The objective of fruit tree pruning is to get the right quantity of fruit—including the right size—with good taste. You don’t want a lot of fruit that’s too small or too little fruit that’s really big, but doesn’t taste good. To achieve this, not only are proper pruning techniques important, but also pruning at the right time of the year.
Like other deciduous and branching trees, especially those that come out of the nursery, fruit trees should be on a training program when they’re young and a yearly maintenance program as their life continues. Pruning—which is an essential part of this—should be performed regularly; on a yearly basis and at the correct time of year. Annual pruning will enable fewer cuts to be made, which is less shock for the tree, as opposed to making too many cuts at once on a tree that’s been neglected for too many years. Doing so is the equivalent of having to recover from too many surgeries at once.
If a fruit tree has been neglected for too long, it could very well be choking on its own conflicting growth. Therefore, removing this excess, unwanted growth by thinning is one of the procedures for pruning. All dead, diseased, or broken branches should be removed. Branches that rub, cross, or interfere with each other should be removed, as well as branches that grow too close together at a narrow angle to compete with each other.
All of this is the basic structural pruning of the tree. Furthermore, limbs that grow downward can be removed, and limbs that grow too horizontally toward the sides of the tree can be cut back to lateral limbs that grow off of them. Vertical limbs that grow straight up can be removed, because these limbs do not support fruit. The same applies to limbs that grow down lower at 45 and 60-degree angles. Removal of these vertical limbs also allows for the passage of sunlight, which facilitates fruit production on these lower limbs. However, the tree should not be pruned so excessively that it can be sunburned. No more than 25 to 30% of wood—other than dead wood—should be removed.
Other unwanted growths that can be removed include suckers and water sprouts. Such growths, as well as dead wood, are the only cutting that should be done in the summer. Like deciduous trees, the pruning of fruit trees should be done when they’re dormant in late fall, winter, or early spring. However, you may have to watch making cuts in freezing temperatures like in Montana in the winter.
Finally, attention needs to be given to the kind of fruit tree. Other than the wood discussed above, there is fruiting wood. Peaches and nectarines fruit on last year’s wood that is one year old. Apple, pears, cherries, and apricots fruit on wood that is 2 years old, and sometimes older, depending on the species. Thus, you have to leave some of the current year’s new fruiting wood so it becomes this older wood that produces fruit. We can identify this fruiting wood for you so it can be pruned with proper proximity and balance to optimize the quality of your fruit production.