Q: What is the best time to prune fruit trees?

Answer: There are two times to prune fruit trees, during dormancy and during the summer. Dormant pruning is done at this time of year to remove damaged, diseased and dead wood. Dormant pruning is also used to train young trees. If heavy pruning is done now, fruit production will be adversely impacted. The timing of dormant pruning is critical. Pruning should begin as late in the winter as possible to avoid winter injury. Apple and pecan trees should be pruned first, followed by cherry, peach and plum trees. A good rule to follow is to prune the latest blooming trees first and the earliest blooming last.

Summer pruning is the preferred season for removing 6 to 10 inch lengths of upright growth to open up light penetration to the inner branches of the tree. Time summer pruning to the early weeks of the summer so that your work is completed before the end of July. Young trees can suffer winter damage if there is not time for the trees to harden off.

Q: What is the difference between pruning and training fruit trees?

Answer: Pruning is one way to train a fruit tree, but can also be used annually to increase fruit production. Pruning involves the removal of a portion of a tree, usually a limb, to cut out damage, invigorate growth or to correct or maintain tree structure. Training is a practice where the growth of a tree (usually when young) is managed to affect a desired size and form. Training of a fruit tree is accomplished through properly timed pruning cuts over the course of the season. There are two main training systems for fruit trees, the open leader and the central leader. Young peach and plum trees are trained to the open-leader system over a period of three years. Young apple and pear trees are trained to the central-leader system. The goal of training a fruit tree is to extend the life span, productivity, and optimal fruit quality. There are many dwarf fruit trees available for smaller acreage and intensive plantings may be desired. Pollarding of fruit trees is an ancient practice for maintaining a size, shape and form of fruit trees planted in walled gardens, or small spaces. For more information including details and diagrams about pruning and training, check out the NCSU booklet at https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/static/publication/js/pdf_js/web/viewer.html?slug=training-and-pruning-fruit-trees-in-north-carolina

Mary Jac Brennan is the agent for fruit and vegetable horticulture for small farms and local food for the Forsyth Cooperative Extension. Contact Mary Jac about commercial production, local foods, and sustainable agriculture questions. For information on home and gardening issues, contact the Forsyth Cooperative Extension office at maryjac_brennan@ncsu.edu or call 336-703-2850.

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