- Author: Brenda Altman
Recently a friend of mine asked me to look at her apricot tree and give her some advice on tree pruning. This tree had never been pruned and it produced small apricots. It had several limbs about 1” all growing upward. She said it needed help “What should I cut? How do I cut it?”
A little knowledge and a pair of pruners can cause a lot of damage to a tree. If you are new to pruning learn how to do it right. Just don't cut anywhere, identify the branch collar and make the cut ¼” above the collar never, never cut the branch flush with the trunk or another limb. You can pick up a pruning guide at a Master Gardener table at a Farmers' Market or Business that sponsors the Master Gardeners' program. Visit the UCANR website for pruning guidelines. Consult an arborist if you are thinking of doing a major pruning job.
The best time to prune a fruit tree is when they are dormant. If you have inherited the tree from a previous owner or caretaker. Identify what problems exist. Ask yourself these questions: Is the fruit too small, is it hard to pick the fruit, are the limbs crossing, is the fruit too high to pick? Your answers will dictate a pruning strategy.
If you are working on an existing never been pruned or improperly pruned tree you have to be judicious in what and how much you cut. A good rule of thumb is to never remove more than 30% of the limbs. For myself, I stay well within this guideline. Take a good look at the tree ahead of time and determine your largest cut first, the one that will give you the most benefit. Dead or dying branches do not count towards the 30% threshold. Diseased limbs should be handled carefully. A good practice is to sterilize your tools after every cut with 10% bleach and discard the diseased limbs into the gray bins. There is no guarantee that the green bin composting will reach a high enough temperature to destroy the infected material. These are the 3 Ds (dead, diseased, or dying) of pruning.
Limbs that are crossing, crowding or competing with other limbs should be considered next. Crossing limbs should be obvious, they are actually rubbing up against another limb. Limbs that are rubbing up against a fence or other solid object also should be removed. A break in the bark is a possible entryway for bugs or other pathogens to enter. Competing limbs are next. Are the limbs basically growing in the same direction and are they fairly close together, and will they compete for the same sunlight? How big your fruit gets is determined by how much room they have to grow. You have to visualize your fruit; will it have enough room to grow without getting in the way of other fruit or limbs? Crowding is similar to crossing and competition, as the word suggests the fruit and leaves are crowded, they are not getting enough sunlight or room for air to circulate. These are the 3 Cs (crossing, competing and crowding) of pruning.
On grafted trees you might see growth below the graft or in the ground, this is the rootstock trying to express itself as its own tree. These can be removed anytime as they rootstock growth will divert energy away from the grafted tree.
Over pruning, the event may produce water sprouts. These occur because the tree attempts to recover from the shock of losing foliage by producing vigorous growth. Water sprouts are usually small diameter limbs growing together straight up. These limbs are also candidates for removal.
On an existing tree take a picture of your tree. Make a plan on how you want your tree to look and plan out your major cuts in advance. Remember you cannot take more than 30% of the tree limbs in a single pruning, you must wait until the tree recovers from the pruning. How long? It depends on a number of factors. Consult with an arborist or a tree expert at a nursery. Over pruning reduces the life and production of your tree.
Back to the apricot tree. I made a few cuts using the 3 Ds and 3 Cs as a guideline. I also made some heading cuts to reduce the length of some of the long over fruit laden branches. I will wait to revisit the tree later this year when it is dormant. I told my friend that she can also increase the size of the fruit by thinning out the buds when they appear. I also suggested cleaning out the area around the tree adding mulch and compost around the base.
It is well worth your time to take a tree pruning class, consult an arborist, refer to the UCANR website, and use the right tools and techniques. Save some fruit for me!
Fruit and Nut Planning Guide for Arborists
Pruning overgrown fruit trees by Jim Gormley. The Ten Basics of When and How to Prune Fruit Trees by Paul Vossen
Read more at Gardening Know How: Care Of Apricot Trees: Apricot Tree Growing In The Home Garden https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/fruits/apricots/apricot-tree-growing.htm