If you purchased your home during the fall or winter months, you may be surprised -- and excited -- to see some of your trees brightly blooming as spring arrives. Apple, pear, cherry, and peach trees boast gorgeous white and pink petals that quickly transform into juicy fruit. However, this excitement can often turn to dismay as you realize that years of deferred maintenance have left your trees with lumpy or bug-riddled fruit. What should you do to get your trees into good shape before warm weather sets in for good? Read on to learn more about pruning your fruit trees and the other steps necessary to ensure they'll bear edible and nutritious fruit.
When (and how) should you prune neglected fruit trees?
Keeping your trees pruned regularly is key to healthy growth. Just like trimming your hair on a regular basis can help remove split ends and prevent damage, trimming dead or dying branches can encourage your tree to sprout healthy new ones rather than sending further resources toward branches that aren't in great condition.
However, pruning your trees at the wrong time of year could cause more harm than good. Pruning them during the late summer or fall can encourage new growth before colder temperatures hit, making it harder for your trees to conserve energy and stay healthy over the winter. Because new branch growth is still fairly soft while the bark forms, trees that have started to grow when temperatures drop can suffer from cold damage or even a type of frostbite. On the other hand, pruning during winter or early spring (while the ground is still frozen) can ensure your trees start spring with a fresh new cut and can focus all their energy on growing fruit rather than on restoring branches.
To prune trees that haven't been cared for in a while, you'll want to start small, taking away the outer dead limbs to provide your tree with some shape. It's likely that as you progress from the branches to the trunk, you'll notice some dead or overgrown patches that may require some additional pruning. You'll want to do your best to maintain the "scaffolding" branches that form the skeleton of your tree, but any branches that are growing straight upward (rather than out to the sides) can be pruned with impunity.
When cutting branches, you'll want to make sure to make your cuts above the "branch collar," or the area where the branch attaches to the tree. Leaving a small stub just off the main branch rather than trimming it to be flush can ensure that there are enough cells remaining to repair the damage and encourage new growth, rather than simply allowing that section of the tree to remain dormant.
What else should you do to keep your trees healthy?
In addition to regular pruning, you'll want to weed out some fruit once it's begun to grow -- overcrowded trees are unlikely to bear the large, delicious fruits you're seeking, and some trees may even suffer broken branches from the weight of the fruit if volume isn't scaled back relatively early in the spring or summer. Periodically reducing the number of tiny apples, pears, or cherries on your trees can encourage them to send all their resources to the remaining fruit rather than being spread too thin.
It's also important to remember that pruning can be a lengthy process; if your trees have gone without regular maintenance for a few years, it may take a few years of pruning and shaping to get them back into fruit-bearing condition. Fortunately, once you've returned your trees to their former splendor, it should take relatively little work to keep them in good shape. For additional information, contact a tree service in your area.