Correct pruning keeps fruit trees healthy. Trees with few overlapping or competing limbs have a better chance of a long fruitful life. In young and mature trees, allowing more sunlight and air to penetrate the canopy aids tree health and fruit production. Older and veteran trees can be kept in balance, or even rebalanced to prevent them from falling. However, the very act of pruning is causing a wound to the tree. Using the right pruning technique, a tree will seal the wound using its own mechanisms and little harm will come to the tree.
As part of our Guide To Best Pruning Practice In Four Cuts, this blog will look at Cut Two which is used when removing a whole branch back to the trunk or parent branch.
Of the four cuts covered in this series, Cut Two is the one you will use most frequently. Whenever you need to remove a whole branch of a fruit tree whatever the tree’s age and diameter of the branch, you should be using Cut Two, referred to by some as a regulation or maintenance cut. This includes even very young trees when, for example, you are removing side shoots from the main stem. However small the side shoot the technique is the same.
Don’t randomly remove branches. Begin by assessing which ones need removing and why. View the tree from all angles, before you make your final decision. A tree that looks balanced from one viewpoint can look unbalanced from another. And remember falling branches are heavy – make sure you and anyone working with you have an escape route.
When cutting back whole branches you are seeking to cut to the main stem or trunk or to above a well placed outward growing branch. This branch should be at least one-third the diameter of the branch being cut. Begin by locating the branch collar which forms at the base of the branch where it attaches to the trunk or parent branch. It is usually fairly easy to spot. Look for the swollen area that has a ridged or wrinkled appearance.
The branch collar is the tree’s own natural defence against disease which prevents the trunk becoming infected. When the tree detects that a branch has been broken or cut, it produces callus wood to seal the wound. This works much like a scab on a cut, preventing any pathogens getting into the rest of the tree. In the image below, you can clearly see where branches have been removed in the past and callus wood has formed in response to the cut.
When removing a branch, it should be cut back flush with the outer edge of the ridged area. This preserves the branch collar and allows it to do its work sealing the wound. Don’t damage the collar itself by cutting flush to the trunk and don’t leave stubs.
Leaving a stub by not cutting close enough to the branch collar will stimulate the tree to produce watershoots (a mass of unwanted growth) or perhaps even worse, death of the stub and the tissue of the trunk beneath it.
In more mature trees if the branch to be removed is too heavy to hold up or out of reach cut the branch in sections. In this way, when you make the final cut close to the branch collar the weight of the branch won’t tear the bark and damage the branch collar.
Summary for Cut Two
Why: To remove whole branches back to the main trunk or parent branch
How: Cut the branch flush with the branch collar
Response: The tree will seal the wound with callous wood
When: Apples and Pears: in the winter or summer
Stone fruits: Late spring or summer
Equipment: Secateurs, pruning saw or pole saw depending on the diameter of the branch