A Guide to Pruning Fruit Trees

Excerpt from the Pruning Simplified book on pruning fruit trees, including how to improve your fruit trees, reasons for pruning, pruning sanitation, and when to prune fruit trees.

| January/February 1987

MOTHER'S HANDBOOK: This excerpt from Lewis Hill's Pruning Simplified shows how to improve tree health by pruning fruit trees. 

A Guide to Pruning Fruit Trees

Gardeners expect surprisingly modest yields from their orchards. I have a friend who always has a superb vegetable garden, a wonderful Led of roses, and the best strawberry patch in town. Each tomato is a jewel. Every stalk of corn produces two large ears, and every flower in his perennial bed looks as if it is posing for the cover of a garden magazine. Yet, in spite of his gardening skill, he seems to be perfectly satisfied to take whatever his fruit trees hand him.

Often this isn't very much. He has good fruit when conditions are perfect, but it's usually small, misshapen, poorly colored, and infested with insects. Furthermore, he typically gets a crop only every other year.

I'm sure that when his trees were young, they were full of vigor and produced excellent fruit. Young trees almost always bear large, colorful fruit because they still have very few limbs, so the fruit gets lots of sunlight. However, as the trees mature and grow more branches, you must prune to keep them producing well. Most trees naturally produce a large crop of fruit every other year, so if you want your trees to grow an annual crop, you must give them some special attention. Pruning is a neglected art, however, and one that novice fruit growers don't completely understand.

Pruning fruit trees doesn't need to be confusing. If you follow the simple, basic rules, you can leave the scientific jargon to those who are intrigued by it.

First of all, an orchardist must be aware that his tree consists of two parts—most fruit trees are grafted. The roots usually belong to a type of tree that produces low-quality fruit, whereas the top is a good-bearing variety that has been transplanted onto the rootstock. The two have been grafted together because this is the most efficient way to produce large numbers of quality fruit trees. Fruit trees grown from seed seldom resemble the parent tree even slightly, and growing trees from cuttings or layers is slow and extremely difficult.

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