A good fruit tree should not make a good shade tree. However, when pruning is neglected, many apples and pears become better shade producers than fruit producers. Standard-sized trees often outgrow the reach of ladders or pruning hooks. Backyard and commercial growers have come to prefer dwarf or semi-dwarf trees which are not as tall and are easier to prune, spray, and harvest without the use of ladders.
A neglected but otherwise healthy tree will usually show a marked improvement in fruit quality as a result of pruning. Fruit buds begin developing in the growing season previous to the one in which they mature into fruit, and more are initiated than can be fully developed into fruit. Growing conditions during the season of bud initiation and the subsequent winter will affect the number of buds which flower, and certain cultivars are "alternate bearers" that seldom initiate many buds during a year with a heavy fruit crop. In any case, by late winter the buds for the coming summer's crop will be very evident. Buds only appear on two or three year-old twigs or spurs which are no thicker than a pencil.
The primary purpose of pruning is to increase sunlight penetration, remove less productive wood, and shape the crown into an efficient, stable form. If left unpruned, the quantity of fruit produced might be greater, but the quality much lower. Pruning increases fruit size, promotes uniform ripening, increases sugar content, and decreases disease and insect problems by allowing better spray coverage and faster drying following rainfall. It also allows easier access for timely harvesting.
The following points apply to pruning all fruit trees:
|Figure 1. Flesh cuts heal slowly; leave the collar.|
Visualize a tree as seen from above without its leaves. From the trunk branches radiate out like the spokes of a wheel (See Figure 2.) In order to allow sunlight and spray penetration, and to allow access for harvesting, it is necessary to thin out some of these "spokes."
|Figure 2. Space scaffold branches to allow access.|
|Figure 3. Suggested pruning cuts.|
Since our human perspective is a side view, Figure 3 sketches items to consider as one works around the spokes or "scaffold" branches of a tree. They consist of:
Backyard trees are rarely over-pruned, but inexperienced growers often procrastinate on pruning for fear of damaging trees. "Topping" or shearing a fruit tree is about the worst thing that can be done, but even that may result in better fruit for a year or two. Ultimately shearing will produce a dense crown that inhibits access for sunlight, sprays, and harvest, and invites weak structure and breakage. As long as pruning cuts are made to remove, head back, or thin as the examples illustrated and discussed, no nightmares are necessary. Don't use hedge shears. "Just do it."
For further information refer to Bulletin 528 Training and Pruning Fruit Trees, Bulletin 758 Apple Rootstocks and Cultivars, and Bulletin 591 Growing and Using Fruit at Home.
All educational programs conducted by Ohio State University Extension are available to clientele on a nondiscriminatory basis without regard to race, color, creed, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, gender, age, disability or Vietnam-era veteran status.
Keith L. Smith, Associate Vice President for Ag. Adm. and Director, OSU Extension.
TDD No. 800-589-8292 (Ohio only) or 614-292-1868