Tips for Late-Season Pruning

Ensure your orchard is healthy for next season with these recommendations for pruning in the fall and winter.
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
November/December 1990
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When pruning in the winter, be sure to work on days days when the temperature is above freezing to avoid injury to the wood: frozen wood is very brittle and breaks easily. 

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There is an ever-continuing argument among pomologists about the best time to prune fruit trees. Each professional orchardist and experienced home grower has a favorite time. Meanwhile, beginners can get completely confused when exposed to the many sides of the controversy.

Since seasonal conditions vary greatly throughout the country, your location is an important factor in determining just when you should prune.

Late Fall and Winter Pruning

Late fall or winter are favorite times to prune in warm regions. Orchardists have more spare time then, and the trees are bare, making it easier to see what needs to be done. You should choose days when the temperature is above freezing, however, to avoid injury to the wood. Frozen wood is very brittle; it breaks easily when hit by a ladder or pruning tool.

If you live in a cold region of the country, or if you are growing tree varieties that are inclined to suffer winter injury, wait until the coldest weather is over before pruning.

Late Winter Pruning

This season is probably the most popular time for northern gardeners to prune. As in late fall and winter, the tree is completely dormant, and since the leaves are off, it is easy to see where to make the cuts. By waiting until late winter, you can repair any injuries caused by harsh weather. Also, the temperature is usually warm enough during the day to prune without injuring the wood, and most orchardists are still not too busy during this season.

If you prune your trees regularly each year and therefore don't have to remove large amounts of wood, late winter is a satisfactory time to prune. However, if your trees have been neglected for a few years and are badly in need of a cutback, late winter is not the best time to prune. Excessive pruning in the winter usually stimulates a great deal of growth the following spring and summer, because the tree tries to replace its lost wood. Branches, suckers and water sprouts are likely to grow in abundance. If a major pruning job is necessary, do all or at least a large part of it in late summer or early fall so you won't cause an excessive amount of regrowth.

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