Early January is normally when we recommend pruning your stone fruit trees here. The trees are about as dormant as they are going to get, even though some may still have some leaves on them. How to prune your fruit tree can seem complicated, but understanding why we prune can help clear up some of that confusion.

Keeping Trees to Size

The first and probably most obvious reason we prune is to keep the trees to a manageable size. Trees in orchards would normally have lower limbs removed and were allowed to grow tall. The reason for this wasn’t the health or production of the tree, it was to allow farm equipment to easily move through the orchard. In the home garden, there is no reason to limb up trees and have them grow so tall you need an extension ladder to pick the fruit. It’s now recommended that when first planting a small tree, to cut it back to just 24″-30″ in height when first planting the tree. Yes, that’s inches. Cutting the tree back this far at the start will allow it to grow lower branches and you will have more of a large shrub shape than what we typically think of as a tree. This will mean fruit production will be on lower branches so harvesting will be a breeze.

Removing Broken Branches and Dead Growth

Think of pruning as like a haircut. Doesn’t your hair feel so much nicer once all the split ends are cut off? Same for the tree. Cutting out all the dead and broken branches just makes the tree look and feel better.

Encouraging Growth

Pruning encourages trees to branch and more branches lead to fuller looking trees and better fruit production.

Let the Light In

This is probably the most important reason and probably the last most people think of. Trees need to get light on their branches in order for buds to form. Opening up a tree in a vase shape where sunlight can reach the lower branches keeps these branches productive and full of fruit.

For more information, please check out the following:

Dave Wilson Nursery’s Backyard Orchard Culture