When we moved here we inherited 6 peach trees with the property and had no idea how to care for them. It's been 5 years now, and we finally feel like we're getting a handle on managing them properly. We've also added 2 Morris plums to the yard. They're 3 years old now. This post is a play-by-play pruning tutorial of one of our plums.
Disclaimer: We would not normally prune fruit trees during their blossom, but we had to do it this year. The warming trend just hasn't slowed down, and we weren't quick enough with the pruning sheers. I stand by the idea that it's good to prune in early spring (or summer after fruiting) when the trees are wide awake, energized and strong. Pruning in fall and winter leaves open wounds unhealed and susceptible to disease. For this year, we were a little too late and our blossoms will have to suffer some hardship as a consequence.
I find that when pruning fruit trees every cut boils down to choosing between two or three limbs. Here are my humble recommendations for helping choose what limbs to cut or not to cut.
- Don't be afraid to cut! Your tree is its own worst enemy. It needs your help, and that requires pruning. I've had to use a saw to remove unhelpful limbs on our older peach trees. Such limbs should have been pruned years before I ever got to them. But also remember that stone fruit grows on new growth branches, so don't go crazy. I can hear Belle in the background crying out for the tree as I prune, "Stop, stop! Please don't hurt me!"
- Prune your tree to look like an upside down umbrella. Keep the center clear. This fosters light for growth and air flow to fight bugs and disease.
- Prune your tree for a strong center of gravity. When the tree is young select 4 or 5 main branches as the center of all growth.
|5 limbs w/an empty center. See how the tree tries so hard to grow straight up the middle. I just keep cutting the center shoots out.|
- When choosing between branches, cut the one furthest from the center of the tree. If you don't get what I mean, just try holding a book up for a minute or so with an outstretched arm. It's much easier to hold the book close to your body. The same is true for trees, only instead of books they hold fruit. The idea is to keep the growing branches close to the trunk.
- Limbs are like people.They need their space. Prune branches to create space among the limbs. For me, this means when selecting limbs I prune branches touching each other and I prune branches that are less than 4 inches from another.
- A tree properly pruned is like an flowing ocean wave. Everything is moving (growing) in the same direction. Prune the branches that are growing against the flow of growth.
|Before. You can see what's growing against the flow of growth. Notice the wound from one branch rubbing the other.|
|After. The remaining branches are growing the same direction, and the entire space is much thinner for light and air.|
- I recommend pruning your tree so that you don't need ladders and you don't need to climb it to harvest the fruit. We've already got enough work to do around here. Dragging out ladders to get to our harvest is just plain inefficient!
- Another incidental efficiency measure is to prune from the bottom toward the top. Doing this will ensure that you don't needlessly prune the same branches twice.
|The Tree before.|
|After pruning the largest branches from the bottom and upward.|
|The finished tree, topped to about 8 feet high.|
The post wouldn't be complete without a pick of Belle's amazing home decor! Don't tell her I said so, but she is amazing. She refurbished a Craigslist piece of furniture to become that beautiful china hutch pictured below, and she painted and stenciled the wall in the background. I guess gardeners have to find something to do in the winter! I love our new kitchen. The blooms make it perfect. Thanks Belle, and happy Birthday!