Winter Pruning with Edible Campus Gardens

Why do we prune?

Most trees benefit from pruning in their lifetime. Pruning increases air and sunlight in the canopy of the tree, which reduces disease issues. You can also remove any dead, damaged or diseased branches from the tree at this time, which will help the overall health and lengthen the lifetime of your tree. Most people see pruning as a great way to encourage your tree to grow in a certain way, meaning you can keep all of your apple branches low, and within easy reach for fruit harvesting.

When is the best time to prune?

Always prune when the tree is dormant, in winter. This will give your tree time to heal its wounds by the time it starts actively growing. Pruning in summer removes leaves, slows fruit ripening, and exposes fruit to sunburn. An exception is if you notice a highly diseased or dead branch on your tree in summer. It would be safe and smart to remove these branches at any time of year.

Basic Anatomy

Branches grow out of other branches or trunks at NODES. These nodes are places of active growth for the plant. This active growth provides quick growth around the cut so it can heal quickly. Always cut close to a node.

Fruits grow from flower buds that are found on SPURS.  Spurs are short and generally covered with fuzz. These are not small branches but future flowers and fruit.  Do not cut very many of these off. They are most apparent in apple and pear trees. 

Steps to Pruning

1) Remove any dead, diseased, or damaged branches. These are identified by peeling bark, hardened wood, and are sometimes light in color (gray).

2) Remove crossing branches, since they are competing for the same sunlight.

3) Remove branches that rub together. They are also competing with one another, and damage each other’s bark.

4) Remove water sprouts (best to do before mid-summer). Water sprouts grow straight up from the trunk and have little attachment to anchor it onto the branch. They grow quickly sometimes reaching several feet in one season. 

5) Remove small branches in the interior of the tree that receive little sunlight themselves and blocks sunlight for lower branches.

6) Remove branches that are hanging down, or growing down in awkward directions on lower limbs. These branches get very little sunlight and take resources away from the rest of the tree. They also get broken easily as we walk or bump into them. They can also be annoying and poke you in the eye or face.

7) Main Pruning - With all of these other branches out of the way, now comes the main pruning. When several branches are in the same space, choose which branch out of those around it to keep. It might be the one with the best attachment, or that is most central to that space. These are often called THINNING cuts.

8) Heading Back - If your tree is too tall, it can be tempting to HEDGE all of the branches back to some desirable height, disregarding the anatomy of the tree and the location of nodes. This ruins the tree and causes extra unhealthy growth. Tree anatomy tells us to use a HEADING BACK cut, which removes a few of the long undesirable tips at a node or branch collar while leaving most tips. This creates new a tip bud by cutting the branch at strategic nodes, from which the tree can grow healthy, fruitful branches.

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Michelle Cook

Garden Steward

A horticulture graduate of Utah State University, Michelle has worked in greenhouses and gardens for many years. She is currently a steward at the Edible Campus Gardens and studying to become a teacher.
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