Prune apples and pears between November and early March, to stimulate new fruiting wood (1-4 year old wood fruits best) and to encourage light and air around the fruit.
- Remove any dead or damaged branches/shoots.
- Remove any crossing branches/shoots. Keep the better-placed outward facing one unless it’s badly damaged.
- To encourage branching, remove a quarter of the previous year’s growth on each main branch. Cut just above a bud that faces outwards.
- The side-shoots (laterals) growing from the main branches will eventually form stubby shoots with fruit buds (spurs). Only remove them if they’re crossing or overcrowded (closer than 15cm apart at the base).
- Look to remove about 10-20% of a tree each year. Any more and the tree will produce too many new (non-fruiting) shoots.
- DO use sharp, clean secateurs or loppers, or a pruning saw for bigger branches.
- DO remove any dead, diseased, damaged, crossing and rubbing (DDDXR) branches first. Cut these out at the base. You might find you don’t need to do much more pruning for shape once you have removed the DDDXR.
- DO encourage light and air to reach the fruits and lardeaves. Light helps the tree to grow and fruit to ripen. Good air flow helps prevent disease. In practice this means going for either a goblet shape, with an open centre to your tree; or a Christmas tree shape with shorter branches nearer the top and a wider spread lower down. Look carefully at the tree to help you decide which shape it is trying to be.
- DO ask for a second opinion if you’re not sure what to cut and what to leave.
- DO give your secateurs / loppers / saw a clean between each tree. A thorough wipe of each blade with antibacterial wipes will do nicely. This is like a doctor washing hands between patients – it helps prevent disease from spreading.
And some DON’T’s:
- DON’T prune PLUMS or CHERRIES in winter. The spores that cause silver leaf disease are in the environment at that time of year and can infect plum and cherry trees through open wounds. If they need pruning, this has to be done in summer.
- DON’T get too cold! Go in and warm up with a hot drink if you’re getting chilly.
Other trees: we also have a QUINCE, a MEDLAR and some HAZELS in the orchard. The quince and medlar can be pruned now, in the same way as apples and pears. The hazels (cobnut and filbert) are treated slightly differently, and pruned when in flower.