You might think Nature would guide the growth of your trees, but they need help from you in the form of pruning to remain healthy and fruitful. Pruning removes parts of the tree that are in the way of the tree’s best growth, and can encourage it to put energy into new, more beneficial growth.
When should you prune?
Keep in mind these three key points in the tree’s life cycle:
- Infancy – Pruning after you’ve planted a new tree helps make up for the loss of roots during the transition to it’s new home. Trim the main shoot (what will become the trunk) to about half of it’s length. This may feel drastic, but it will help your new tree get established and grow well into future years. You’ll also want to trim the side branches, or “feathers,” and remove any that are too low to the ground. When you’re done, paint the tree with white latex paint to protect it from sunburn and tree-boring pests.
- Sleeping – The best time to prune trees after they’re established is when they’re dormant (the leaves are off). It’s also the best time for you, as you can better see what you’re doing and what branches are best to remove. Typically, late fall or early winter is best for pruning. But if you have walnut trees, prune them in early fall or late winter, to help the cuts heal more quickly.
- Ailing – Any time you see evidence of what we call the three D’s – dead, damaged or diseased – you’ll want to remove them to lessen the chance that the disease or rot can spread. You’ll also want to remove “suckers,” or sprouts from the lower trunk, “watersprouts,” or very straight sprouts from some of the main branches and any downward-growing branches.
You may choose to have an arborist do the work with more established trees, which is a safe choice if you’re worried about pruning properly or dealing with sharp tools and falling branches. If you decide to prune yourself, below are some general guidelines.
Tips on Pruning
Start with the Proper Tools
You’ll want to have a pruner for pencil-thick stems, loppers for larger stems and branches, and a pruning saw for anything thicker. Keep your tools sharp, and to help prevent spreading of disease, rinse the blades in isopropyl alcohol to disinfect them.
Just like a steering wheel, think 10:00 and 2:00 –
Like the hands on a clock pointing to 10:00 and 2:00 (think 10:10 or 2:50), you want your pruning angles to make a similar “V” shape and width. Narrower pruning crotches are an open invitation to disastrous splitting later on, and especially when your tree is ripening a bumper crop.
Pruning to a bud –
Make sharp, clean cuts close enough that you won’t leave a clumsy stub that’s hard to heal over. Stay far enough above the bud so that it won’t die back. Slant the cuts as shown and new growth will reward you.
Prune in the direction you want limbs to grow –
Every branch has buds pointed in various directions. Since you want vigorous new growth to spread away from the center of the tree, make your cut above buds that are aimed outward. This helps your tree grow in a spreading shape.
Cutting back to a shoot –
To remove overly long stems or those that no longer produce much fruit, cut back to a younger sub-lateral or side shoot that is strong, healthy and growing in the right direction. Cutting back to a branch or trunk – Use loppers or a pruning saw to cut larger branches. Cut them back using a slightly sloping angle to the main branch or trunk, with the collar or edge of the cut intact, and not cutting into the remaining main branch or trunk – this will help the cut heal correctly.
Cutting back to a branch or trunk –
Use loppers or a pruning saw to cut larger branches. Cut them back using a slightly sloping angle to the main branch or trunk, with the collar or edge of the cut intact, and not cutting into the remaining main branch or trunk – this will help the cut heal correctly.