Pruning Fruit Trees

Peter Cundall advises:

Almost all summer-bearing fruit trees are best pruned as soon as possible after the fruit has been harvested.

The trees will still be in active growth but this is an advantage because pruning wounds heal rapidly. That means there’s less chance of diseases entering through open wounds.

In fact, I never hesitate to prune some trees while still carrying fruit, especially to open up congested canopies or remove dead or diseased wood. This also helps control diseases and pests.

Over the past few days I’ve been hard at work pruning our stone fruit trees — especially peach, nectarine and apricot. It involves cutting out completely all in-growing branches to open up centres.

Next, all the growth made since spring is cut back by at least half. This new growth will carry next year’s crops. I pay special attention to any young branches showing signs of gumming. These are cut out completely because oozing, hardening sap indicates where brown rot disease is lurking.

Plum trees normally require little pruning, although removing diseased wood is always necessary. European plums — including prunes, green­gages and damsons — bear fruit on two or three-year-old wood. If all new shoots are cut back by about two-thirds and all internal growth cut out completely, the trees will continue to bear excellent crops of well-sized plums every year.

Japanese plums produce fruit on the previous year’s wood. So after the canopies have been opened up, all remaining young growth produced since spring is cut back by about half.

Apple trees bear fruit on spurs formed on two-year-old wood. Most healthy trees also produce a forest of young shoots, all reaching for the sky. They can be cut back hard now to leave short stubs, each carrying about six buds.

Apple trees tend to overproduce fruit-bearing spurs. This means masses of small, relatively tasteless fruit. So be prepared to thin out the spurs too so those remaining are spaced about 200mm apart along the branches. I should add that if codling moth trap bands have been wrapped around apple trunks, they should now be removed and destroyed. Examine bark crevices too and kill any skulking grub cocoons with a nail.

Pear trees are also pruned now — although some will be carrying fruit. Spur-thinning is also needed with pear trees — even more so than with apples. And again, all new shoots can now be cut back hard to leave short stubs containing just a few buds.

Lemon and other citrus trees can be “skirt-pruned” in autumn. This involves cutting back or entirely removing very low branches, especially those that droop down to soil level. This effectively controls citrus scab, providing that all fallen fruit are also constantly raked clear and carted away.

Passionfruit vines and pineapple guava plants are now forming winter crops so are best left unpruned until spring. However, raspberry and brambleberry bushes should be pruned now.

This is easy to do and involves nothing more than cutting out all dead canes, right down to ground level. All remaining, healthy canes can be loosely tied together and if necessary, secured to a trellis or stakes.

Blackcurrant bushes are pruned by cutting out all old wood right down to the ground. This is identified because it is black and full of borer holes. Redcurrants are summer-pruned by being cut back by about a quarter. After all pruning work is completed, the next most important job is to rake up and remove all debris and cart it away.

Your trees may look a little shorn, but they will be healthier, more resistant to diseases and insect pests and best of all, crop better.