People get themselves into a bit of a muck-mess when it comes to pruning trees – and any fruit for that matter! But in fact it’s quite simple and once you have the basic idea about what you are doing, it becomes second nature.
Always try to assess the tree, look for branches that make up the main skeleton of the tree, and leave these alone. However, pruning isn’t the same as lopping, and if your tree is too large, then the best advice you can get is to employ a tree surgeon to do the job.
The cost of a branch crashing through your greenhouse, or worse, is rather more than the cost of a day’s work. Never attempt to lop a large tree, wood is really heavy, and you simply will not have the correct equipment for the job.
That said, it is also hard work, and a few days (or longer) flat on your back on painkillers just isn’t worth it.
If you care cutting a branch that is more than an inch thick, use a saw. Always start underneath cutting upwards upwards. This stops the wood peeling off when the branch falls, which will be a site of infection. Usually branches are quite heavy, and when you get to the last few cuts it is prone to break uncleanly, or at best, peel back the bark on the stump. Cut as close to the main branch as possible.
You can finish off these larger cuts with wound paint, which acts as a plaster, keeping infections out.
All pruning should take place in the dormant season, when there are no leaves on the tree, and before the Spring, when the sap in the tree is rising and any cutting will cause the tree to ‘bleed’.
First of all you are protecting the plant from itself. When branches cross over and touch, they rub and bang in the wind, and this causes damage. Since fruit tree wood is particularly susceptible, we need to cut out the possibility of this happening, otherwise you’ll get fungal infections where the damage occurs.
Cut out any branches that overlap or touch in such a way to make sure the plant that remains looks like a goblet, or wine glass. This is the best shape for allowing the wind through the branches, cutting down humidity, and therefore lessening the chance of disease.
The second thing to do is to cut out any small branches that are facing inwards, ones that will, in later months and years, crown the inside of the tree and disrupt the constant flow of air through it. Or will touch other branches were they allowed to grow.
This is the major part of pruning a tree. If you wish, you can now take off some of the height of the tree too, should you feel it necessary, but remember, taking out the terminal buds will cause more branching, which will probably need to be prunes out at a later date.
On fruit trees it is a good idea to reduce the number of fruiting buds, on each branch, so the plant isn’t overwhelmed next Spring. You can tell the fruiting spurs, they form a little mass altogether. Just cut out a few per branch, and this encourages better fruit next year.
Paul Peacock studied botany at Leeds University, has been the editor of Home Farmer magazine, and now hosts the City Cottage online magazine. An experienced gardener himself, his expertise lies in the world of the edible garden. If it clucks, quacks or buzzes, Paul is keenly interested.
He is perhaps best known as Mr Digwell, the cartoon gardener featured in The Daily Mirror since the 1950s. As Mr Digwell he has just published his book, A Year in The Garden. You can also see more about him on our Mr Digwell information page.