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Pruning Apples, Cherries, and Peaches--I'm scared!

 
Nicole Alderman
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Let me start off by saying I have never pruned my fruit trees. I've had them for almost two years. I'm deathly afraid of messing them up, and there are sooooo many different theories on when and how and why/why not to prune.

Ar first, I wasn't going to prune at all. I loved what I was reading about letting a tree form it's natural shape and how healthy that was for the tree... then I read that you can't really do that if a tree has already been pruned, and these ones have been. They were wonderfully cheep, Grocery Outlet fruit trees ($5.99 for a fruit tree--yes please!). So, how do I prune these things? My husband wants to keep them under eight feet. Is the "Backyard Orchard Culture" pruning good (http://www.davewilson.com/home-gardens/backyard-orchard-culture)? Does anyone have any tips? Do the peaches and cherries require different pruning than the apples? Do I let them have a leader? What do I do?!?

Thank you for any and all help!
 
Eric Thompson
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As far as size, I think it's best to try to let the trees develop to the size they like -- cutting them too much will only make them constantly put energy in to growing more branches.
For a minimalist pruning routine, you might try the following:
1: cut obvious dead branches
2. Cut branches in your way (path, bottom access, fence blockage..)
3. give the tree a little shake to look for places with 2 branches colliding - choose one to remove: prioritize one growing toward the interior of the tree, then to the one with the most mismatched angle to the rest of the growth
4. (optional) remove watersprouts in the interior of the tree and small shoots off the trunk and branch areas over 6" diameter.

This method will keep most of the tree to manage itself while removing areas developing into problems. And it's not a lot of work!
 
Michael Cox
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I've always found this video helpful when feeling intimidated by pruning...

shows that if in doubt you can just hack it down and try again with the regrowth... trees are really very vigorous/hardy


 
Bill Erickson
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Nicole, don't get too hung up on the pruning bit. It isn't that big a deal, just make sure you are doing it when the tree is dormant for best results. Following Eric's advice as to what to prune and the like is very good advice. I've never had a problem with branch versus fruit production when I've pruned regularly, the biggest key is to keep the suckers (stuff growing from the root area), the water sprouts (straight vertical growth on branches)and the crossover branches in check. I also shape my tree a bit to keep it where I want it, and I'll top it when it reaches the size I'm comfortable with for harvest and production. For a standard tree that would be 12-15 tall, although I have let some get to 25 feet. That is just a pain to keep under control and cleaned up for optimal fruit production, but it will still produce.

Basically, when it comes to pruning, don't go crazy and hack it to nothing if you can help it, but also don't be afraid to make some cuts on your trees to see what you get for results.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Thank you all for your advice and for giving me the courage to keep my trees healthy and accessible! I went out today with my pruning shears and cut off the crossover branches as well as the ones that were getting out of arm's reach, making sure to choose a bud going in a good direction. I also pruned some of my peaches long branches a little, as I read they fruit more and sag less with more pruning. Here's hoping I did well!
 
Patrick Mann
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I'll second the advice not to get intimidated by all the conflicting information. Just the basics (diseased, damaged, dead, deranged) will take you a long way.
If you do have the opportunity to get more immersed in the subject, then learn about the different pruning strategies for stone fruit versus pomes. They fruit differently and it's good to take that into consideration when pruning.
Also, in the PNW, it is best to prune stone fruit in the late summer after harvest to reduce the risk of fungal infection.

 
Nicole Alderman
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Patrick Mann wrote:I'll second the advice not to get intimidated by all the conflicting information. Just the basics (diseased, damaged, dead, deranged) will take you a long way.
If you do have the opportunity to get more immersed in the subject, then learn about the different pruning strategies for stone fruit versus pomes. They fruit differently and it's good to take that into consideration when pruning.
Also, in the PNW, it is best to prune stone fruit in the late summer after harvest to reduce the risk of fungal infection.



Ack! I already pruned the peach tree, and one of the cherry trees! Is there anything I can do to reduce that risk of fungal infection? Also, do you have any links to good info about the difference in pruning pomes versus stone fruits? I'd really love to learn more about it, but I haven't found any reliable sources of info. Thank you!
 
Patrick Mann
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There isn't much you can do to prevent fungal infection (if you don't want to spray) other than using clean, sharp tools and pruning during a time when spore loads are low. You'll probably be fine - just don't make a habit of pruning your stone fruit in winter. PNW winters are warm and wet, which promotes fungal infection.

Here is a nice summary of pruning rules for sweet and tart cherries: http://www.which.co.uk/documents/pdf/cherry-pruning-153955.pdf

Basically you need to answer these questions:
- at which age do branches bear fruit?
- do they fruit on spur systems, the length of the branch, or tip of the branch?
Then you prune to maintain and rejuvenate accordingly.
 
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