How to Properly Trim Your Fruit Trees
Trimming your fruit trees is easy, and if you do it correctly, it will result in healthier trees and increased fruit production. Trimming young fruit trees correctly encourages the growth of healthier, stronger branches. Though as saplings that doesn't matter, it will be important when the tree is mature and bearing fruit, or to hold up under high winds or an odd snowstorm. Trimming mature trees incorrectly could reduce fruit production, so it is important to get it right.
The point of trimming trees is to encourage fruit production, healthy growth and long life. There are a few goals tree trimming should work toward. First, you want the canopy of the tree to be open. If the canopy of leaves is too dense, sunlight can't penetrate the lower branches and buds won't set properly, and air movement is minimized, which leads to disease and pest issues. An open canopy means a healthier, more attractive and more prosperous tree. Second, it's important to make sure your trees are growing in a way that will allow them to bear heavy loads of fruit. For that to be happen, the branches shouldn't be angled severely upward. Prune back or train back branches that have crotch angles of less than 60 degrees (meaning the angle between the branch and the trunk should be 60 degrees or more).
Basic Trimming Techniques for Newly Planted Trees
Trimming newly planted trees needs to be done in the late winter when the young tree is dormant and the sap is not running. After pruning young trees, it is important to treat the cuts with a wound-cutting paste to prevent disease.
When you first plant your fruit trees, you will have a choice of planting un-branched whips or larger trees with branches. When planting a whip, you need to cut it back to two feet or so to encourage the young tree to branch out. When you plant small trees, you need to trim back all but a few well-placed branches to ensure the remaining branches receive the nutrients they need to grow strong.
Basic Trimming Techniques for Mature Fruit Trees
You can “tip” the ends of the branches of your mature trees in the summer and trim off suckers to encourage branching. Suckers are the growth around the base of the tree that grows up and looks like the start of a new tree. They need to stay trimmed, because otherwise the tree will allocate its growing "resources" for growing the suckers, rather than for foliage and fruit production. Trimming the suckers back in the summer is best, since they tend not to grow back if cut off in the summer.
Whorls are the ends of branches where there are multiple little branches starting. You must carefully trim away all but one of these little branches to keep the tree productive. Untrimmed whorls will result in smaller fruit and could cause the mature fruit to bounce against each other and the tree branches to sag or break.
Other branches to trim:
1. Downward-growing branches. Downward growing branches do not produce much fruit and will steal nutrients from the rest of the tree if left untrimmed. Trim in the winter.
2. Broken branches. Trim in the winter.
3. Rubbing or crisscross branches. This takes some care, or you will end up with a big hole in the middle of your tree. You may need to trim away interior branches that interfere with the light and air that a tree needs to grow the fruit.
4. Narrow crotches can be trimmed to keep clutter out of the fruit tree. However, look closely at the tree before you trim and make sure you are not disturbing the main branches before you cut.
5. Diseased branches. Cut these off anytime you notice them, so the disease doesn't spread.
The Trimmed Tree
Following these simple suggestions and doing the work carefully will help your fruit trees produce bountiful fruit for many years. A thoughtful trimming routine is the best investment you can make in keeping your trees healthy.