning, you may want to apply a dormant spray, especially for fruit trees. As the name suggests, these sprays are meant to be applied in the dormant season.  It’s not a good idea to apply them when the tree is getting ready to leaf out, since this may injure the new leaves. Dormant sprays are used to control certain insects on fruit trees.

Before I close, let me give a few pointers about pruning tools.  First of all, buy good quality pruning tools.  This will make the job easier and more enjoyable. High quality pruning tools should last a lifetime, especially if they have parts which can be replaced if they wear out.  Good tools with high quality metal will also sharpen better and hold that sharp edge through your pruning tasks.

Hand shears are one of the most important pruning tools.  They come in several styles, but horticulturists usually recommend bypass or scissors types.  These will provide the cleanest cuts, compared to other styles, such as the anvil types.

You will probably need some lopping shears as well.  These also come in both bypass and anvil styles, and again, the bypass is best.  These are used for larger cuts, and should therefore be strong and well-made.

When you are confronted with even larger cuts, you will need a pruning saw.  These again come in a multitude of styles.  I like the curved type that cut as you pull the saw toward you.  They can be found in “razor-cut” models, which are a joy to use on green wood.

Pole pruners are also available.  These may have some bypass loppers on the end of the pole, along with a pruning saw.  These are great for those high cuts that invariably need to be made, but offer safety by allowing you to stay on the ground instead of climbing a ladder.

It’s always a good idea to keep your tools sharp.  And if you are pruning a plant that you know has been diseased, you should clean your tools periodically with alcohol so that you don’t transmit the disease to other plants.

If you would like more information on pruning trees, we have several guide sheets on how to perform this important task.  Please feel free to call me at 660-663-3232 and ask for them.