Pruning for Production
As we move deeper into the swing of summer, it's time to maintain our trees that fruit in the spring so they continue to work for us. We hope our tips help those of us to resolve any fears of pruning and ease those who end up using their shears like a butchering knife!
Pruning is a procedure that manages a tree into a bushier growth habit and, most times, will increase fruit production. If you have ever wondered why your tree fails to produce a heavy fruit set, even though its lush, green and large, it is because the tree has no reason to fruit. Life is good after all, right? No threats, plenty of fertilizer to go around, irrigation daily, why should I waste my energy making fruit?!" - So says the tree you have been lovingly nurturing over the last few years.
Why we Prune
Fruit is a way for trees to spread their seed. When a tree is put in a survival mode via pruning, it gives the command to push out fruits to propagate itself into the landscape. Without fear, the tree will continue to focus its resources and energy on leaf & root production because there is no reason to reproduce itself. Our pruning mimics a natural occurrence of wildlife, weather occurrence or wind disturbance that would have naturally pruned the tree back. Life is rough outside of a manicured landscape!
A good pruning will help those lanky and leggy stalks, the results of a shaded plant reaching for sunlight. New growth will stem out from the various nodes running up the plant stalks. By pruning closer to the base of the plant, a bushier habit will start to develop. This allows the fruiting plant to work for us; fruit set is within arm's reach and heavier than ever before. Its truly a win-win!
Prune for air flow, fruit accessibility, fruit set and shape. For leafy, bushy trees, branches in the center restrict the airflow and light and will encourage mold growth. It is best to create a pocket in the center of the tree, creating a sort of bowl shape. Remember to leave some branches in the center though, otherwise the trunk can sunburn!
It is very important to disinfect your pruning tools after each plant in order to avoid the spreading of potential diseases. We also recommend to spray your plants after pruning (particularly your blueberries) with an organic fungicide. We currently use an organic copper fungicide made by Bonide.
How to Prune For Tree Health:
Initially, one should learn about the tree desired to be pruned. Is the tree old enough to set fruit? If so, learn how the tree fruits. Stone Fruit (Peaches and nectarines) and Pome Fruit (apples pears), can be pruned in the same manner, blueberries are similar to these types as well. By pruning during the dormant season, you are ensuring that there is time to heal while the plant is focused on dormancy and not growth. With blueberries, we like to do a hard pruning following the fruiting season. One can expect more growth during the rainy season, but may need to prune again in the fall/winter. This can be beneficial to fruit set next year, since many fruits set on one-year old growth, With pruning after fruit has been set, we are getting a bushy growth habit while ensuring there is adequate growth available for next season's fruit.
So, let's acquire some sharp shears, a positive attitude and diluted isopropyl alcohol or hydrogen peroxide. Spray or soak the shears to disinfect - we don't want to carry disease from one tree to another and its good form to be clean when pruning. Spray your shears after pruning each tree, especially if disease is evident. Now bring that positive attitude and clean shears to your fruit tree and know that you are pruning for the tree's well being and your own. Seriously, its okay, a healthy plant will regenerate quickly. Pruning is a pedicure for your tree!
First, prune off 'Dead, Damaged or Diseased' wood, these limbs will not support the tree and only serve to create problems in the future. Remove sprouts from the root stock, root suckers and water sprouts (straight and vertical sprouts stemming from the main branches). These cuts are made flush with the branch they sprout from, don't leave stubs. Easy enough!
'Thin it Out'! Remove any branches that grow towards the center (these limbs reduce air flow), downward (weak to support fruit) or that cross other branches that are weaker or less supportive of the two branches that intersect. Circulation and allowing light into the center of the tree is the goal here.
Step back, see and imagine the shape of the tree and how we will want to harvest from it. Visualize a flowing, branching, fractal pattern from the main trunk, outward to the branches. Time to make some major decisions by removing 30-40% of last year's growth. Prune off branches that are competing with branches off of the same crotch, these will visually appear to reduce the flow we are looking for. Ideal crotch angles for branches is 2 o'clock and at 10 o-clock from the center of the tree.
Thin the tree until there is a good 6 to 12 inches of air space around each branch. Smaller the branches are the less is needed between them. Again, all cuts should be cut flush with the branch the pruned branch is cut from.
Okay, you're almost a novice arborist at this point! Last step, 'Heading Back' gives a bit of a haircut to the lanky/leggy branches by trimming them back a bit. You don't need the tree to be overly loaded fruit, too much stress on the plant. Cutting plants back, especially blueberries, will allow the major branches to grow thicker and better support fruit set.
Lastly, go back to spoiling your tree! Water and feed your plant with organic fertilizer (we sell the fertilizer we use at our nursery), compost tea, mulch, manure, etc. Nitrogen will be the key nutrient utilized by the plant to regenerate its leafy parts. Remember, its okay to fail, you may achieved beautiful shape for your tree, or a heavier fruit set, or maybe all you got was some practice using your shears, but its okay, next year is a new year full of new fruit and new lessons to be learned. To conquer our fears is the only way to have more fruit in our life. Learn to prune off the excess to have more abundance next year.
Of course you are always welcome to visit us or call us (352 536 3112) to ask all the questions you may have!