Pruning: Winter in the Fruit Orchard

By Master Gardener Susan Kowalchuk

Given the record cold temperatures we have had this winter, it is hard to imagine doing any garden task beyond perusing seed catalogs. The winter however, is a prime time to prune fruit trees.  During their dormant state, the shape of the trees and the areas needing pruning are clearly visible, and the tree can use its stored energy to heal and harden off the cut. This enables it to devote needed energy to growth once the warm weather arrives.

Pruning fruit trees has many advantages. It enhances production and improves fruit quality by maximizing light penetration and bud growth.  A properly pruned tree is also less susceptible to disease and infection.  The timing of pruning is important. The general rule is to prune the latest flowering trees first, such as the apple, and the earliest flowering trees such as the peach, last. To minimize damage, pruning is typically done the later part of the winter.

Dead, damaged, diseased and crossed branches are usually the most obvious and easiest to prune. The tricky part is determining what parts of the healthy tree need to be cut.  The type of tree usually dictates the approach. Apple and pear trees have a upright habit and are usually pruned so that there is a central leader or one main trunk.   Peach and nectarine trees have a spreading habit and are pruned using an open center approach. These trees are pruned to establish 3-5 main branches.

The main type of pruning cuts utilized are the thinning cut and the heading cut.  The thinning cut removes an entire shoot. The heading cut removes only part of the terminal, or end of the shoot.  Common pruning tools are bypass pruners, pole pruners, loppers and saws.

We are fortunate to have quite a few orchards in the Lehigh Valley. If you happen to drive by, take a look at the trees and see if you can guess what type are being grown by their shape.  If you are lucky, you may even see the farmers hard at work preparing the trees for the summer and fall crops. Although robins won’t be around for awhile, think of winter pruning as an earlier sign that spring will indeed be here.

Support Your Farmer:

Local Orchards

Pappy’s Orchard – Coopersburg -  www.pappysorchard.com  

County Line Orchard - Kempton – www.clorchard.com  

Gulick’s – Bangor – www.gulickorchard.com

Strawberry Acres – Coplay – www.strawberryacres.com







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