Fruit Tree Pruning

People are indignant when I refuse to discuss fruit tree pruning in my basic tree care classes. Ornamental tree care couldn't be more different than pruning for fruit production so I rarely bring up the topic in the course of my presentations. These folks leave my classes disappointed and usually a little angry. Such is the life of a public speaker.

But I think any arborist should be at least a little uncomfortable uttering phrases like "reduction cuts" and (even worse) "heading cuts", so I'll start these instructions with the caveat: don't do this to shade trees. Really. Because I'll have to hunt you down if you do.

I keep my fruit tree pruning goals pretty simple:

1. Reduce the crown of the tree to short(ish) laterals that,
     a. are accessible from the ground or a short ladder and,
     b. reduce the possibility of branch failure under fruit load.

2. Keep the center of the tree open for good air circulation (and because it's hard to get fruit from the interior of the tree anyway).

3. Train the lateral branches to form an open lattice work to allow adequate light to the fruiting branches.

4. Remove dead, diseased and wounding crossing branches

Upright branches are vigorous in their growth, but laterals are better fruit producers.

Upright branches before pruning.

Half of an apple tree pruned to lateral branches.

Another shot of half the tree pruned.

First completed apple tree

Another completed apple tree at the same property

Another shot of the same tree.

Hey, did I happen to mention that if you do this to an ornamental tree I'll break your knee caps?

Next week I'm going to write about what happens when you do this to an ornamental (to the tree, not you) and the restorative pruning needed to, um, restore it.