Pruning Fruit Trees and Shrubs

Equipment

The basic tools for pruning are hand pruners, lopping shears and pruning saws.

  • Hand pruners are very useful on small plants or when a lot of small limbs less than ½ inch in diameter need to be cut. The short handles give more control when doing detail pruning.
  • Lopping shears can cut wood from ¼ inch up to 1 ½ inches in diameter. The long handles enable limbs to be pruned up to 8 feet away. They also allow extra leverage when cutting larger limbs.
  • A pruning saw is needed, however, for limbs too large for lopping shears.

Benefits of Pruning

Pruning fruit trees can be beneficial in several ways.

  • Pruning improves tree health by removing dead, injured or diseased limbs.
  • It eases harvesting by shaping and reducing tree and shrub height.
  • Pruning increases flower production on trees such as peaches that bloom on new growth.
  • Lastly, it improves fruit quality by allowing more light penetration, which improves fruit color, and by thinning the fruit crop, which improves fruit size and sugar content.

Pruning Process

The first step in pruning is to remove any dead, broken or diseased branches. Branches should be cut back to a fork or bud. Generally, a ridge or area of wrinkled wood is around the base of the branch. This is called the branch collar.

The collar has the ability to heal nearby wounds and should not be cut. The limb should be cut just outside the collar. The branch collar will then quickly grow over the cut surface. Do not leave a stub sticking out of the collar. The collar will not be able to grow over the cut surface, and the stub will frequently die. This will sometimes lead to a hollow in the tree.

Next, remove branches that grow toward the center of the tree. These branches will often cross other limbs and cause rubbing injury. These limbs also will prevent light penetration and air circulation, which reduces fruit coloring and encourages diseases. Limbs of equal size that form a sharp V will tend to split apart. One of the limbs should be removed before the limbs get very large.

Limb growth can be directed by pruning back to a bud or shoot that is pointing toward the direction where growth is desired. This procedure allows the tree to be shaped or to fill in gaps in tree structure.

More detailed information for pruning vines (Muscadine Grapes), blueberries, and blackberries is included below.

Pruning Calendar

Winter (December – February)

Muscadine Grapes are pruned to a 2-arm cordon system (see Louisiana Home Orchard manual for more information). Muscadine vines must be pruned every year; if a year is missed, it will take several years to return the plant to normal production. Pruning may be done at any time while the vines are dormant.

Prune muscadine grapes to leave short spurs rather than long canes. These fruit spurs are formed by cutting back the first lateral growth that arises from the main permanent arms (cordon). This lateral growth is normally formed by the end of the second growing season. Cut back these lateral canes to two or three buds. Every year thereafter cut back the growth of the current year to two or three buds. The number of these short spurs determines the productivity of the plant. After two or three years, vines will develop clusters of spurs.

February

Mid-February is generally the best time to prune most fruit trees in Louisiana. The coldest part of winter is usually over, and trees will soon be growing and can heal pruning injuries.

It is important to point out that different methods of pruning are used on different fruit species.

Fruit trees such as peach, nectarine and Japanese plums produce fruit on 1-year-old wood. Because pruning stimulates growth, it is the best means available to assure an annual supply of this essential fruiting wood. Japanese plums also produce fruit on spurs and should not be pruned as much as peaches.

Peaches, nectarines, and Japanese plums are typically pruned to a three-limb open center form or sometimes four-limb in Japanese plums. This method allows sunlight into the tree and enables the fruit to develop proper color. The upper shoots can be tipped to keep trees low enough that the fruit can be harvested without the aid of ladders. Failure to control tree height will cause the lower branches to be shaded out and the fruiting wood to be too high to harvest without ladders.

Apple and pear trees produce fruit on short spurs that last 10 to 15 years. Excessive pruning will remove the fruiting spurs and reduce crop size. It will also cause excessive non-spur producing wood to be produced, which is non-productive. Apples and pears are normally trained to a central leader or modified central leader system. Pruning basically consists of thinning out thick areas and removing weak or damaged wood. Excessive pruning can make trees prone to fire blight disease.

Figs produce fruit on current season wood, although some varieties produce an early crop on the previous season’s growth. Figs do not need heavy pruning to produce fruiting wood. Pruning consists primarily of removing inward growth when necessary to keep the tree open. Dead, diseased or damaged wood along with suckers and water sprouts should be removed.

Additional details on fruit tree pruning can be found in “The Louisiana Home Orchard” publication available under the “Publications” section of the Home Fruit Production page.

Summer (June and July)

Blueberry flower buds develop on growth produced the previous year. Thus, blueberries can be pruned after harvest concludes during the summer months. Doing so will reduce plant height, making berry harvest easier the following year. The regrowth after summer pruning will house the flower buds that will produce the flowers, and subsequent berries, the following year. Pruning of blueberry plants in the winter or early spring will result in minimal berry production because the already-developed flower buds were removed.

There are two main seasons to prune blackberries: winter and summer. During the winter, inspect and remove any dead or injured canes. Next, remove the floricanes. These are the canes that produced berries and die after harvest. After removing spent floricanes, you should cut back any other growth until four or five healthy canes remain. Cut lateral branches back to about 12 inches in length. Be sure to complete this step prior to new growth emerging in the spring. Remove all pruned canes and debris from the orchard.

During the summer, all primocanes (new growth) should be topped at a height of 3 to 4 feet. Topping the canes will encourage the blackberry plants to grow fuller instead of growing taller. After pruning, the plant will send out lateral shoots and will bear fruit the following year.

Adapted from materials written by Dr. John Pyzner, Dr. Mary Helen Ferguson, and the Blackberry Growing Guide.

7/27/2020 3:45:40 PM
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