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While pruning trees and shrubs can be somewhat intimidating for many gardeners, with fundamental knowledge and practice, it can become both gratifying for the gardener and beneficial to the plant. The general purpose of pruning fruit trees and berry plants is to regulate growth, increase yields, improve fruit size and quality, and maintain plant health and vigor.
Most pruning is done during the dormant season, preferably just before active growth begins in the spring. At this time, pruning wounds heal quickly, flower buds can be easily recognized, and injury from low winter temperature is avoided.
When pruning, remember the “three Ds”. Remove anything that is dead, damaged or diseased. Prune out branches that cross over and rub the bark of one another. This can be a likely spot for disease to gain access. Prune to allow airflow and sunlight to reach deep inside the canopy. Focus on the development of strong support branches which will be able to bare the weight of heavy fruit loads. Consider training tree branches to more of a horizontal position. This will strengthen them and encourage them to be more fruitful.
It is important to remember that pruning alters the balance between the tree top and root system. Thus, you will need to adjust your fertilization program when you prune. Severe pruning and/or excess fertilization can increase the vigor of the tree and decrease fruiting. Excessive vegetative growth tends to bear less fruit. Regular pruning will diminish the need for severe pruning. Established plantings generally require little added fertilization, and a soil test will help ensure excess applications are avoided.
Looking for a first-hand demonstration of fruit pruning techniques? Extension is offering a series of demonstrations around the state throughout March and April. This flyer provides dates, locations, and registration details.