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The Coastal Gardener: Proper pruning helps stonefruit harvest

December 10, 2010|By Ron Vanderhoff
  • The purpose of winter pruning is to improve the quality and quantity of your harvest. With proper winter pruning, your fruit will be larger, more prolific, and with less potential for disease.
The purpose of winter pruning is to improve the quality… (Daily Pilot )

Pruning of stonefruits and other deciduous fruit trees is one of the most misunderstood of all gardening responsibilities.

In almost all cases, fruiting trees are pruned quite differently than ornamental trees. Far too often I see fruit trees pruned wrong, either at the incorrect time of year, two heavily or two lightly, or in a manner that almost guarantees no fruit will be produced.

Stop. Before you prune another branch on your peach, nectarine, plum, apricot, apple, persimmon, pluot, almond or similar tree, take a few minutes to learn how these trees grow and how they actually produce their fruit. A few wrong cuts can nearly eliminate your crop, but an understanding of just a few basic needs of these trees can greatly increase both the quantity and quality of your fruit harvest. Proper pruning will lead to a healthier tree, with solid structure and delicious fruit yields for decades to come.

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Keep in mind, we are talking here about stone fruits and deciduous fruit trees, like those mentioned above, not about citrus, avocadoes and other subtropical fruit trees.

After these stonefruit and deciduous fruit trees have been established for a couple of years, most will need pruning twice a year, with a different purpose at each session. Summer pruning is done immediately following the harvest and its purpose is to manage tree size and tree structure.

As illogical as it may sound to a beginning gardener, pruning a deciduous tree in the winter, with an intention of reducing its size or keeping it compact, is fruitless (pun intended). These winter pruned trees, simply burst out the following spring with a vigor that seems boundless, quickly negating all your winter efforts. Long, stringy, weak stems bolt to the sky, growing several feet in just two or three months, frustrating confused gardeners who, just a couple of months earlier, spent winter afternoons chopping away at the trees.

Even worse, a major winter cut-back of a fruit tree just about guarantees a sparse harvest the following summer. Pointlessly hacking at your fruit trees in winter, in a futile effort to keep them from getting too large won't work; and it's probably the most common pruning mistake.

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