Good Time to Prune Fruit Trees
February and March is an excellent time to prune fruit trees. Yearly pruning is important in developing fruit trees which produce fruit where is easily harvested. For many fruit trees and additional light pruning in mid summer is also very helpful.
Fruit trees can be shortened in height by as much as one third. Where you make pruning cuts is very important. Sometimes it requires two or more years to reduce the height to where you want it. Find a side branch on each major trunk or branch which is growing outward. Prune just above that side branch. If there are no side branches growing at the height you want, go higher up until you find one. Making a major pruning cut will stimulate new branch growth a foot or two below the cut. Next year or the year after you can make a cut after these lower branches develop.
Next, thin out some of the smaller branches throughout the tree. Leave branches which are growing outward. Remove branches which are growing straight up or inward. When two branches rub or cross each other, one should be removed. In a normal year about one of every three or four branches are removed to their source. If trees have not been pruned for a few years, more and larger branches will need to be removed.
This allows light to reach the inner and lower parts of the tree. If the upper branches grow so thickly that they limit the light reaching the lower branches, they will produce smaller and fewer fruits where it is easily picked.
Shade tree branches are normally removed below 6 feet. Fruit tree branches are normally allowed to develop at heights as low as 3 or 4 feet. Fruit from these lower branches is much easier to harvest.
After heavy dormant season pruning, many fruit trees respond by developing many fast growing upright branches referred to as water sprouts. These branches can be removed the next dormant season. However, they are much easier to remove in May or June when they are less than a foot long. They are soft and green at that time and can be snapped off without cutting tools. Snapping is preferred because it removes some of the lower branch tissue which is left behind if pruners are used. This lower tissue contains latent buds which can produce a second sprout later in the summer.