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With leaves rapidly hitting the ground on most of our deciduous fruit trees, it's time to brave the winter chills and get into some pruning to ensure a great summer crop.
So why even bother pruning? Surely trees know best and they should be left to do there thing? A common pattern you'll see with all the productive plants humans have been poking around with for the last few thousand years is that they need us! We've evolved these UBER productive plants by helping them perform to their peak. So we prune for the following reasons:
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- It keeps the tree size manageable and allows you to access the fruit.
- By clearing out the over crowded internal branches, you allow more light and airflow. This means less disease and allows fruit access to more sunshine meaning it will ripen more quickly.
- When you reduce the amount of vegetation, you encourage you tree to produce larger and sweeter tasting fruit - perfect for home use.
Knowing what to chop
Not sure which branch to unleash your new loppers onto? Try the five D's:
Dead - no sign of life? Get rid of it
Diseased - look a bit different to other branches, seeping gum, missing bark? Chop it!
Damaged - strong winds or lots of heavy fruit can break branches - remove these once you've harvested any fruit
Daggy - remove these branches if they look out of place and cross other branches, are too low to the ground etc.
Dark - by this I mean remove branches if they're hidden in the middle of the tree and in summer are unlikely to see the light of day
Speaking pretty generally here, but prune in Winter when you're after more growth i.e. it's a young tree and not yet the size you want. Prune apples and pears early in winter and leave stone fruit until late winter. Prune old trees before young ones. Summer-prune trees that have reached the size you want. Simply remove new vegetative growth.
Don't cut off next year's fruit!
A very important point to note is that you don't chop off parts of your tree that are going to produce fruit! Very few trees produce fruit on the CURRENT year's growth. So that means you need to leave some older laterals or branches on the tree. You can tell the age of the wood by the colour and how close it is to the trunk. Look for fat little flower buds on spurs (kind of little swigs of main branches) as these are signs where flowers will eventually become your fruit. This is from an apple.
Tools of the trade
If you're going to be doing your own pruning for at least a few seasons, then it's worth investing in quality gear. You pretty much get what you pay for, PLUS quality tools make pruning a lot simpler. And unlike most things these days, quality garden tools will last and become something you can pass on to someone else one day.
Secateurs. These are usually of the bypass type where the two blades pass each other. Most models out there are a copy of the Swiss Made Felco brand. I'm yet to hear a bad word about Felco's products and they back everything up with spare parts etc. Yes, there are still some old school quality manufacturers around so support them I say!
If you have trouble with arthritis or struggle to use normal secateurs, then you can get models to suit. I purchased a set of these for my Dad and he's been very pleased with them. Fiskars are a Finnish company who like Felco make stuff to last.
Long handled pruners also often use a bypass cutting method or an anvil type - again choose a quality brand and you'll never need another pair. These will be good for branches up to 40mm across. Larger branches can be taken care of with a pruning saw. These are designed to get into small spaces and are available in hand-held and pole models for all heights.
Of course if you're this guy - well just use your hand...
Want to know more?
On Sunday June 17th I'll be giving a free pruning workshop at the Geelong West Community Garden (129 Autumn Street, Geelong West) between 2 and 4pm. No need to book, just rug up and come along!