Why Pruning Fruit Trees is Essential and Some Tips on How to Do It

Holly Johnson -- Gardeners learning pruning techniques from Farm.

Why Pruning Fruit Trees is Essential and Some Tips on How to Do It

Alameda Backyard Growers (ABG) held their August educational program on site at Farm2Market, the social enterprise farm division of Alameda Point Collaborative (APC). The session, part of the group’s monthly education series, gave three dozen attendees a hands-on learning experience as well as an introduction to Farm2Market’s orchard. The experiential learning empowered gardeners to take care of their own fruit trees as well as consider helping out with the 75 trees in Farm2Market’s orchard.

ABG volunteers and Farm2Market staff shared these top tips at the workshop:
• Pruning trees keeps them healthy. Trees need air circulation and light penetration for better fruiting and stronger branches.
• Pruning trees ensures future bounty. Cutting off dead and damaged branches helps the tree conserve energy that is better used for fruit production. Culling, or thinning excess developing fruit, protects branches, allows fruit to grow larger and avoids the tree canceling next year’s crop.
• Managing the height of a tree and encouraging branches to grow outward, such that the tree shape resembles a vase or upside-down umbrella will enable the gardener to access fruit without a ladder and lets the sun help ripen the fruit.
• Using the appropriate tools for each task will make the job easier. Use bypass shears for small branches and loppers, small saws, or pole pruners for bigger branches. Before starting subsequent trees, disinfect tools to avoid spreading disease.
• Sharpening or replacing blades is important. Wear gloves to protect your hands.
• When planting a bare-root fruit tree, cut the “whip,” or main branch of the tree, down to 18-24 inches from the ground to encourage lower scaffolding branches for easier hand picking.
• Most fruit tree species should be pruned when dormant; however, summer pruning of young trees can help keep the tree at a manageable height. Never remove more than one-third of the branches at once.
• Most citrus can be pruned a little at a time year-round, although grapefruit trees should only be pruned during cold weather.
• Get started by looking for and cutting off the 3 Ds: Dead, Diseased, and Damaged branches. Also look for branches that are touching or crossing each other and cut off the smaller one. Remove branches that are growing straight up or straight down and any suckers or water sprouts growing off the lower trunk of the tree. Remove all cuttings and all dead or diseased leaves from under the tree and place them in the green bin.
• Suckers sprouting up from the roots of the tree should simply be snipped off flush at ground level; never try to dig them out, as that would damage tree roots.

Alameda Backyard Growers is dedicated to teaching our neighbors how to grow food. We offer online and in-person educational programming. Visit www.alamedabackyardgrowers.org to join our mailing list to receive our educational newsletters and information on classes and events, locate the Free Seed Library nearest you, or join Project Pick as a fruit picker or fruit donor.

Contact ABG at info@alamedabackyardgrowers.org. If you would like to volunteer at Farm2Market, please contact them at farmoutreach@apcollaborative.org.

Holly Johnson   Market and Alameda Backyard Growers experts.