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Why should you prune fruit trees?
If you want a fruitful harvest, you need to get familiar with pruning fruit trees! While you can go the DIY route for your home garden, you can get professional fruit tree pruning services for the average price of AUD$50 per hour.
It’s like giving your fruit trees a haircut! You start by removing all the deadwood, damaged branches, and diseased leaves to prioritise the healthier parts of the plant. This increases airflow and sun absorption while directing nutrients into the budding branches.
When is the best time to prune?
The general rule of thumb is to prune during early spring or mid to late winter. The frequency of pruning will change over its life cycle from a young fruit tree to a mature one. Every year, your pruning style will vary depending on its stage of growth.
- The first year requires formative pruning. Trim the main trunk to a bud about two-and-a-half feet from the ground for next seasons growth.
- During the second year, remove any inward and lower shoots, then prune a few of the upward shoots by half so that more new branches will form.
- By the third year the tree has more structure, so prune the best branches by half to extend the framework and prepare for its fruiting the following year.
- For the fourth year, you only need a limited amount of pruning at the fruiting stage. Prune some main branches by a third of its size and trim from the top to maintain its height.
- Once the tree has grown into its framework within five years, you only need to prune once a year after every harvest.
Make sure your gardening tools are sharp and sterilised in a diluted mixture of hydrogen peroxide and water before use. This saves you from spreading diseases from contaminated parts of the plant. You need some basic tools to get started:
- Pruning shears
- Handheld saw
How to prune fruit trees
When pruning fruit trees, make sure you prune flush against the branch or trunk at a forty-five-degree angle. Any uneven cuts or abrasions can gather moisture and rot or become infected.
1. Spring cleaning
Remove any deadwood, brittle branches, and damaged leaves. Getting rid of undesired clutter allows you to get a better look at your tree, making it easier to figure out what other parts need tending.
2. Cut back branches
Fruit trees have thick branches, but they can run into each other and cause damage. Give your main branches lots of room by pruning off the ones that might cross and cause trouble down the road.
3. Trim out sprouts
Prune away any small leafy growths, waterspouts, and suckers, since these take nutrients away from your fruit-bearing branches.
4. Topping & skirting
Remove any upper and lower growths to keep things even above and below. Topping refers to chopping off the top of the tree for easy access during harvest season.
Skirting describes the pruning of branches near the ground to take out underdeveloped parts of the tree that don’t get enough sunlight. This prevents soil contaminants, bugs, and fruit rot.
Fruit tree pruning structures
To give your tree the structure it needs, you can choose from three different pruning shapes. They vary depending on the fruit tree you’re growing, but it’s also up to your preference! Pruning balances everything out by making sure you don’t have too many branches since that results in smaller fruits.
Some fruit trees require minimal pruning and can get a little wild. This doesn’t mean that you can skip the pruning routine altogether, but these varieties are a lot more forgiving if you miss a session or two.
- Lemon tree
- Mandarin trees
- Orange trees
- Fig trees
- Lime tree
Before: The lemon tree is bushy and untamed with heavy fruits.
After: There is overall balanced weight and structure to the lemon trees.
The open centre structure system looks like a vase, keeping the centre of the tree as clear as possible. You start by pruning a young fruit tree at its main trunk but maintaining the ones that surround it, giving more open space to the central part of the tree.
- Apricot trees
- Nectarine trees
- Peach trees
- Plum trees
- Olive trees
Before: The apricot trees have too much foliage at the top with uneven branches and low-hanging fruit.
After: The tree has more support and the inner canopy can enjoy an equal amount of sunlight!
This requires a central framework where the most growth is at the trunk of the tree, growing upwards in a balanced fashion. Make sure the branches have lots of space so they have enough room to expand as they age.
- Apple trees
- Cherry trees
- Mango trees
- Mulberry trees
- Avocado trees
- Pear trees
Before: The apple tree is going in many different directions and the branches are out of reach.
After: The tree has more support with an equal amount of foliage that reaches upwards.
Fruit trees are relatively easy to care for as long as you prune them early on. Now that you know what type of structures are best, it’s time to get to work! Whether you’re just starting out or you have an orchard full of fruit trees, don’t be afraid to cut things back! Put our pruning pro-tips to good use and enjoy the sweet fruits of your labour!