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Winter Pruning for a Bountiful Harvest

Cat pruning tree

How 'NOT' to prune your trees.

Whether you have a home orchard or just a couple fruit trees in the backyard, winter is the perfect time to prune those deciduous trees. Here are some reasons that make winter pruning a good choice:

Diseases and the insect vectors that spread them are dormant or at least less active during winter. When you prune a tree or shrub, you are injuring it. This injury is the perfect place for insects or diseases to enter the tree. Always use clean pruning tools (sanitize with 1 part bleach/10 parts water) and try to only prune in the dormant months.

Dormant pruning invigorates the tree. By selectively removing branches and buds that will never have good structural integrity, you allow the tree to put its growth efforts into healthy branches that do have the good framework you desire.

You can see the tree’s structure more clearly when the foliage is gone. Thin the interior to allow for better air flow and more light penetration. This reduces disease issues and allows the tree to put its resources toward more productive regions.

It’s just better for the overall health and vitality of the tree. In fall, most of the tree’s carbohydrates return to the root zone. When you remove branches while the tree is dormant, you don’t deplete as many of the tree’s resources. When spring finally arrives, the tree can put forth more energy to where you want it. Just like a puppy, you have to train your tree properly at a young age to have it reach its utmost potential.

With those benefits in mind, you might be interested in some simple “Dos and Don’ts” of pruning:

Semi-dwarf apple tree

Semi-dwarf apple tree

DO:Remove dead, crossing or rubbing branches. Be selective! Thin the interior first then worry about the shape. Remove “suckers” or water sprouts, which are the branches shooting straight up. They often grow many feet in just one season. A neglected tree may have suckers so large that they compete with the main leader. These problem branches are not only structurally unsound, but they also rob the tree of resources. These branches will not produce good fruit and should be eliminated. If you are not sure whether to remove a branch or not, wait! Come back to it later or even next season. Remember, do not remove more than one third of the tree’s live branches. Dead branches are not a concern and should all be taken.

Standard apple tree with no single leader

Standard apple tree

DO NOT: Leave stubs. Also, no “tree topping” or “hat racking” your tree. This indiscriminate, uneducated way of pruning is a practice that was promoted years ago and leads to all kinds of problems. When you leave a stub or top your tree, it cannot heal properly. I won’t bore you to death with the science behind it, but if you want to, search “tree, CODIT” to learn the science behind proper pruning practices. Also, do not “flush” cut a branch. Take special care to find the branch “collar” and do not cut into it! You have to look carefully and pay close attention. The tree will show you just where to cut if you are armed with a little knowledge and intuition.

To help you with your pruning, check out our Facebook page to get a special offer for a free multi-tool with your purchase of $50 or more.

Have you had any pruning mishaps? What happened?

Natural abilities are like natural plants; they need pruning by study.“-Francis Bacon

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