Summer Fruit Tree Pruning
Dormant season is indeed ‘pruning season’ but summer pruning can help improve a tree’s overall health and vigour.
Peach, nectarine, Japanese plum, pear and apple trees are good candidates for summer pruning. Doing so will allow the tree to strengthen existing limbs and develop a more sturdy form. You’ll also be creating better air flow and light exposure, both of which reduce the risk of fungal diseases and more sun exposure which can help your fruit develop better flavour and overall quality. Remember that pruning now is to help set up next year’s fruits… leave the big cuts for November through February!
What do you prune?
- Dead/damaged stems, cross branches and limbs growing toward the centre of the tree: Cut them off cleanly. Leave a smooth transition to the main branch.
- Rubbing branches: Select the stronger of the two or the one that will give you the best overall structure, and remove the other.
- Watersprouts and suckers: These are thin stems that grow straight up. Cut them off completely, smooth to the branch as above. See below for more detail on suckers.
- Take a look at the big picture and select a few new branches that would be beneficial in the future. Cut them back to just above the second knuckle (bud protrusion). Next year you may have a nice little cluster of flowers and fruits there! Also, do not prune away shoots that are less than 8″ long as they usually terminate in fruit buds.
- Fruit trees should be done in the summer when the bottom third of the tree’s new shoots are stiff and woody, usually July-early August. Don’t leave it too late… it’s simply wasted growth if you leave it too long.
We’ve all seen them… beautiful, stately trees encircled by a ring of energy sucking shoots at their base. Suckers develop on many trees, particularly grafted ones, woody climbers and the like, but they are a nuisance because they draw nutrients from their parent and zap its energy. Some shallow rooted plants in poor soil conditions are sometimes prone to suckering, as are trees that have suffered root damage or have experienced stress. If left uncontrolled they can spread and cover a large area, or significantly weaken the parent tree.
To remove them:
- Grasp it, twist and yank hard, pulling up and away from the base. If this doesn’t work, bring on the pruners.
- If suckers are forming from the roots, dig down and inspect where they’re coming from. Should they be developing from a single section, carefully remove that section of root system, then cover it back up.
- If stems are forming on the trunks of trees, these are weak branches forming as a result of an over ambitious pruning job. Remove them, smooth to the trunk, with a clean, sharp pair of pruners.
- Try to remove suckers as quickly as you see them develop.
To prevent suckers from developing:
- Follow a regular pruning regimen so that you don’t end up over pruning
- Maintain plant health so that the plant doesn’t become overly stressed.
- Apply about 2-3″ of fine bark mulch over the soil around shallow rooted shrubs
- Root suckers can be minimized by applying ground cloth around the trunk of the tree
Saving your sucker? If planted quickly (don’t let it dry out) and aided by liquid transplanter your sucker will likely grow quite easily. Be cautious though… if you’re taking it from a grafted tree, the sucker will be offspring of the parent rootstock, not the grafted tree.
- Remember to clean your pruning tools with a 10% bleach solution before and after!
- Try not to prune before a rainfall as the moisture may present some disease issues.
None of these activities take a very long time to perform, so go ahead… sharpen your shears and get trimming. Your fruit trees will thank you!