Young trees if not pruned develop weak branches bearing excessive fruit early in their lives, but reduced crops as they mature. They develop their own shape, rather than the one the orchard owner wants, usually with an excess of crowded, vertical material. With correct pruning in the early years, the tree will develop a strong structure of framework branches that will crop well and be easier to manage in the future. In our last blog, we introduced our Guide to Best Pruning Practice in Four Cuts. These are the four essential pruning cuts that once mastered will provide you with the tools to manage your fruit trees throughout their life. This blog will look at Cut One which is used to promote strong, new growth.
Cut One is used most frequently when pruning young trees, but can be used on older trees when strong, new growth is required.
Using secateurs, shorten the previous year’s growth on each main branch to a bud pointing in the direction that you want the branch to develop. This will usually be a downward, outward facing bud, as we want to keep the centre of the tree open to allow good air circulation and let in plenty of light. We also want new growth to be horizontal. Horizontal branches are much stronger and produce more fruiting spurs.
If there is a choice of bud – often there is only one option – select the bud furthest from the tip if you want more vigorous growth and closer to the tip if you want a less vigorous response. Pruning guides often recommend shortening one-year-old growth by a third to a half. It’s good advice, but bud direction should dictate your decision first and foremost.
Before you make the cut check that you are pruning one-year-old wood. Work backwards from the tip of the stem to where the previous season’s growth began. There is often a slight ridging in the stem and/or a change in the colour. On the image above it is easy to distinguish between the one-year-old and two-year-old wood, but it is not always this obvious, particularly on trees where the growth has been quite weak. (Key point: Older wood responds differently to pruning than one-year-old wood. This is dealt with in detail with Cut Three)
Work methodically around the tree ensuring that you don’t miss any branches. Stand in front of the branch you are pruning and run your finger along the underside until you locate a suitable bud and make a clean cut just above it.
On apples and pears, this type of pruning is best done in the winter months when the tree is dormant. However, because of the risk of silverleaf, stone fruits, such as plums and cherries must be pruned in the late spring or early summer on warm, dry days. (See Winter or Summer Pruning?)
Why: To promote new growth
How: Cut just above a downward, outward facing bud on one-year-old wood
Response: Strong new growth in the direction the bud is facing. The harder the cut the more vigorous the response
When: Apples and Pears: in the winter
Stone fruits: Late spring or early summer