Many people, during the purchase of a home or old farmstead, find themselves in the possession of fruit trees that have been “neglected” for some length of time.
Trees may appear large and overgrown and most commonly producing poor quality fruit. On first impulse owners are often inclined to prune such trees immediately and severely.
There is nothing wrong with pruning as long as there is some clear objective or reason for pruning. There are many reasons for pruning — training growth into a particular form or within a specified space, controlling or limiting size and shape or improving overall fruit quality.
When pruning, it is important to first determine what one is trying to accomplish.
Remember, too, that achieving the ideal shape and form of a tree which has not been pruned regularly is difficult if not impossible and is often not needed.
Trees, through their leaves, literally convert light into fruit, and pruning is used to provide adequate light to leaves throughout the tree. The better the light penetration, the better the quality of the fruit. As an added benefit, pruning increases air circulation, speeds drying of the foliage, and reduces the incidence of disease. Pruning also allows a tree to be maintained at a desirable or manageable size. Since pruning stimulates new growth, old growth, which is less productive, can be removed in subsequent years.
Pruning, which is too severe, results in excessive, non-productive shoot growth.
Thinning cuts, or those which remove wood at its base or point of origin, are most desirable as they allow the size and shape of the tree to be maintained.
In other words, if one uses thinning cuts correctly, then the tree size can be reduced while still maintaining the natural shape of the canopy.
The first step in pruning a neglected tree is to remove all diseased or dead material. Next, very upright, extremely vigorous shoots that are shading the interior should be removed. Limbs that are joined to the trunk at a narrow angle may be removed, while leaving limbs with wider angles. When trees have been pruned extensively, they should not be fertilized the following spring.
This will prevent excessive, unproductive growth from redeveloping.
Understanding how and when to prune a fruit tree may be a little confusing. For this reason, the Dawson County Extension Office will offer a free educational program on pruning and care of fruit trees. The class will be conducted from 11 a.m. until noon on Wednesday, Feb. 18. The class will be held at the Dawson County Library on Allen Street.
Clark Beusse is the Dawson County Extension Agent.