The Coastal Gardener: Time for winter pruning of fruit trees

December 17, 2010|By Ron Vanderhoff
  • This apple tree spur will produce fruit for several years. Stonefruits and deciduous fruit trees need specialized pruning, which will improve the health of the tree as well as the quantity and quality of the harvest.
This apple tree spur will produce fruit for several years.… (Daily Pilot )

Last week I tackled one of the most misunderstood home gardening chores: the pruning of stonefruits and other deciduous fruit trees. In that column I explained the purpose of winter pruning is to achieve quality fruit and a higher yield, not to control tree size, which is often attempted. Summer is when these trees should be pruned to restrict size. Cutting back these trees heavily in winter will not reduce the tree size; it only serves to eliminate most fruit production, while forever making a mess of the tree's branching and structure.

As promised, this week I'll quickly explain the 1-2-3s of winter stonefruit and deciduous fruit tree pruning. I don't have space to go into too much depth, but I can at least provide a primer.

The first step for is to completely remove, leaving no stubs, all branches that are crossing through the center of the tree, from one side to the other. Next, completely remove any dead, broken, damaged or diseased branches. These first two steps are universal for any common stonefruit tree.


Now let's get specific. We'll start with peaches and nectarines, which are botanically almost identical. These trees produce their fruit directly on the stems that the tree produced last year. Because peaches and nectarines are aggressive growers, they always need a lot of pruning.

Start by completely eliminating about half or more of last year's growth. Again, cut these stems where they originate, leaving no stubs. When choosing the stems to prune away, your objective is to space the remaining stems through the tree as evenly as possible, so that light and air can penetrate, ripen the fruit and avoid branches that might otherwise break under their fruit load.

In my experience, a healthy tree, peach or nectarine, after pruning, will have its remaining one-year-old stems spaced about every 8 inches. Remember, these are the only parts of the tree that will produce fruit.

Once this is complete, the final job will be to work through all the remaining one-year-old stems and cut them back one-third of their length. This is done because peaches and nectarines produce their fruit on the center third of this growth.

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