Generally, fruit trees should be pruned when the trees are dormant. It is easier to see what you are doing when the leaves are off the trees. However, if you have an overly vigorous tree or would like to keep your trees shorter so you can harvest your fruit without ladders, summer pruning is something to try. After you have harvested the fruit from your trees is the time to consider summer pruning in your home orchard.
If you are working with mature trees, summer pruning will involve removing vigorous upright shoots that are not needed as permanent branches and thinning shoots to control tree height while developing sturdy branches to bear fruit the following year. Be sure to leave enough leaves so that your tree can shade itself from sunburn.
When deciding where to cut a branch, keep in mind the shape you want for your tree. While upright branches remain vegetative and vigorous, horizontal branches are the ones that produce fruit. You need a good combination of both types of branch for a healthy tree and a good crop of fruit. Suckers, water sprouts and branches that grow straight up into the tree need to be removed. Downward-bending branches will produce less fruit and aren’t as vigorous as other branches on the tree, so you should remove the part that is hanging down.
As when pruning any of your plants, good sharp tools are a must. You should be able to prune your trees with just three basic tools: pruning shears, loppers with 2- to 2½-foot handles for good leverage, and a pruning saw with curved blades and wide-set teeth. If your tree has any type of infection, dip your tools in a 1:10 part bleach solution between cuts and clean up all debris promptly so you don’t encourage pests or disease in your home orchard.
There are several good articles on the University of California Agricultural and Natural Resources website. Articles available on the site cover newly planted trees, different types of canopies, where to make the pruning cuts, and rejuvenation of neglected trees. Not only will you be able to find good information on both summer and dormant-season pruning, but if you are like me, you may find yourself losing time as you click through the many interesting articles on the site.
•The Green Thumb is a column by Tracy’s master gardeners. University of California certified master gardeners are available to answer gardening questions from 9 a.m. to noon Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at 953-6112 or firstname.lastname@example.org.