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The Coastal Gardener: Summer fruit tree pruning keeps them the right size

August 05, 2011|By Ron Vanderhoff
  • Although I grow this 'Anna' apple as an espalier, I control its size with summer pruning.
Although I grow this 'Anna' apple as an espalier,… (Ron Vanderhoff,…)

This past winter I wrote two columns about the proper pruning of stone fruits and other deciduous fruit trees. This important chore continues to be one of the more misunderstood gardening responsibilities. I still get comments from readers who say they enjoyed the articles. I promised then that I would mention the value of summer pruning at a later time.

In those original columns, written in December, I remarked that the objectives of summer and winter pruning are quite different, although both important.

Before you prune another branch on your peach, nectarine, plum, apricot, apple, persimmon, pluot, almond or other deciduous fruit tree, take a moment to learn about the unique pruning needs of these trees. Correct pruning will lead to healthier trees, strong structure and delicious yields for decades to come.

Most established backyard deciduous fruit trees need pruning twice a year, with a different purpose at each session. Summer pruning can be done while there is still fruit on the tree, but is most often performed immediately following the harvest. The primary purpose of summer pruning is to manage tree size.

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As illogical as it may sound to a beginner, attempting to reduce the size of a deciduous tree with winter pruning is fruitless (pun intended). Winter-pruned trees simply burst out the following spring with a vigor that seems limitless, growing twice as fast as normal. Long, stringy, weak stems bolt to the sky, growing several feet in a few weeks. All that stored energy in the tree has to be released and a 15-foot tree, cut to 10 feet in the winter, becomes a 15-foot tree again very quickly. 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 a common pruning mistake.

Surprisingly, managing the size of a fruit tree is accomplished during the summer. We prune fruit trees in the winter to improve the quality and quantity of the harvest and to create good tree structure. Conversely, the purpose of summer pruning is to manage a tree's size. Also, if trees receive proper summer pruning, far less winter pruning will be necessary.

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