Time For a Trim: When Do You Trim Fruit Trees?
Fruit trees can be a beautiful addition to your property. Whether you choose to plant apple trees, pear trees or any variety in between, it's important to understand the basics around their maintenance and care.
As with any type of tree, this includes knowing when to prune back the branches to encourage new, healthy growth.
Today, we're sharing a complete guide on when to trim fruit trees and how to do so with ease. Read on to discover the steps to follow to ensure your trees continue to produce the delicious, juicy treats you've come to love.
Why Should You Trim Fruit Trees?
There are many reasons why it's smart to give your fruit trees the routine trims they need.
Taking the time to prune your fruit trees is critical to ensuring their long-term health. When you trim back dead branches and undergrowth, you help the trees establish a firm foundation, which can enable them to absorb more nutrients and ward off disease. Let's take a look at a few of the top benefits that trims can provide:
Define Their Shape
While your fruit trees are still young, pruning them allows you to shape them into a strong and healthy structure. As you prune each section, you're looking for weak or dead branches that you can remove, along with any branches that are growing to closely to one another. In effect, you leave only the best ones behind.
The result is a balanced, thriving tree that's both aesthetically pleasing and functionally strong. Early pruning also allows you to keep the tree to a size that you can easily manage. While the idea of a towering apple tree might sound appealing, you want to make sure you can comfortably reach the fruit to harvest and enjoy it.
Encourage Healthy Growth
Not only does removing branches help keep your fruit tree from overcrowding, but it also gives the stronger and healthier branches plenty of room to grow.
This is especially beneficial if you have an abundance of upper branches that are shrouding the lower or inner branches, keeping them from receiving the sunlight they need.
Improve Overall Production
Looking to help your tree produce as much fruit as possible? If so, trimming it back might feel counterproductive. However, this very step can help improve your yield.
Why is this the case? Allowing too many overgrown branches and buds to take over your fruit tree leaves very little room for fruit to grow. If you do manage to get a crop, it could lack the space and energy it needs to look and taste its best.
If your tree is producing low-quality fruit that's smaller than you expected, a trim may be in order!
Ward Off Diseases and Pests
Another reason why pruning your fruit trees is so important? These trees are especially attractive to fungi and bacteria, which can cause them to fall prey to diseases and pests.
Take fire blight, for instance.
Primarily affecting pear trees and apple trees, this is a contagious tree disease that has the potential to destroy an entire orchard. Affected trees will have stems and leaves that turn black, resulting in weeping, oozing cankers. If you're on top of your trimming schedule, you can catch this problem before it snowballs into a catastrophe and prevent isolated damage from becoming more widespread.
For any tree variety, allowing the branches to grow wild without trimming them could cause a range of negative outcomes to occur. If left unchecked, even the most manageable disease could wreak havoc on your fruit trees.
When Should You Trim Back Fruit Trees?
Now that you know a few of the main reasons why you need to trim your fruit trees, let's move on to the next question. When is the best time to do so?
In general, it's best to prune fruit trees at two critical times:
- When you initially plant them
- In subsequent years between late autumn and early spring
Pruning at Initial Planning
When you first plant your fruit trees, initial pruning is necessary to help make sure you're giving the tree the best chance of survival. This early trim can help make sure their trunk is strong and their stems are thick.
It also helps to establish a healthy, open canopy that allows plenty of light and air to filter through to the inner branches.
In the first two to three years of its growth, understand that you might not see much fruiting from your fruit tree, and that's OK. In fact, it's perfectly normal! During its first few seasons, your tree will be busy establishing healthy, strong lower branches that can help it produce a solid crop in the future.
Steps to Take
When you plant your new fruit tree, it's best to cut the new stems off about 24 to 30 inches above the ground. At the same time, you can also remove any new shoots that might be growing on the sides.
This is a type of tree training known as central leader training. In short, it involves leaving a new tree trunk bare for the first 30 inches, and then allowing stems to branch laterally out from there. At that location, there should be around four to five equal, balanced branches that can form the base of your tree, also known as a scaffold whorl.
If you leave those low-hanging branches intact, it could cause the trees branches to grow too low to the ground. This can lead to a growth imbalance, where the plant gets too top-heavy at the very beginning and is never able to fully recover or find balance.
First Three Years: Pruning to Keep Branches Strong
During the first three years of your fruit tree's life, you'll be mostly focused on keeping that scaffold whorl in place. Your main goals will be to make this scaffold as strong as possible, which can encourage the branches to fruit. You'll also be looking for any areas where you might need to trim the branches back a little to keep them from rubbing against each other or crossing over one another.
Most experts in this space recommend trimming newly planted trees back in the summer. You want to allow enough time for new growth to sprout from the places you initially cut.
Once this new growth reaches around four inches in length, it's time to take action. Find the strong, central leader and remove all other branches growing four inches below it. From there, you can use special pruning tools to spread your side branches apart. The goal is for these adjacent branches to form 45-degree or 90-degree angles from the central leader.
Subsequent Pruning During Dormant Season
Once the first three years pass, you can take a slightly different approach to trimming your fruit trees. Instead of trimming back new growth in the summer, you'll take a more proactive approach, cutting them back before the first buds open in the spring.
Why should you focus on this task during the winter?
You might not think much about pruning your fruit trees in this season After all, they likely look a little bare and even the tallest trees might seem manageable. In the spring and summer, however, you're prone to get the itch to trim them back!
During the warmer months, your fruit trees can thrive and grow freely. Yet, proper pruning during their dormant season is exactly what enables them to do so.
During the winter season, fruit trees enter into a dormant stage, which temporarily halts their growth.
This period of inactivity, combined with the dip in temperatures, makes it a great time to trim your trees. If you wait too long and prune yours once their springtime buds have already started to appear, you run the risk of limiting that tree's bloom potential for the season, which can lower the amount of fruit it produces that year.
Steps to Take
Pruning during the dormant season focuses mostly on lateral branches. You can cut these at an angle to encourage water to run away from the cuts.
At this time, you can also remove or cut away any dead stems or branches. If you notice that there is any random, errant growth, you can trim that, too. If allowed to grow unchecked, it could weaken the tree structure and cause it to produce less fruit.
Another feature to look out for and eliminate as you prune your dormant fruit trees back? Watersprouts.
Put simply, watersprouts are new shoots of growth that originate in the growth nodes of your plant. These growth nodes could be on the outer surface of the tree's bark, or they could be buried into its old wood. These are relatively easy to spot because they are thinner than their parent branch, held onto it by a weak connection.
Benefits of Dormant Pruning
Need a little convincing to head outside in the chilly temperatures, armed with your heavy coat and pair of pruning shears?
Let's take a look at a few of the main reasons why it's best to tackle this chore as soon as the days get shorter and the temperatures begin to dip.
Prepare the Trees For Winter
Winter can be a challenging season for even the strongest fruit trees to navigate. Trimming away any weak or damaged limbs gives them a fighting chance to survive in the cold weather.
The limbs that you leave behind are made stronger and more durable by the elimination of their weaker counterparts.
Keep Pests Away
As mentioned, fruit trees are more vulnerable to bacteria and fungi than other tree species. Yet, if you create fresh cuts on the tree during the dormant season, you can help repel the insects that carry disease.
Easier on the Trees
Pruning can be a little stressful on your tree, but it's even more challenging when the tree is in the middle of spring or summer growth. Trimming it back during the winter is easier on the tree and encourages more robust growth when warmer weather comes around.
Easier to Access
Another reason why the winter is the best season for pruning apple trees, pear trees and other fruit-bearing varieties? The ground is harder, which can make some trees easier to access. This is especially helpful if your trees are planted near delicate, landscaped areas or flower beds.
In addition, without leaves on the canopy, it's easier to see and handle the different branches.
Hiring a Professional Arborist
Unless you know exactly how to trim your fruit trees, you could wind up doing more harm than good. That's why it's always best to contact your local team of arborists, who know exactly what to do.
We'll work with you to provide trimming services that help meet your individual goals. For instance, we can help prune your trees to establish certain views, help you maintain your privacy, or simply preserve the overall health of your tree.
Trim Your Fruit Trees Back With Confidence
You invested in fruit trees because you had dreams of growing your own delicious food, right in the front or back yard. With proper care, these trees can live up to that expectation, adding years of enjoyment and conversation to your property.
However, you play a major role in helping them reach this potential.
When you know when and how to trim fruit trees, you're one step ahead of the game. By following the timelines and instructions detailed above, you can help your trees start out strong and healthy from the beginning.
Looking for professional landscaping services that can keep your trees looking great and feeling their best? That's where we come in. For more than 15 years, our team has homeowners and business owners throughout southwest Florida keep their outdoor areas in top condition.
From tree trimming and tree removal to landscape lighting and stump grinding, we do it all. Contact us today to request a quote on your project.