Here I show the before and after dormant pruning photos of one tree, a 10 year old apple. Dormant pruning means cutting off dead, diseased, broken or crossing branches in very early spring before the tree leafs out, or “breaks dormancy.” The tree pictured had been getting an annual pruning. Most fruit trees have a large number of spindly skinny vertical shoots, called suckers in the early spring. These result from larger cuts made on the tree, and are designed to help compensate for the loss of a limb. Suckers though, are like an over reaction. If you kept them all, the tree would be a choked and crowded mess, with very little light penetrating into the canopy where ripening fruit would be.
1. The first thing I do is walk around the tree and view it from all angles, to decide which main limb will be the central leader, (the tallest trunk/limb). With a sharp bow saw and very sharp pruners, broken or diseased limbs get cut off first.
2. Next come limbs that exceed the height of the central leader (the tallest point on the tree), cut back just enough so there is only one tallest point. Then off comes branches that point to the ground or toward the center of the tree.
3. Next comes crossing branches. Where 2 or more branches cross and are rubbing against each other, the opportunity for injury or disease increases, as the constant rubbing creates and “open sore”. Remove one of the 2 crossing branches.
4. Then you can remove the suckers, all the way down to where they attach to the limb they are growing off of. I leave a few, spaced well apart, to satisfy the tree’s need to compensate for the loss of a larger limb, and therefore the leaves that would be photosynthesizing! The overall goal is to create an open structure, to allow air and light to reach all limbs of the tree, where ripening fruit will be.
Some old timers say you should prune a fruit tree to a point to which a bird should be able to fly through without hitting any branches. Other old timers say you should be able to throw a calf through the tree without hitting any branches. For this size tree, that would certainly be excessive! How would you throw a calf anyway? Catapult?