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The Gardener's Year
PRUNING APPLE AND PEAR TREES
To ensure a good crop of fruit next season, apple and pear trees should be pruned every winter. Trees that are not pruned become less productive and congested with old branches. Choose a sunny, dry, frost-free day says Lucia Latenstein.
Winter or summer pruning?
You can prune apple or pear trees in summer and/or winter. In summer it is easy to see which branches are dead. In winter it is easier to see the structure of the tree. But pruning in summer or winter is not done for practical reasons only. Trees need different things at different times.
Winter pruning encourages new growth and should be done when the tree is dormant. Summer pruning on the other hand results in hardly any new branches. Using both winter and summer pruning gives you the opportunity to manage your tree. Winter pruning is used to give new life to your tree and with summer pruning you can correct your tree without further reaction.
Old and neglected high stem trees
Use a sharp pruning saw, lopper or sharp secateurs. If you have an old and neglected tree you start by pruning the dead and weak branches (always remove dead branches no matter what season). Afterwards prune branches that hinder or touch each other then branches that grow towards the heart of the tree. Do not remove big branches in one go, because there is always a risk of the branch tearing, which may result in damage to the trunk and bark.
Now step back and look at the tree. You want to create a nice open crown with four or five main limbs. Are there branches that take away the light of lower branches? The top of the crown must be narrower than the bottom. You want a well-balanced tree, with enough light on the flowers (and branches) because only then you will get bigger and tastier pears and apples. Try to keep as many of the lower limbs as you can. Start by selecting the lowest limbs you want to keep and work your way up. Sometimes the lower limbs look tired, but when they get enough light they will recover. The last part of pruning is thinning out the twigs.
Pruning disturbs the balance between the branches and roots. To avoid a violent reaction of the tree (resulting in a great many vertical shoots) you must not prune more than 25% of your tree. If your tree is very neglected and you want to prune a lot of branches the best time to prune your tree is in July or August. Try to spread this ‘restoration’ pruning over a few years.
Placing your ladder
Always be very careful how you place your ladder. The ladder must point inwards, with the top of the ladder clasped between two branches. Safety first!
Other fruit trees
Plum, cherry, peach, etc. trees (the whole ‘Prunus’ family) must never be pruned in winter when they are dormant. They need to be pruned just after the harvest when they are still ‘awake’ and can protect themselves from bacteria (silver leaf disease).
Some trees may be pruned only when they are dormant: walnut, maple, birch, hornbeam, kiwi, magnolia, laburnum and vines. Pruning must be done in December before the sap stream starts or else they will ‘bleed’ to death.
Prune on a sunny and dry frost-free day
Pictures courtesy of the Dutch manual ‘Hoogstamfruit’ of Landschapsbeheer Nederland