Pruning Fruit Trees

Now that the winter frosts are well and truly upon us and the trees have gone into their yearly hibernation, these cold winter mornings are a great time to give fruit trees such as apples and pears their annual winter pruning.
   While the thought of pruning strikes fear into the hearts of many gardeners, it is a job that has to be done and once you get the hang of it you might find that it can actually be quite enjoyable. Pruning is very much in the plants best interest. By regularly pruning your fruit trees you will help to maintain the plants shape, help to improve the trees health by improving air circulation and hopefully help your trees to produce bigger and better harvests. By carrying out regular pruning you will also find that you keep a better eye on your plants which should help you to identify and deal with potential problems such as pest and diseases at an early stage before they take hold and do any real damage.
   If you are a beginner to the art of pruning the key is not to rush, take your time and have a good look at the plant before you decide to cut anything. A good start is to remove any wood that is obviously dead or diseased. Following this any crossing branches should be removed as their rubbing together will eventually create wounds which will be vulnerable to attack from pests and diseases. The next step is to reduce the growth at the centre of the tree. By removing some of the centre branches we can improve the circulation of air and light through the whole plant. The amount of pruning that your fruit trees require will depend on their size and age. Newly planted fruit trees will only require light pruning to help maintain the plants shape and to encourage more bushy growth, while older or neglected trees will require more work.
   Following your pruning, it is also usually a good idea to apply a winter wash to your trees at this time of the year. Winter washes are chemical sprays, applied to dormant trees at this time of year in an attempt to kill off any over-wintering insects and their eggs that might be hibernating on your fruit trees. By applying a winter wash now you should be able to keep the number of pests and diseases that attack your trees significantly down for the coming years. Nowadays winter washes based on vegetable oils are preferred to the traditional ones which were based on tar oil and were quite toxic to the gardener. While the more modern sprays are a lot less toxic, as with all garden chemicals you should always wear the correct protective equipment and follow the manufacturerÂ’s instructions carefully.
© Copyright, Highland Landscapes, Letterkenny, 2008.