I’ve always been a bit confused about proper pruning techniques. You’ve got your winter pruning for spur-bearing fruit trees, winter pruning for tip-bearing fruit trees and summer pruning to keep your trees at a manageable height.
There are some people like Sepp Holzer and Masanobu Fukuoka that even advocate against pruning at all, although they both specify that your unpruned fruit trees need to be propagated and managed in a certain way from the start.
With that said, I’ve seen some old, overgrown and unproductive fruit trees brought back to production with just a few years of good pruning management.
So, where to start?
There are a few things that you need to know before diving in, pruning secateurs in hand. First and foremost, does your fruit tree produce on spurs or is it tip-bearing?
It’s also important to understand how the fruit tree has been shaped in its first few years. Some fruit trees (like the plum in the video) lend themselves to a vase shape with four main branches pointing off in opposite directions. These branches are called the framework. Lateral branches grow from the framework, and, in the case of the plum tree, send out fruiting spurs that can produce fruit for years to come.
In the video Justin Calverley from Sensory Gardens demonstrates his technique for winter pruning of spur-bearing, deciduous fruit trees.
Start with the Three Ds:
Then, when that is out of the way, he prunes back most of the one-year-old growth that wouldn’t be productive and thinned out any overcrowded areas.
Lastly he recommends pruning back the productive laterals to within 30cm of the framework branches. This keeps the tree nice and compact and greatly reduces any issues of overbearing fruit trees that can get damaged in windy conditions. It also activates some of the dormant buds to produce spurs on the framework of the tree.
How winter pruning helps
Winter pruning of deciduous fruit trees can help with a number of different things.
- You can keep your fruit within arms reach to avoid carrying around a ladder.
- It is much easier to net your trees against hungry birds
- Winter pruning stimulates new growth
I’ve read of a handful of situations where pruning might not be the best way forward. In the outer zones of a Permaculture design, or if you are trying to minimise your labour and still get a harvest, then pruning might be best avoided. From my perspective a well-formed and pruned fruit tree is appealing and the benefits of learning how and when to prune is something I look forward to learning!