NDSU Extension - Griggs County


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March 19

The Extension Connection Column by Jeff Stachler

Pruning Fruit Trees


It looks like warmer weather is coming and Spring starts next week!  This is exciting!

Starting on March 22, 2021 an in person virtual horticulture meeting series will take place at the County Courthouse and continue on March 29, April 5, and 12, 2021 from 6:30 to 8:30 PM.  Please preregister by calling the extension office at 701-797-3312 or e-mailing jeff.stachler@ndsu.edu. 

It is that time of the year again to begin pruning fruit trees.  Pruning trees at this time of the year is easiest because dead and diseased branches can be seen more readily without the presence of leaves and to reduce the spread of disease.  Pruning now is used for shaping the tree, removing dead and diseased branches, and removing other undesirable branches.  Pruning can be accomplished at any time of the year however.  Pruning during the growing season should be focused on removing diseased branches with the exception of fire blight.  It is best to remove branches having fire blight during the dormant season while the bacteria is dormant. 


Start by preparing your tools.  Obtain a sharp sturdy hand pruner, lopping shear, and pruning saw.  Clean cuts will reduce stress and diseases.


Know the fruit species and the size (spur, dwarf, semi-dwarf, standard) of the tree before beginning to prune.  Peaches and nectarines produce fruit on last year’s growth so only remove 50% of new growth from these trees.  Apples, pears, and plums produce fruit on old fruit spurs so most new growth can be removed.  The smaller the tree the less pruning needs to be done.  For semi-dwarf and standard peach, cherry, and nectarine trees establish an open center or vase-shaped design.  Apple and pear trees can also be pruned this way, but the central leader method is usually used.  The open center design removes the leader keeping out large branches in the center and allows four to six scaffold (main branch) branches.  The center leader design, usually used for pears and apples, involves keeping trees shaped somewhat like a Christmas tree with lateral branches arranged in separate layers or “tiers”, separated by open areas of canopy and branches in lower tiers wider than the upper ones.


Before making a cut visualize the results of the action as the branch can’t be put back onto the tree.  Suggested pruning cuts include suckers at the base of the tree, diseased branches, especially those infested with fire blight, broken branches, rubbing or cris-crossed branches (branches that rub each other will have a thinner bark and allow disease to enter the branches more easily), downward-growing branches, straight up branches, shaded interior branches, narrow crotches (those branches having less than a 45° angle), competing leaders, and whorls (multiple branches near a single node).  Make all cuts at a slight angle to allow water to run off the cut surface.


New growth occurs right where a cut is made.  The more buds removed the more vigorous the new shoots.  Sun exposed wood remains fruitful and produces the largest fruit.  Shaded branches eventually stop fruiting and will never produce again without drastic topping and renewal of the entire tree.  Do most of the pruning in the top of the tree so that the lower branches are exposed to sunlight.


In addition to the pruning instructions above it may be wise to view some videos to get a visual image of pruning.  One such video is from the University of Alabama Extension:  https://search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?p=how+to+prune+fruit+trees+.ext&ei=UTF-8&hspart=mozilla&hsimp=yhs-004

Viewing additional videos may be helpful, but view those videos produced by Extension.


Remove ALL cut branches from the tree and the ground and burn them to prevent the spread of diseases.  Burn them as far from the fruit trees as possible.

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