No task troubles beginning gardeners more than pruning fruit trees. They’re almost afraid that any cut will kill or mutilate the tree. I recall one gardener on his knees praying he’d make the right cuts. Trees want to live just as much as you do and they like being pruned so they’ll produce quality fruit for you.
I caught up with Cliff Wood, a 12 year Master Gardener veteran with lots of fruit-tree pruning experience, to give us some finer tips on pruning.
Here they are:
■ You must manage your trees so they’ll produce bushels of quality fruit for you.
■ He keeps the height trees down where he keeps his feet firmly planted on the ground to harvest the fruit and avoid potential ladders accidents.
■ You need to know where the trees bear fruit. Some gardeners prune so severely they remove all the fruit buds on trees. Peaches and nectarines produce fruit on last year’s shiny wood found at the end of the branches. Apples, pears, apricots and plums bear their fruit on spurs that look like rooster spurs. Wood said these spurs last for years, so don’t damage them.
■ Get rid of any dead, diseased wood. Make all cuts back into live wood with the final cut going back to the parent crotch (the original branches). Some pests work down in the tree so clean intruders out.
■ Remove any crisscrossing branches. He doesn’t want branches interfering with one another.
■ Leave no stubs. If you leave one, it will eternally stare at you and become an entrance location for pests until you remove it.
■ Remove all vertical branches. Research finds vertical branches do not produce fruit and saps the tree’s energy, so get rid of them.
You can bend some limbs out to make them into productive bearing limbs. Wood places what he calls spacers, which is a 1-by-2 board between the vertical limb and the parent limbs to force them out to a 45 degree angle. Ideally, Wood likes all limbs coming off the tree at a 45 degree angle — that’s when they produce best.
■ Next, remove all limbs growing down toward the ground. These limbs never produce fruit and are a hindrance when working the trees.
■ Look closely at the center of the tree. Wood wants it open so light can enter to stimulate more bud production on the inside limbs.
■ After Wood finishes pruning a tree, he shakes it well. If he hears limbs rattling against one another, he removes the undesirables. He said each limb must have its own territory so it will continue to produce fruit.
■ Like good gardeners Wood always has his hand pruners hanging on his belt. When he sees a limb getting out of bounds or a sick twig he removes it immediately.
■ Wood uses his hand pruners for limbs up to a nickel in diameter. Those up to a quarter size he uses loppers. For anything larger he uses a pruning saw. The saw’s designed to do the sawing when you pull the saw toward you for easier cutting.
■ Wood stressed the importance of always using sharp tools to make clean cuts. Most professional gardeners carry little sharpeners in their pockets to sharpen their tools often.
“I use coarse sandpaper to sharpen my tools and it does fine.” You want to prevent what he calls slobbering cuts leaving dangling bark tissue, which impedes healing after pruning.
■ Wood also carries a Lysol aerosol can with him. After pruning each tree, he sprays his tools with Lysol to prevent the spread of disease. He said it’s so important because we are already having problems with fire blight in pears at the orchard.
ORCHARD NEEDS PRUNING VOLUNTEERS: The University Research Orchard Center needs volunteers to help prune more than 700 trees. You don’t have to be a Master Gardener to help. Instructors train you on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon and then place you under supervision to prune trees.
Visit the orchard blog site on Facebook for more information. The orchard is at 4600 Horse Drive in North Las Vegas. By volunteering, you’ll gain a wealth of knowledge to prune your own trees and you are helping prune the orchard.
ROSE PRUNING DEMONSTRATION: The Las Vegas Valley Rose Society is having a pruning demonstration from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at 1112 Oak Tree Lane. For more information call 702-646-6048.
Linn Mills’ garden column appears on Sundays. You can reached him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 702-526-1495.