Fruit trees are a source of beauty, enjoyment and nourishment in the home landscape. Their spring blooms and fall leaves brighten the yard. Their lush green canopies provide shady places to picnic and play. And, the bounty of their fruit can be enjoyed fresh or in homemade dishes or preserves.
To give us their beauty, shady spaces and fruit, backyard fruit trees need care. They must be pruned properly, and now is a good time to do it.
Before you get started, know what types of trees you have, and get the right tools for the job. Knowing which tree you have will help you select your pruning technique.
Apple and pear trees fruit on short spurs that grow on wood two years and older. Plums are similar. When pruning these trees, develop a strong framework that will bear fruit and support its weight. Once that framework is established, pruning will be minimal.
Plums, apricots and cherries bloom on 1-year-old and older wood. These trees require little pruning once their structure is established.
Peaches and nectarines fruit on new wood grown last year. For these trees, try to remove inward‐ growing branches and keep the strongest of the outward‐growing fruiting branches.
When pruning any tree, use the correct tools for the job. Using loppers to cut larger branches than the tool is rated for can damage the tree, leaving it vulnerable to disease and pest insects.
With trees identified and the right tools in hand, choose a pruning form. Common ones are Espalier, open-center, central-leader and modified central-leader. The best styles for you depend on the types of trees you have and the amount of space they have to grow.
Espalier is a beautiful and space-saving pruning form. Espalier trees, usually apples or pears, are trained to grow flat against fences or walls.
For stone fruits like apricot, nectarine, peach and plum, open-center pruning is typical. Sometimes this form is used for cherry, apples and pears too. Open-center pruning helps trees give you fruit where you can reach it by creating well-balanced and strong lateral scaffold branches.
Central-leader training features a single dominant, upright trunk. The trunk is called the leader. This form is common for apples and pears.
Modified central-leader is used commercially, but can be used at home too. Trees are grown with the central‐leader form to a preselected height. The central leader is then removed. With the central leader gone, the tree develops more of an open‐center look.
If possible, start training and pruning fruit trees young. It is easier to train a young tree than restore an older one. Once trees are mature, prune no more than 15 to 20 percent of their live wood. If you notice vigorous upright water sprouts after pruning, too much was removed.