Ann Wright: Get ready for fruit tree pruning |

Ann Wright: Get ready for fruit tree pruning

The fall colors are spectacular this time of year, and in addition to compost and mulch, one of the benefits of leaves falling is the opportunity to check out fruit trees without leaves getting in the way. As days grow shorter and temperatures drop, the growth of deciduous fruit and nut trees stops. The dormant state begins as the internal processes (hormones within the tree) react to day length and temperature, where growth is prevented and the tree rests. As the leaves fall away, the overall structure of the trees and branches is more obvious. Pruning dormant fruit and nut trees can be done from the beginning of leaf-fall until buds begin to emerge; in the Sierra foothills, January and February are generally the best times to prune.

When considering pruning, goals should be established to determine the best course for a particular tree. In general, pruning helps train trees to develop strong limb structure, and helps stimulate production in young trees. Goals of pruning may be to reduce the overall height of a tree that’s too tall and to develop trees that are easier to spray, thin and harvest. Pruning mature trees helps improve the quality of fruit and increases production by shaping trees for stronger branches which will hold more fruit.

Pruning is also done to thin branches which better distributes the amount of sunlight to the lower portions of the tree. For some fruit trees the penetration of sunlight is necessary for the development of fruit color, and helps promote good air flow through the branches. Pruning also helps regulate fruit bearing by rejuvenating fruiting branches. Renewal of fruiting wood helps promote strong buds and flowers which helps stimulate fruit production.

Some simple steps to begin the pruning process is to step back and look at the overall shape of the tree. First, prune out dead, diseased or dying branches or shoots. (Remember to discard, not compost diseased wood.) Then, get rid of branches that are crossing one another, or are growing in a downward direction. Water sprouts and suckers are vigorous shoots that arise from limbs, trunk or roots of the tree but are not fruit bearing. These can be pruned any time.

Pruning dormant fruit and nut trees can be done from the beginning of leaf-fall until buds begin to emerge; in the Sierra foothills, January and February are generally the best times to prune.

Tools for pruning cuts include sharp loppers or pruning shears. It’s important to ensure that tools are sharp. Bypass pruning loppers are generally easier to use and better for cutting because they cut more cleanly, causing less bark damage than smaller anvil-type pruners. Dull blades may cause rough cuts that damage the tree leaving it susceptible to damage by insects or disease. For branches too large to be cut with hand pruners or loppers, a sharp pruning saw is the best tool for the task.

Fruit tree pruning can be complicated and a bit daunting. To learn more about this task to manage home orchards, join the Master Gardeners of Nevada County for the second session of, “The Art and Science of Pruning Fruit Trees” a free virtual workshop — live today at 9 a.m. The workshop will be recorded and will be uploaded to our website.

In this second session of the fruit tree pruning workshops, the information covered in session one (Nov. 7) will be expanded to focus on several critical topics that people raising fruit trees often encounter. In this session, a brief review of basic pruning techniques will be offered then, several common fruit-tree challenges will be discussed including:

What to do with brand-new trees

Pruning young trees

How to prune overgrown trees

The role of pruning in treating infested and diseased trees.

Both parts 1 and 2 of this popular workshop will be available on our website ( for viewing with links to other resources. This will be the final workshop of this season. Look for more workshops coming in 2021, offered virtually until we are given the go-ahead to offer in-person workshops. Until then, join us live every Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon for “Master Gardeners and Friends” on KNCO radio, 830 on the AM dial. It is a call-in or text-message show – a good opportunity to speak with Master Gardeners in person!

Ann Wright is a Nevada County Master Gardener.

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