Fruit tree pruning 101

'Tis the season in Terrace B.C. to start getting fruit trees ready and a local resident has some tips on how to do it.

  • Apr. 2, 2012 7:00 p.m.

By Charles Claus

1. Pruning fruit trees in late winter, when the trees are still dormant is the most common practice.

2. The three basic pruning profiles are: central leader, modified central leader and open vase. Most apples and pear trees are pruned either with a central leader or a modified central leader. Most plums, cherries and peach trees on the other hand, are pruned open vase. Consciously work with one shape as you prune a specific tree.

3. If you are new to pruning, read a book or look up some pruning information on a university website. The critical component for most people who are new to pruning is to gain some confidence. When I read the book by Lewis Hill, Fruits and Berries For The Home Garden, it helped me learn a number of basic skill sets. I also found the pictures and diagrams to be very helpful and instructive. The most common pruning error is to make a cut several inches away from the joining larger stem. These protruding stubs rot over time and invite disease. The correct place is to cut just beyond the collar, the slight raised area beyond the main branch. Do not make a cut clean with the surface of the main branch and remove the collar, as the collar as much more ability to heal over.

4. Avoid pruning in the rain, as wet cuts help spread canker. Whereas previously it was common practice to use an asphalt based pruning sealer to seal cuts, research has shown that applying sealer retards healing of the cut.

5. Wear appropriate safety gear. I like to wear gloves and regularly use eye protection as well.

6. Use sharp, well-oiled pruning tools. Sharp tools make clean cuts which help mitigate against disease. A couple of years ago on the advice of Quinton Freeman at Uplands Nursery, I started using an Ice Auger Sharpener. It works like a charm on my hand-held pruners and loppers.

7. Sanitize your tools between trees or after every time you prune off diseased limbs. Wetting a rag with rubbing alcohol and cleaning your tools works fine. Some people like to use Lysol Spray while others like to use a 10 percent solution of bleach in water.

8. If you encounter black dark growths on plum trees, you have met black knot, a more recent intrusion into the Skeena Valley. Cut off the branch at least 10-12 inches below the protrusion and dispose of the cankerous limbs. The best way to deal with black knot is to simply burn it. Alternatively you could bury it in the ground at least two feet deep. If the tree is full of black knot, it is best to take the tree down and dispose of it properly.

9. Avoid over pruning a tree. Try not to butcher a tree yet, on the other hand, have confidence to make cuts that remove dead growth, crisscrossed branches, and branches that are diseased. If you do make a cut you later regret, do not be too hard on yourself. You have probably not killed the tree and the tree will continue to grow and accommodate your mistake.

10. Give yourself time to become a more accomplished pruner – think in terms of the next number of years, not the next couple of days or weeks.

Charles Claus is a local businessman with several varieties of fruit trees at his residence River Mist Farm.