Pruning Fruit Trees and Bushes
Pruning is something that frightens many beginners, however it helps to understand a few simple principles.
In the first few years of the life of a tree or bush, the aim is to create the desired shape: to encourage the tiers, or horizontal branches of an espalier, for example, or produce the open-centre ‘goblet’ form of a bush tree.
After the framework of the main branches has been established, often about the fourth year after planting, the aim is to keep a balance between new growth and fruit production.
These aims arc achieved in different ways and at different times of the year, according to the type and form of the fruit tree or bush. The calendar below will act as a reminder of when to prune, while detailed pruning instructions are given for each fruit detailed on this site.
Hard pruning usually results in strong growth. A shoot that is cut back severely will quickly produce vigorous leaf-bearing shoots which become non-fruiting stems.
This is the aim in the early stages, when building up the formative framework of the tree, but it is a disadvantage when the aim is to produce fruit buds. To achieve this, prune lightly or not at all.
If a tree has been neglected, spread the pruning over three years so that the shock of heavy pruning is lessened.
First take out diseased wood and branches that cross or rub against each other. In the case of a bush tree, the final stage is to remove branches in the centre.
Carry out this pruning at a time to suit the particular type of fruit.
Tools for pruning and lopping
A sharp pruning knife can be used surely and cleanly by a nurseryman or an experienced gardener.
In the hands of a beginner, however, it may cause more harm than good by tearing the bark or making jagged cuts which can let in disease.
An inexperienced pruner should use secateurs. There are two types:
Parrot-bill, which have curving blades and a scissors-like action. Modern pruners are a variant of this design.
Anvil secateurs, which have a thick edge, or anvil, against which a single blade does the cutting.
The two types are equally effective and choice is entirely a matter of preference by the gardener. Both can be used to prune stems up to in. (12 mm) in diameter. Do not try to cut stems thicker than this or the blade and joint may suffer permanent damage.
For stems up to about 1in (40 mm) in diameter use either a pruning saw or a heavy-duty lopper, which has sturdy, secateur like blades and long handles to give extra leverage. For branches over 11in, use only a pruning saw.
Get cutting blades sharpened every year or two, according to how much they are used. This is a job best done by a professional grinder or the cutting edge may be damaged.
Oil tools carefully after use before putting them away.
How to prune
When pruning for new growth, cut just above a healthy growth bud, pointing in the direction the new shoot is to grow.
Start the cut opposite to, and level with, the base of the bud and slant it upwards to finish just over the bud. Cut cleanly, using a steady pressure, so that the blade does the work. Do not twist the secateurs, otherwise the cut may have a ragged edge.
When pruning to remove an unwanted shoot, make the cut flush with the bark of the major branch from which it was growing, leaving no stub.
Lopping When removing a large branch, first cut it about 9 in (230 mm) from the trunk. Saw from the bottom until a quarter of the way through, then complete the cut from the top. Finally, remove the 9 in stub close to the bark of the trunk.
This method reduces the risk of the wood and the bark splitting.
Always paint large wounds with a sealing compound to prevent the entry of disease spores.
Notching It is sometimes necessary to stimulate the growth of dormant buds after pruning. For instance, this may be helpful when training espaliers, in order to stimulate the two buds that will develop into the next tier. This is less likely to be needed with vigorous varieties.
This encouragement to growth is given by notching the bark just above the bud. Use a sharp knife for the purpose.
MONTH-BY-MONTH PRUNING REMINDERS
Timing is a vital factor in pruning fruit trees and bushes. Follow this guide, because correct pruning is essential to keep a balance between fruit production and the growth of new wood. Some trees may also be put at risk of infection by being pruned at the wrong time of year.
Prune apples and pears (bush and half-standard); also gooseberries and red and white currants, if not completed earlier. Cut back newly planted blackberry, loganberry and raspberry canes.
Start the programme of rubbing out and pinching back apricots, peaches and nectarines after growth begins late in the month. Prune apples and pears (bush and half-standard), if not completed earlier; also cut back autumn-fruiting raspberries to within a few inches of the ground.
Cut back newly planted autumn-fruiting raspberry canes. Prune gooseberries, and red and white currants, if not done in winter, and bush plums.
Prune pyramid plums during the formative period, for four or five years after planting. Pinch back unwanted growth buds on peaches.
De-shoot wall-trained peaches and nectarines. Shorten leaders of mature apple and pear trees grown as cordons, dwarf pyramids or espaliers.
Prune gooseberries and bush and cordon white currants at the end of the month. Remove shoots growing towards or away from a wall from fan-trained cherries and plums. Pinch out young growth of figs.
Summer-prune cordon, espalier and dwarf pyramid apple and pear trees, and pyramid plums, at the end of the month if new growth is mature. Cut out raspberry canes that have fruited.
Cut out raspberry canes after fruiting. Prune trained forms of apples and pears, if not done in July, and acid cherries, damsons and plums after fruiting. Cut out the shoots of peaches and nectarines that have fruited.
Prune black currants, damsons, plums, and wall-trained peaches and nectarines after fruiting. Cut down blackberry and loganberry canes that have fruited. Cut back shoots of sweet cherries that were pinched back in June.
Prune, if not already done, black, red and white currants, black- berries, gooseberries and logan- berries. If there is a likelihood of bullfinch attacks, delay pruning of red and white currants and gooseberries until March.
Prune established bush and half- standard apple and pear trees.
After planting, cut back red and white currant and gooseberry bushes, and apple and pear trees. Prune dwarf pyramid, cordon and espalier apple and pear trees for three or four years after planting.
Complete any pruning advised for November. Do not, however, prune during hard frosts.