Sunny Slope Orchard

Sunny Slope Orchard
In the coast range foothills overlooking the Sacramento Valley

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Pruning Season

This is pruning season in the orchard, the time of year when I give all the trees their annual haircut. Pruning accomplishes several things: removal of dead and weak growth, opening up space for ladder access and to allow sunlight and air circulation into the lower parts of the trees, and limiting the height and spread of the trees.

Without regular pruning most types of fruit trees lose vigor and become too tall and cluttered. Stone fruits especially require heavy annual pruning. The fruit bearing shoots only live for 2-3 years, so pruning stimulates constant growth of new fruiting wood. And left unpruned, most trees will get so crowded with growth that the lower and interior parts become too shaded. The shaded areas then die back and stop producing fruit, leaving only the top and outer branches bearing. Excessively long branches are also subject to breakage.

So pruning season is time for some tough love, where each large tree will receive hundreds of cuts. There is an art to pruning to get the best results, but in reality any pruning is better than none. The heavier the pruning the more new growth results, so over time wood removal is the best way to create the size and shape of tree you want, while keeping it healthy. The photos below show one of our 35 year old apricots before and after pruning.

Large apricot tree before pruning
The same tree after pruning