Fruit Tree Pruning – Lessons Learned the Hard Way

I’ll admit that I’m a total noob when it comes to dealing with fruit trees. Even though I’ve studied botany, maintained landscape trees and shrubs, and read multiple pruning guides, I still feel like fruit trees are some kind of mystical entities that defy my understanding. I don’t really get why it’s so hard, because it should be pretty simple, right? So when we bought our property with plums, apples, pears, and cherries, I was both excited and daunted.

Apple Sprouts

Well this is embarrassing

Last winter I did some pruning of our apple trees. I re-read a number of articles on pruning apple trees beforehand, just to make sure I didn’t screw things up too badly. I think I started out with the intention of just thinning out some of the branches, removing branches that were crossed, growing at awkward angles, or getting out of control.

This would probably have been okay in itself, but then I started getting a little carried away. Our apple trees are semi-dwarf varieties, but they were starting to get too tall to access conveniently, so I ended up just cutting back all of the branches that were too tall.

We had a bumper crop of apples in the first fall when we moved in, then I pruned. The following season (this past spring and summer) the trees shot dozens of sprouts straight up. I knew I had done something wrong, but I couldn’t really say what, so I didn’t do anything to the trees. I thought I had been careful to at least save what I deemed to be fruiting spurs according to the guide I was following. However, when fall came we got a total of three apples. It was totally devastating. Well, that might be a little overly dramatic, but it was really sad.

Just this week, Erica over at Northwest Edible Life wrote a great post about the difference between summer and winter fruit tree pruning. She always posts articles that are timely and hit the nail on the head, but unfortunately, this one came a year too late for me and the only head hitting was me slapping myself.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a more down to earth description of pruning, and it was immediately clear exactly what I had done wrong – I had ended up pruning for size in winter, a big no-no.

It sounds like now I’ll have my hands full for a while trying to get things back under control, but I still have to wait it out until summer before I can start going after some of these sprouts. I just wonder if we’ll actually be able to get any apples this year.

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