Pruning is more of an art than a science. It is an act of cooperation or compromise between what you want the tree to do and what it wants to do. There is no "rule" of pruning other than the overall rule: approach each tree individually, and prune it in a way that enhances the natural form it wants to take. The most artful form of pruning may be none at all. Masanobu Fukuoka, the Japanese farmer who describes in his book, The One-Straw Revolution, his own orchard management techniques eschew all pruning in his citrus orchard which grows helter-skelter among other food and forest trees. According to Fukuoka, pruning is only necessary when man starts tampering with the tree.
Trees that are grafted onto other, different rootstocks, especially dwarfing rootstocks, will invariably need pruning. Most growers prune in late winter or early spring before buds begin to swell. Some additional light pruning may be done in summer. Normally, you want to prune when the tree is dormant, toward the end of winter in the North, earlier in the South.
10.1 General Pruning Guidelines
Cut as close as you can so as not to leave a stub, which can die and rot back into the trunk, providing a handy entrance for disease. On larger limbs, use a pruning saw to make flush cuts.
If you cut a branch partway back (called heading back), the buds behind the cut will grow more than they would have otherwise, develop more branchlets and spurs, and therefore thicken the growth. This will also stiffen the branch. Heading back can easily be overdone. If in doubt, don't!
Where two branches of about equal length form a Y, the branch cut back the least will grow the most, thus avoiding a weak Y-crotch.
In heading back a branch, always make a cut just above an outward-pointing bud, preferably on the lower side of the branch. This encourages low-spreading growth.
When heading back a central leader, cut back to bud so that there is no dead stub left when the bud grows out as a new leader.
Don't be in a hurry to cut lower branches from a tree unless you live in an area where snow drifts get heavy enough to weight and break them down. Cutting vigorous lower branches off too soon slows the growth of the tree.
Pruning tends to delay fruiting with the exception of skillful heading back of dwarf trees to induce fruit budding on spurs close to the trunk.
You only begin to understand pruning after you have lived with a few trees from planting to their heavy-fruiting years. In the meantime, the old-timers maxim, "Keep a tree just open enough so a robin can fly through without touching its wings," is about as good advice as any.
Home > Lesson 50 - The Pluses In Orcharding: How To Get Started
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