Pruning fruit trees in March

Just editing this to add that I wrote an update.

I’ve spent lots of time since November pruning the apple and pear trees, so I thought it was time for a ‘how-to’ blog post.

Most of what I need to do is renovation pruning because the trees have been neglected for years. I was taught how to do this by my old boss, Bob Sherman, at Garden Organic. These are his instructions.

1. Start by identifying 5-6 scaffold branches for your tree. The ultimate shape should be like a wine glass with an open and airy centre. Look for 5 or 6 branches that can form this goblet shape.

2. Taking each scaffold one by one, follow it to it’s end and identify a ‘leader’. This is the part of the branch that will be allowed to continue growing. It should be pointing outwards, rather than upwards and preferably high enough not to obstruct where you need to walk.

3. Prune the leader back by half of last year’s growth to a downward facing wood bud.

NB This is a good point to explain that apple and pear trees have different
buds that will go on to produce either wood or fruit in the coming year. Wood buds are small and flat – like this:

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Fruit buds are larger and more prominent – like this:

4. Remove any competitors – other small twigs that could have been leaders.

The plan is different now for apples and pears.

Apples
1. Work back towards the trunk, taking each lateral (branch leading off from the scaffold branch) one by one. If the lateral is more than 4 years old, chop it off.
2. Prune out any vertical shoots whether they are growing upwards or downwards.
3. Remember that if you prune back to a fruit bud, growth will stop.

Pears
1. Work back towards the trunk, taking each lateral (branch leading off from the scaffold branch) one by one. If the lateral is 2 years old, prune it back to six fruit buds if possible – pear fruit buds look different to apple fruit buds, but I don’t have any images. Use google images to find some good pics.
2. If the lateral is 1 year old, leave it as it is.
3. If the lateral is more than 2 years old, chop it off.
4. Prune out any vertical shoots – those growing straight up or straight down.

As you might imagine, pruning a very overgrown tree is quite a drastic and scary business. Here are some before and after photos of a large and overcrowded Bramley:

Once you’ve done this renovation pruning, the next stage is maintenance pruning – this is done each summer (July) and winter (November – March).

In summer, take off most of the ‘water shoots’ that will sprout from wherever was cut last winter. You may wish to leave some to form new branches or fruiting spurs.

In winter, follow the instructions for renovation pruning, but as you look at any new laterals that have formed and been left after summer pruning, try to encourage them to produce new fruiting spur networks. To do this, you simply need to cut it back to about 3 or 4 wood buds. The upper buds will grow into new wood, but the lower buds should change and form fruit buds by the next winter.  Each winter, cut back to wood buds to 3 or 4 and some new fruit buds should form.

So that’s about it – it can sound very complicated, but take these instructions with you to the tree and follow it step-by-step.

Finally, some rules about hygiene:
1. Always use sharp tools – you’ll need secatuers, a pruning saw, and maybe a bow saw. Loppers should not be necessary.
2. Use ladders where necessary so as not to over-reach.
3. Clean your tools between trees so as not to pass on fungal diseases from one tree to another. I keep a jar of white spirit and an old toothbrush in the shed and simply give the blades of my tools a quick scrub as I finish each tree.
4. Tidy up the prunings as you go. Fruit wood burns well after seasoning so can be passed on to folk with wood burners. I have also discovered that prunings are much loved by rabbits so you can pass on prunings to any rabbit-owning friends.

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5 Responses to Pruning fruit trees in March

  1. Debs Cook says:

    Okay I couldn’t read your latest blog post without saying I’m wide eyed at the plans for the Naked Garden, I’ve got so many mental pictures going on now that you better clarify lol!

    D x

  2. Pingback: Pruning fruit trees in March – part 2 | Home on the Hill

  3. Lisa Hogan says:

    Is it ok to prune apple and pears trees now in March

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