Apple trees are more than abundant in my native New England. But how do we care for those trees? And how do we produce the healthiest fruit––and here in Colorado too? I recently had the opportunity to attend a tree pruning workshop taught by orchardist Wesley Swartz. Wesley explained that pruning is a process of thinning and shaping a fruit tree so as to increase air circulation and promote healthy growth. Over time, this meticulous process will result in an increase in fruit size and will promote timely harvesting and ripening. “If left unpruned, a tree may produce a greater quantity of low-quality fruit,” Wesley explained. Pruning helps cycle the growth of the spurs, or the condensed branches of the tree. “A good fruit tree should not make a good shade tree,” Wesley advised. “The more you prune, the more you will send out new growth,” he explained. When pruning a tree, ask yourself: How does this tree fit in its space? Put on your “future-vision-googles,” as Wesley calls them, and imagine: How will the tree grow among other trees or power lines––will it be crowded? Will it get enough light?
When pruning, look out for the three kinds of unfortunate branches––”the dead, diseased, or disoriented,” as Wesley advises. Any branch growing into the center will eventually clog the air flow. Additionally, branches growing too closely together will rub together in the wind, which will eventually create wounds in the cambium layer––the thin delicate layer under the bark that transports nutrients. An open wound is an invitation for disease, bacteria, and insect infection.
The scaffold branches, or the primary limbs, should grow about three feet off the ground and about one foot to eighteen
inches away from each other in a whiling pattern up the main trunk. This will allow each branch access to sunlight and air flow. This will discourage shade and crowding––which attracts insects and larvae. If fruit grows too close together, it may cause bruising and insect infestation. Crowding may also attract moisture, and some bacteria and disease travel by water, including the dreaded fire blight.
When do we prune a fruit tree? The best time to prune is in the dormant season, or in the winter months. It is important to prune a tree in cycles. If you have an unpruned fruit tree in your backyard, do not try to prune it all at once. whois discovery Instead, spread the thinning over several years.