- Author: Ed Perry
If you do not prune your trees enough, they will become too tall to harvest, even with a tall ladder. If you have an unpruned fruit tree in your garden, you know that most of the fruit grows in the top. Yearly pruning is necessary to keep the tree at a reasonable height, for instance, no more than 10 or 12 feet high. If your tree is already overgrown, you may want to reduce its height gradually, say over a two-year period.
The main objectives of pruning mature fruit trees are to reduce the number and increase the size of the potential crop, to develop new fruit wood, to remove interfering and broken branches, and to contain tree height and spread for convenient harvest. Most fruit trees, when not pruned, produce more fruit than they can size and mature properly. You can prevent such overproduction with yearly pruning.
Persimmons, many figs, quinces and pomegranates bear fruit on current season's growth. When you prune these trees, remove old and weak branches, leaving some younger branches to produce new growth and fruit the coming year. Overcrowding and lack of sunlight will cause branches to die, so you need to thin out some branches to allow light infiltration into the tree so that the fruit wood stays healthy.
Nut trees such as almonds and walnuts do not need as much pruning for height control as fruit trees. You harvest nuts by knocking them down with a long pole, rather than by hand picking, so the trees can be much taller.
Fruit Tree Resources
Fruit Trees: Training and Pruning UC ANR Publication
The California Backyard Orchard For more details about training and pruning deciduous fruit trees.
Citrus and Avocado Trees Require Little Pruning For information on pruning citrus and avocado trees.
Ed Perry is the emeritus Environmental Horticultural Advisor for University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) in Stanislaus County where he worked for over 30 years.
- Author: Ed Perry
We recently wrote the blog post “Wait! Don't Prune Apricot and Cherry Trees Just Yet,” to caution gardeners against pruning these trees in winter. Now we'd like to discuss when and how to prune avocado and citrus trees.
Most avocado trees need little or no pruning. Whenever possible, allow them to develop naturally. Avocado leaves produce and store food for the tree. If this food supply is reduced by pruning, fruit production will also be reduced. Usually, removing dead or weak branches is the only pruning you need to do. Avoid pruning in late summer and early fall, as this stimulates new shoot growth that is susceptible to frost injury. In general, remove as few green branches and leaves as possible.
If you need to remove lower branches, prune them out completely, or cut them back to an upright growing shoot. Prune only after your tree has developed enough upper foliage to prevent sunburn damage on the lower limbs or trunk.
Sometimes a young tree grows tall without branching, grows sideways, or grows a top that is unbalanced. Correct these conditions by cutting the unruly limb or trunk back to a strong lower branch, or by staking the tree. Keep in mind that avocado trees grow naturally in an irregular way and will develop a better structure if they are not pruned at all. If you want to control the height, it's best to do so while the tree is young.
To prevent tall, upright growth, pinch back the terminal bud of the upright shoots on the young tree. Repeat this after each growth flush during the first few years. Your tree will spread out to the sides and develop a more compact form. If you reduce the size of an older tree by heading back large branches in the top of the tree, be sure to thin out the new growth which follows. Otherwise, the tree will soon grow back to its original height.
If necessary, light pruning can be done in citrus trees any time of year. However, the best time to prune citrus is in early spring, after danger of frost has passed and before the start of spring growth.
Nearly the same rules for avocado trees apply to pruning citrus trees. The foliage of a citrus tree is an important food (carbohydrate) storage area. Pruning removes foliage and stored foods and causes the tree to produce a flush of vegetative growth instead of fruit. For the most part, prune out only dead or broken limbs.
Citrus trees normally produce vigorous shoots from the base of the tree called suckers, which you should remove as they grow. Vigorous shoots that grow from branches are called watersprouts. Remove watersprouts if they are not well placed but leave them whenever possible. Young trees need no pruning for the first two or three years after planting, except to remove suckers. As the tree grows older, prune lightly only to remove branches which are too closely spaced or entangled. Do not remove low-hanging branches, as they bear fruit within easy reach and shade the trunk and soil. The ideal citrus tree has a skirt of foliage that extends almost to the ground. Left alone, citrus trees normally develop an even, round-headed shape as they mature.
Lemons usually need a bit more pruning than other types of citrus. Cut back some of the more vigorous shoots on young trees. Lightly thin the branches of mature lemon trees each year to improve the size and quality of the fruit.
Ed Perry is the emeritus Environmental Horticultural Advisor for University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) in Stanislaus County.
Winter is the time of year when many people prune their deciduous fruit trees. However, did you know that now is not the right time to prune apricot and cherry trees?
In the past, home gardeners were advised to prune stone fruit trees (cherries, apricots, plums, peaches, and nectarines) after trees lose their leaves and go dormant. However, cherry and apricot trees are more likely to be attacked by certain diseases that can be spread by rain.
Gardeners who prune cherry and apricot trees during winter create wounds that may be invaded by fungal and bacterial canker diseases. Symptoms show up in spring and summer, when infected tree limbs wilt and suddenly die with their leaves still attached, or when bark becomes discolored and limbs produce an amber-colored ooze.
This year, wait to prune apricot and cherry trees until late spring or early summer. For more information about fruit trees, visit The California Backyard Orchard.