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Pruning mature fruit trees

SpurMost fruit trees benefit from yearly pruning in late winter or early spring. Fruit trees produce flower buds in the summer that bloom the following spring. Most flowers are produced on short, modified twigs called spurs. Spurs also produce leaves. Leaves that grow on spurs are more closely spaced than those on non-fruiting twigs. When pruning, it's important to leave spurs on the tree, because removal eliminates flowering and fruiting.

apple flower wood budsWhen pruning, remove any dead or broken branches first. Then remove diseased growth and any branches that interfere with or rub against other parts of the tree. Last, prune to attain the desired shape and allow sunlight to reach the interior of the tree.

older treeBroken branches should be removed immediately. When removing dead branches, sterilize tools between cuttings in case the branches were killed by disease. Alcohol or a bleach solution can be used as a disinfectant. When removing diseased branches, make the pruning cut about six inches below the diseased area. Again, be sure to disinfect the pruners between cuttings.

Rubbing branches can damage a tree's bark and wood, which allows diseases to enter and weaken the tree's branches. Simply removing one of the two branches usually eliminates the problem. Thinning the growth on branches in the center of the tree allows more light and air to circulate the interior of the tree. This is beneficial for fruit production and general tree health.

prune above budNo more than one third of the total growth on the tree should be removed in one season. Heavy pruning stimulates vegetative growth and reduces or eliminates fruit production. When heavily pruned, many fruit trees produce water sprouts that grow vertically from normal branches. These usually produce little, if any, fruit and should be removed before the vertical growth starts rubbing on other branches.

For more information, see the following Colorado State University Extension fact sheet(s).


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Updated Thursday, February 06, 2014