Why Is It Important to Prune Fruit Trees Every Year?

— Written By Bill Hanlin and last updated by JoAnne Gryder

correct_incorrect_pruningFruit trees are different from your average shade trees in that they need to be pruned every year to improve fruit quality. Pruning fruit trees is a necessary chore that improves sunlight penetration and increase air movement through the tree. Pruning also develops the structure of the tree so that it can support the crop load. The following steps are some basic pruning tips that will help you determine which wood to keep and which to remove.

The first step is to remove any diseased or damaged branches. Diseased limbs can be a source of disease for the upcoming season so it is important to remove and destroy these branches. For example, fire blight on apples and pears will form cankers. These cankers will ooze the fire blight causing bacteria in the spring, which is then spread to other trees. Damaged limbs are susceptible to disease and insect infestations that could further damage the tree.

The next step is to remove vigorous upright growth from the previous season. This growth is called water sprouts and, in peaches, can be as much as 6 feet in length. Water sprouts will not bear fruit and can lead to excessive shading on the interior of the tree. For peaches in particular, excessive shading can cause twigs and branches to die and result in less fruiting wood for next year.

One final step is to remove branches that are crossing directly over other branches or are growing towards the center of the tree. These branches will lead to shading problems that were previously mentioned. Also, fruit on crossing limbs will often rub on other limbs that can lead to blemishes and entry points for insects and diseases.

The commercial tree fruit growers will begin pruning their apple trees in December. They often leave their peach and nectarine trees to be pruned in late winter or early spring to avoid bud damage caused by freezing weather.

Once you have carried out these basic steps, you may want to remove more wood to open the tree up and improve tree structure. All of the pruned wood should be removed from the area since prunings may be a source of pest infestations in the upcoming season.