Although some people think anyone with a pruning saw can prune a fruit tree, this is untrue. Most fruit trees aren't killed from pests, but by improper pruning, notes the Texas AgriLife Extension Service website. Fruit tree pruning is removing plant parts so the health of a tree can be improved. Pruning is not only an art, but also a science, points out the University of Arkansas. While artists may understand what they're doing, scientists understand the reason they're doing it.
There are several terms linked with fruit tree pruning. For example, the term "fruit spurs" refers to dense, short growth where fruit and flowers develop. A bearing tree is a fruit tree that's at the stage of producing fruit annually. A crotch is the angle between two branches close to their origination point. Suckers are branches that grow up from the base of the tree. Shoot pertains to new growth that develops during a current growing season, according to the University of Arkansas.
Besides removing less productive wood, the main advantage of pruning fruit trees is to increase sunlight penetration and shape the tree's crown into a stable, efficient form. When fruit trees are not pruned, the quality of fruit is considerably lower, although there may be a greater quantity of fruit, notes Ohio State University. Pruning encourages uniform ripening and increases the size of fruit. It reduces insect and disease problems because it allows for better spray coverage and faster drying after rainfall. Pruning also makes it easier to harvest fruit on time.
Late winter or early spring is the best season for pruning fruit trees, as this time is before active growth begins. If you plan to prune large blocks of trees, time the pruning so it's completed before buds break. Not doing so can damage trees if sap starts to flow the same time you're pruning, notes the University of Arkansas. Bark is also less prone to tear from cuts when pruning is done during a late dormant period.
Thinning out is a pruning cut that removes an entire shoot back to a side shoot. These cuts don't stimulate a tree compared to other pruning cuts, says North Carolina State University. Heading out is the cut that removes just the terminal part of a shoot. This pruning cut encourages growth in lower buds and terminal buds just below the cut.
A bench cut removes erect, vigorous shoots back to side branches that grow outward and are somewhat flat. These cuts are done to encourage branches to spread outward and to open up the center of a tree. Because it's a major cut, it should only be used when needed.
When choosing a branch to cut and where it should be cut, consider that topping, or pruning the top of a vertical branch, promotes the vegetative growth needed for the development of the fruit tree, says the University of California. Topping a vertical branch also opens a tree up for additional sunlight. Topping horizontal branches renews fruiting wood and thins off excessive fruit.
Pruning shears or saws should always be sharp to ensure clean cuts. The Lawn and Gardening Tips website recommends using pruning shears that are less than 1/2 inch wide on young trees and limbs. For larger cuts, use lopping shears. Pruning saws should be reserved for mature fruit trees.