Fruit trees offer not only fresh, nutritious food, but provide shade, habitats for birds, squirrels and other wild creatures, while adding attractive greenery and seasonal flowers to your property. If your tree is older and hasn't received the pruning care it needs for some time, consider hiring an arborist because pruning a large tree can be dangerous: professionals can get your tree back on the right track for its future health and productivity.
Train Trees When They're Young
Get your young fruit tree off to a good start in life by learning the best way to prune it. Different fruit trees have different needs, so do some research to learn about the preferred methods for your particular tree. For example, some fruit trees don't need much pruning, while others, such as citrus, do fine when you cut them to maintain a compact and tidy shape, according to University of Florida Extension. You can prune newly planted trees in spring, but in general, prune your fruit trees during their winter dormant period.
Some Trees Need an Open Center
Apricot trees and some other types need their main leader branch pruned to 3 or 4 feet from ground level when you first plant them in spring, . This practice forces lateral branches to develop and grow strong, while allowing light into the center of the tree.
Start With Dead and Broken Branches
For older trees, begin your pruning job by examining the tree for any dead, broken or diseased branches. Cut them off cleanly on the branch side of the collar, which is a raised area where the branch grows from the trunk. You might need to use a tree saw for larger branches: for younger trees with smaller branches, large garden loppers will suffice.
Prune For Balance and To Allow Light Into the Tree's Center
After you cut off any dead or broken branches, step back and evaluate your tree's current shape. Decide if you want to maintain the shape or if you want to change it. Many fruit trees look attractive when they are pruned into a globe shape. Then prune off all branches that detract from this appearance.
You can also make "stiffening cuts" of slender limbs by removing about a third of such limbs. Encourage several "scaffold" branches, evenly spaced and at least 8 inches apart, along the tree's trunk when the tree is young, advises Texas A&M University Extension. This practice will help the sun to reach the center of the tree, which is needed for photosynthesis and good fruit production. Also cut branches that bump into other branches and ones that grow pointing downward.
Always Prune Watersprouts
Many fruit trees will develop watersprouts, or "suckers," from the base of their trunk, at ground level. These sapling-like sprouts detract from the tree's ability to grow strong branches and produce fruit. Always cut them at their base, at any time of year that they appear, According to University of Minnesota Extension.