When it comes to pruning fruit trees, the usual challenge is knowing when to do it, taking into consideration the calendar and impending weather. This year, because of the warmer-than-normal January and pretty good weather authorities predicting we won’t see any hard freezes in the next 30 days, it’s okay to prune just about everything TODAY! So, if you’re chompin’ at the bit to get busy, here’s some advice cobbled together with help from our friend Angela Chandler of www.TheGardenAcademy.com.
If we’ve missed a fruit you want more info about, please call the GardenLine radio show this weekend!
Temperate fruit trees
These trees lose their leaves and have a deep-winter dormancy – apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, plums, pluots and apriums. They require annual pruning to stimulate new fruiting wood, to control size, and to maintain a strong structure. You should prune them while they are in the dormant stage - as early as January and as late as mid-February - about the same time we prune roses. Don’t worry that you will trigger early growth. Leafing and budding is a result of factors other than pruning, such as chill hours, day length, and temperatures.
If the buds are swelling and showing color, you should avoid pruning if a hard freeze is in the forecast. All fruit trees are less hardy for a couple of weeks after pruning, and fully open fruit flowers can be damaged by late frosts. If you are concerned, prune varieties with the highest chill requirements first, and prune the earliest bloomers at the last possible moment.
Some growers choose to do summer pruning as well. Summer pruning is a great way to manage the size of a tree and excess vigor, a characteristic of many temperate fruits. Excess vigor results in vegetative growth, not fruiting growth. Summer pruning should be done soon after harvest.
Citrus trees are semi-tropical. Unlike temperate fruits, citrus does not need pruning for production. We prune citrus for appearance, to control height and width, and to open the tree up for sunlight penetration, air circulation, and a more elegant structure.
Citrus trees are usually evergreen in our climate, but they can be damaged or even defoliated in our worst winters. It’s hard to tolerate their unkempt look in our gardens for weeks on end after a freeze, but it is not wise to rush out to clean them up. Removing damaged wood exposes adjacent undamaged wood in a frost that might follow. In addition, you might be surprised by wood that appears dead pushing out new growth in May or as late as June. It’s best to remove apparent damage in stages until you are absolutely sure of the extent.
Wait until at least the first of March to prune citrus. But, first, check the forecast for the upcoming two weeks. If a freeze is predicted within that time, WAIT. Remember that pruning reduces cold hardiness for a couple of weeks. If you rush this, you run the risk of more damage, even at temperatures that would normally not be a problem for that variety. One perplexing thing about citrus is that fruit or blooms may be present when it is time to prune. Some varieties often carry fruit through winter into spring.
If a tree has been well pruned in previous years and just needs a light shaping up, don’t worry about any blooms or fruit that are present. Any fruit removed in pruning will be harvestable. Citrus trees bloom abundantly and will abort 70%-80% of the blooms in short order. You can remove a lot of them as you prune and still have a good harvest.
Pruning while the tree is blooming will also make it easier to readily identify fruit wood. And, with fewer blooms, you’ll be able to see areas that might need a bit of thinning to improve sunlight penetration.
If a tree needs regenerative pruning - for thinning an overgrown interior or greatly reducing the height - give thought to the canopy that will remain. Remove only about 1/3 of what you anticipate requiring during the late-winter pruning, then wait to see how much canopy develops in the summer. It may take several seasons to get it into the shape you desire.
If you want to improve fruit production, consider a late-summer, early-autumn thinning. A light thinning at that time stimulates fresh fruiting wood. It is perfectly acceptable to do this while the tree is between blooming and fruiting, or even when it is developing fruits.
There are so many tropical fruits that can be grown on the Gulf Coast it would be impossible to cover them individually. But, in general, most tropical fruits can be pruned right after harvest. Many produce on new wood, and pruning after harvest allows them to spend their energy developing new branches, twigs, and fruit wood. If your tropicals have winter damage that needs to be pruned, wait until ALL DANGER of frost has passed. It would be good to wait until at least March 15, and even better if you can wait until the spring equinox. Again … pruning reduces cold hardiness for at least two weeks. Be ready to protect them if the weather takes a downturn.