Danelle Cutting: You must prune, but you must do it right

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 30, 2015

Most people believe my job slows down in the winter and that I actually get a break.

Contrary to that belief, winter can actually be an omen of what is to come in spring. This is particularly true when we start receiving plant catalogs, requests to attend grower conferences and teach programs, and calls to assist with pruning.

Pruning is essential for having fruit trees and shrubs. It is not as important in other landscape plants unless the homeowner wants to increase their blooms or remove diseased limbs.

I receive calls a year in advance to come out and help train individuals to properly prune their fruit trees and shrubs. The reason is that pruning can be scary for beginners, for fear they may wound or kill their plants. The problem is that if you want good quality fruit, you have to prune. Hopefully with this article, you can learn some simple guidelines that will aid you in pruning your fruit trees.

Pruning is easiest on dead, diseased and damaged plants. This can be done anytime of the year. If you had a peach tree limb break due to the heavy weight of the peaches, you can prune it out. Has the limb been dead for a few years? Go ahead and get rid of it. Does the limb look discolored due to disease? Remove it, and get rid of the diseased branch.

Simple right? Remember not to remove more than a third of the plant/tree at a time. If older growth needs to be removed, look for new growth to take its place.

The best time to do major pruning is around February to early March. Pruning fruit trees in December is not recommended. It is too early and could cause some problems. There is also summer pruning, but this article will focus on dormant pruning. It is best to prune when plants are young, in order to begin training them.

I receive many calls about pruning older trees. I often discover that the trees are very old and have never been pruned. This makes it difficult to prune effectively and get a decent harvest. The trees are almost dead, the limbs are curled and mangled, and disease has taken over. It is almost better to start over with a new trees/shrubs. Of course, no one likes to hear this; that’s why it is so important to start early.

There are different pruning techniques for different trees. For example, peaches are pruned to an open center, apples are pruned to have a center leader, and pears are pruned to have a center leader or a multi-leader system.

Over the next few articles, I will discuss how to prune peaches, apples, blueberries and blackberries. If you would like information before my articles are posted, contact me at 704-216-8970, or visit some of our pruning publications:

Training and pruning fruit trees: http://content.ces.ncsu.edu/training-and-pruning-fruit-trees-in-north-carolina.pdf

Growing and pruning blueberries: http://content.ces.ncsu.edu/growing-blueberries-in-the-home-garden.pdf


Pruning and training blackberries: http://content.ces.ncsu.edu/pruning-and-training-thornless-blackberries/


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