Why do we prune a tree? The simplest answer is to give the tree the best chance of a long, productive life. There are, though, many reasons for pruning. For fruit, we want light and air penetrating the centre of the tree; to benefit wildlife, we may want to rebalance a tree that is no longer productive so that it remains standing; or we may just want to create an attractive shape.
Most pruning guides get very complicated very quickly. We will show you 4 cuts and how the tree will respond to them. Each pruning cut has a specific purpose such as controlling growth, removing damaged or badly placed branches or stimulating the formation of flowers and fruits. Once you understand how a tree will react to being cut in these 4 ways, you have the tools to manage your fruit trees. Of course, you can choose to get into the complicated stuff – but start here.
A fruit tree will require pruning throughout its life although the frequency and objective will change as the tree matures. In the early years, the aim of pruning is to create a healthy tree with a strong balanced branch structure that will crop well and be easy to manage. This is by far the most important period of pruning and sadly the most neglected. In the middle years, the focus switches to reducing the potential for damage and disease as well as stimulating fruit production. With veteran trees, fruit production is no longer a priority. Preventing structural collapse is now the imperative so that the tree can maintain its wildlife and/or landscape value.
Before you pick up your secateurs or pruning saw (which, by the way, should be clean and sharp) and head to the orchard it is helpful to familiarise yourself with the basic anatomy or framework of the tree.
It can be broken down into four main sections:
Trunk: This is the main stem of the tree and is formed from the initial central leader.
Framework branches: The main limbs of the tree that radiate out from the trunk. These are usually retained for long periods, if not the entire lifetime of the tree.
Lateral branches: The secondary side branches that emerge from the framework branches are known as laterals. These smaller side branches bear the leaves and fruiting spurs.
Fruiting Spurs: A short branch where the apple tree flowers and sets fruit.
The aim of pruning is to help establish all these correctly.
By mastering each of the Four Cuts in our Guide to Best Pruning Practice you will understand how to do this. The next blog in the series will look at Cut One which is used to promote strong growth and structure by developing the framework branches.