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On-farm pruning workshops offer hands-on experience

By Michael O. Fine

Rowan Cooperative Extension

February is an important time of year for orchard and nursery owners in that it’s usually during the month  that farmers and homeowners start thinking about pruning their fruit-bearing bushes, trees and vines.

Why prune? Isn’t nature inclined to produce seed-bearing fruits by design? While the answer is yes, the reason for pruning can have a lot more to do with the owner of the plant than the plant itself.

Pruning is done to remove parts of the plant that are no longer useful. When pruning your plants to improve health, remember you are always targeting the three D’s: dead, damaged and diseased.

Other reasons for pruning are functional. One example is encouraging the fruit production only on sections of the plant where harvesting can be ergonomically achieved. Other reasons are purely aesthetic and will enhance or change the look of the plant. Either way, pruning can be a form of art if it is done well and results in a healthier, more attractive specimen.

Other functional reasons to prune include:

  1. Improve the plant’s overall health — Frequently removing older stems encourages a plant to put energy into new growth, thus keeping the plant young.
  2. Control or direct new growth — Each cut will stop the plant’s growth in one direction and redirect it in another, guiding the shape and size of the plant.
  3. Prevent the spread of disease — Removing dead or damaged branches will decrease the chance of disease entering through dead wood and spreading throughout the plant.
  4. Increase the number and quality of fruit, flowers and foliage — Pruning at the right time and in the right places can increase the number of shoots produced by the plant, thus increasing yield.
  5. Compensate for root loss during transplanting — Plants have a balance between top growth and roots and when roots are lost in the process of digging, an appropriate amount of top growth should also be removed.
  6. Improve air circulation and allow light to reach inner and lower leaves — It is important to thin dense growth periodically to improve overall shape and health.
  7. Correct weak or narrow crotches in a tree — If a double leader develops, remove the weaker, less desirable limb to avoid damage to the tree in the future.

Now comes the tough part. How to prune correctly? There are certainly incorrect and damaging ways to prune fruit-bearing plants. I could not type out a simple how to prune checklist in a short article that could lead you to better understanding.

The best way to understand this art comes from hands-on experience in the field. For the folks who would like to learn this skill once and for all, the North Carolina Cooperative Extension is partnering with two local farms to deliver two workshops on pruning during February.

Elium Berry Farm in Salisbury is hosting a blueberry pruning workshop on Friday, Feb. 8, from 2 p.m.-4 p.m. The workshop is absolutely free, but pre-registration is required as space is limited. Call 704-216-8970 to register. Elium Farm is at 2085 Lake Road.

The second workshop will be at High Rock Nursery, 844 JM Penninger Road, Lexington, on Saturday, Feb. 23 at 1 p.m. This workshop is also free and will include how-to demonstrations for muscadines, blueberries and blackberries. Again, we are asking folks to pre-register for this workshop, as well. Go to go.ncsu.edu/2019winterpruningworkshop to register or call 336-242-2091. Deadline is Feb. 18. This is hosted in conjunction with the Davidson County Cooperative Extension. Hope to see you there.

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