Are you wondering how to prune trees on your homestead for the best results? What to cut, how, and when – these are the key questions every gardener grapples with. Here, we delve into the art of pruning trees, a simple yet vital skill to ensure maximum growth and abundant fruit production. Join us as we share our tried-and-true tips and techniques, helping your trees thrive and bring forth a bountiful harvest.
How To Prune Trees and Embrace It
Thinning the garden and pruning trees might not be my favorite tasks, but I’ve learned to appreciate their importance. The thought of cutting away a part of a tree or vine always gave me pause. It’s a balancing act – understanding that each cut is for the plant’s benefit and our family’s harvest, yet fearing the uncertainty of doing it wrong.
In the beginning, I was overly cautious, barely pruning enough. But, guided by experience and invaluable advice from seasoned gardeners like my dear friend, Mr. Ted Blankenship, a wise 94-year-old gardening enthusiast, I’ve grown more confident. Now, I approach pruning with a discerning eye, trimming anything that doesn’t seem right and have seen the rewards in the health and bounty of our plants.
Why You Should Prune Trees
Pruning isn’t just for your garden’s aesthetic; it’s a crucial step for your fruit trees and bushes too. By carefully pruning your fruit trees, you’re not just aiming for a bountiful harvest; you’re also nurturing the tree’s health, prolonging its life, and bolstering its defenses against pests and diseases.
Proper pruning ensures your trees bear larger, healthier fruit. On the flip side, neglecting to prune or doing it incorrectly can lead to dead branches, poor fruiting, and a weakened tree more vulnerable to ailments. It’s all about understanding which branches to trim and the right time to do it, ensuring your trees continue to flourish season after season.
When to Prune Trees
Pruning is a task best done when trees are resting, not growing. For those of us in the northern hemisphere, this usually means late winter – think mid-January to early February. But, if you’re in a colder climate, this timing might shift a bit to adapt to your specific weather patterns.
For those south of the Mason-Dixon Line in the U.S., you’re often safe to prune a bit later, around late February or early March. Just be mindful of the sap – if it’s flowing, it’s best to wait. Pruning a tree when its sap is running can harm it severely.
Remember, trees in cold weather are dormant, taking a break from growing. Pruning during this time minimizes stress on the tree. Also, consider pruning in the cooler parts of the day, like in the morning or under cloudy skies, to ease the process for both you and the tree.
For the youngsters in your orchard, those freshly planted trees, hold off on pruning for the first year. They need all their strength to establish roots and grow. Once they hit 2-3 years, it’s time to start pruning in the dormant season to shape them and encourage healthy development for future fruit-bearing.
What to Prune
The heart of your tree lies in its main branches, its skeleton. Take a moment to identify these – they’re the backbone of your tree and should be preserved. Regularly remove dead and diseased branches, but be cautious with green shoots, limbs, or suckers, only pruning them as needed.
Your focus should be on eliminating weak growth and crossing branches. My grandfather taught me a simple pruning rule: if a branch grows toward the trunk or crosses another, it’s time to trim it. This wisdom isn’t just about tidiness; it enhances airflow and sunlight exposure, reducing disease and pest risks.
Visualize your tree’s ideal height and shape, and prune accordingly. We shape our fruit trees into rounded tops, creating a pattern that promotes healthy growth. If you’re training a young tree, keep it tied to a support and prune the side branches, leaving only those near the trunk for a strong, well-structured tree.
Remember, pruning isn’t just about shaping; it’s a health measure, removing potential disease and pest hotspots. When you’re ready to prune, start from the bottom and work your way up, removing debris to prevent disease spread. Feel free to compost or burn the debris; burning it creates ash which can be used to enrich your garden soil. You can read about the many uses of wood ash in our sister article about that.
A critical note: never prune more than 25% of a tree’s branches at once to avoid stressing it excessively.
How to Prune
Making cuts at a 45-degree angle isn’t just a technique; it’s a way to ensure your tree stays healthy and recovers quickly. This angle helps the tree to heal efficiently and guards against water pooling, which can lead to disease. When removing a branch, always cut near the trunk to safeguard the remaining stem and facilitate better healing.
For different branch sizes, your tools matter. Use pruning shears for smaller branches, up to 3/4 inch in diameter. For anything larger, lopping shears or a hand saw are your go-to tools, and for those really big branches, a pole saw can be a lifesaver. Remember, sharp pruning shears are essential, especially for fruit trees. They make clean cuts, which are vital for the tree’s health and recovery.
Summer Pruning Option
The trend of summer pruning, post-fruit-bearing, is gaining traction, particularly in regions with wet springs. Those I’ve spoken with believe summer pruning leads to better fruit yields, attributing it to changing weather patterns.
While I personally stick to mid-to-late February pruning, it’s worth considering this alternative, especially if it aligns with your regional climate. Don’t hesitate to experiment with a few trees to see if it makes a difference for you. Remember, such experimentation is unlikely to harm the tree and could provide valuable insights into optimizing fruit production on your homestead.
FAQ About How to Prune Trees
- Why is pruning important for trees?
- Think of pruning as a healthy trim for your trees. It’s like giving them a fresh start each season, clearing away what’s old to make room for new growth. It’s not just about aesthetics; it’s about the tree’s health and vitality.
- When is the best time to prune trees?
- Timing is everything. Late winter to early spring, when the trees are still dozing before they wake up to the warm touch of spring, is ideal. It’s like setting the stage for a year of robust growth.
- What are the key techniques for effective tree pruning?
- Imagine you’re sculpting: thinning out crowded branches, snipping overgrown limbs, and shaping your tree for a balanced, natural look. Remember to remove any branch that grows towards the trunk of the tree and any dead limb.
- How does pruning benefit fruit production?
- It’s all about giving your fruit the room to breathe and bask in the sun. Proper pruning enhances air circulation and sunlight exposure, which are keys to a bountiful harvest.
- What should I look for when buying pruning shears?
- Your shears are like an extension of your hand. Look for a pair that fits comfortably in your grip, with sharp, durable blades that make clean cuts. It’s an investment in your garden’s future.
- Can pruning influence a tree’s health and resistance to diseases?
- Absolutely! A well-pruned tree is like a well-tended garden – less prone to diseases and pests. It’s about keeping your trees strong and resilient.
- Is there a difference between pruning young and mature trees?
- Young trees are like youngsters needing guidance – formative pruning sets them up for a healthy life. Mature trees, like old friends, require a gentle touch to maintain their shape and vigor.
- Are there any alternative pruning schedules based on climate or tree type?
- Just like each plant in your garden has its preferences, different trees, and climates might call for unique pruning schedules. It’s about listening to the rhythm of nature and adjusting your care accordingly.
What To Look For When Buying Pruning Shears
- Comfort – Using your hands for repetitive tasks can cause pain in your hands, elbows, and fingers. A comfort grip helps avoid this.
- You should find shears that fit comfortably in your hand. The shears should neither be too big nor too small. The handles shouldn’t dig into your skin if you encounter a tough branch.
- Quality Blades – The blade of the pruning shears is very important. The blade needs to be sharp so that it can cut through the branches easily.
- It’s important how long the blades stay sharp. Higher quality shears come with more durable blades that last longer and don’t need sharpening as often, if at all.
- Better blades are also resistant to rust and corrosion. A non-stick coating will help with cleaning the sap that sticks to the shears, but I find it doesn’t work that great.
- Look for high-tempered steel or carbon steel to get the best results. Shears that have high tempered carbon steel, are excellent.
- Safety Lock Mechanism – Any tool with blades should be used safely. While the pruning shears may not be the same as a knife or other blade, it’s a good idea to buy a pair with a safety lock to avoid accidents.
- Adjustable Cutting Diameter and Tension – If you want more control over how you cut branches, pruners with adjustable ranges are a good choice. Some models have dual adjustment mechanisms that let you change both the cutting diameter and the blade tension.
- If you want to save money, you can buy an adjustable pruner that can be used for both thick and thin branches. This way, you don’t have to buy two different pairs.
- Lightweight – You need lightweight shears that allow you to reach above your head without straining or exhausting you after finishing just one plant. Find a pair that matches your strength and agility.
- Spring Loaded Cutting Mechanism – This allows you to gain and retain greater leverage over branches. It is also easier to cut with them than with just my hand strength.
There are many good pruning shears on the market to prune trees with. Finding the right ones for you is a matter of personal choice.
To help you, we share our top three choices of pruning shears in various price ranges.
Pruning Shear Recommendations
1. Felco F-2 Classic Hand Pruner
The blades are made of durable, high-quality steel. They have an ergonomic design for better grip. They’re on the high end of the price range but are a quality pair of pruning shears sure to last for years.
- Rubber handles for good grip
- Spring loaded mechanism
- Safety lock
- Sharp, high-quality blades
Use this link to view and purchase Felco F-2 Classic Hand Pruner
2. Fiskars Steel Bypass Pruning Shears
This time, we’re going in the opposite direction because while the previous pair of shears we looked at were costly and of high quality, these are considerably less expensive and are suited for pruning tasks 5/8″ or under.
- Lever handle
- Lightweight, ergonomic design
- Steel blades
- There is no safety lock
Use this link to view and purchase Fiskars Steel Bypass Pruning Shears
3. Gonicc 8” SK-5 Professional Anvil Pruning Shears
These shears are a high-quality mid-range alternative. They’re built with high-carbon SK-5 steel blades that are guaranteed to stay sharp, and the unique pulley mechanism provides smooth cutting.
- High carbon steel blades for long life
- Stay sharp for a long time
- Spring Loaded double lever mechanism
- Comfortable handles
- Double Slide Safety Lock
- Up to 3/4” cutting diameter
- Small cutting surface
Use this link to view and purchase Gonicc 8” SK-5 Professional Anvil Pruning Shears
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We have to prune the blackberry bushes, the grapevines, the muscadine vines, blueberry bushes, peach trees, and others. So, we have a lot of pruning which, though they say, “Practice makes perfect.” I wouldn’t say I’m perfect at it. But our trees and bushes have proven we haven’t harmed them and they’re happy to provide loads of fruit.
The thing is, don’t be afraid. The most important thing to remember is to wait until late winter to do your pruning, but not too close to early spring.
If you cut the plant while the sap is still running, you will cause it to “bleed” to death (another term I learned from my grandfather).
If your trees or bushes are supported pruning is a good time to take a look at their supports to see if any repairs are needed.
Make sure all of your cuts are at 45-degree angles and use very sharp shears. These two things should ensure you don’t damage the tree.
Happy Pruning! As always, we’re here to help.