Think winter, think fruit tree pruning, right? On the traditional Kiwi quarter acre section, with a big old apple tree for the kids to climb and raid, this might have been a reasonable approach. However, these days with much smaller spaces for gardens, summer pruning of fruit trees is the best method to control size and vigour, and keep them to a manageable height for easy picking.
It is much easier to keep a small tree small than to reduce a large tree, so hobby orchardists need to take responsibility for tree size and decide on the ideal height (usually as tall as you can reach) and not let them grow any bigger. Simply willing your fruit trees not to get too big just won’t work – tree telepathy does not exist! Do not be intimidated by pruning. There are lots of methods and techniques and most are valid. The most important thing is to do it.
Summer pruning techniques can be applied to all deciduous fruit trees, including espaliered types. Summer pruning is a good way to remove the upright water shoots which can spoil the appearance of your formal espalier shape.
Why does summer pruning work?
Summer pruning reduces tree size and vigour because when you remove tree branches with leaves, you shut down the energy production, as there are fewer leaves to make energy through photosynthesis. This decreases new growth and the energy available to be stored in the roots, which in turn reduces the available energy for growth in the following season.
There are other benefits of summer pruning. Keeping your fruit trees small means you can fit more of them in your garden. Choose varieties that spread your harvest season over as long a period as possible. It is easy to choose varieties with fruit that ripen from early December until early winter. Small trees are also easier to cover with netting if needed and easier to spray to prevent pests and diseases. Pruning in summer also eliminates the risk of bacterial and fungal infections entering the tree, as can happen with pruning in cold and wet winter conditions. Using Bacseal or Seal & Heal to seal pruning cuts is still highly recommended no matter when you prune. Pruning in summer is also much more likely to get done, as it is so much more enjoyable to do in nice, warm weather, compared to rugging up to do battle with your trees in the depths of winter.
Three easy steps to summer pruning
Years one and two
(The first and second summers after planting)
Step 1: After the spring flush of growth, cut back new growth by half.
Step 2: In late summer, cut half of the subsequent growth back by half.
Year three onwards
Choose the maximum height you want the tree to grow to and do not let it grow any bigger. When there are vigorous shoots above the chosen height, cut them back or remove them altogether.
Other Pruning Tips
- The ‘three D’s’ – remove dead, diseased and damaged branches.
- Prune to an open vase shape for stone fruit and a central leader form for pip fruit trees.
- Don’t be afraid. There is no one right way to prune a tree. No two people would prune a tree in exactly the same way. You learn to prune by pruning!
- Use good quality secateurs and saws and seal all pruning cuts with Bacseal/Seal & Heal.
Kate Marshall, Waimea Nurseries