By: Justin Russell | January 8, 2014
There’s a widespread myth in gardening circles that the time to prune fruit trees is winter. This is only half true — most deciduous fruiting trees benefit from a structural prune in winter, when it’s easy to see what you're working with. The downside to winter pruning is that it takes cut surfaces a lot longer to callous and heal in cool weather, creating the perfect point for disease to enter the tree's vascular system.
In summer, however, pruning cuts heal very quickly, and a barrier is formed to keep moisture in and disease out. Summer pruning also helps facilitate the next crop of fruit. Take peaches and nectaries as examples. Each plant produces fruit on branches that form in the previous summer. By pruning now, instead of winter, the tree has time to grow lots of new wood, and is likely to bear a heavy crop in about 12 months time.
The best time to summer prune is as soon as a crop is harvested. Start by sharpening your tools, and sterilise them using a 10 percent bleach solution or straight metho. Then remove any dead or diseased wood. Next take out any obvious flaws in the tree’s structure, such as crossing or rubbing branches.
Peaches and other new wood bearers can be pruned in a couple of ways. They can be given an all over haircut, with each branch reduced by a third to a half. The other option is to shorten lateral branches only (those growing laterally from main branches), leaving the main branches in tact. Apricots, Japanese plums and other trees that bear on a combination of new and old wood can also get this treatment, though in my experience it's better to just give such trees a general tidy up rather than a heavy pruning.
Apples, pears, cherries and other spur bearing trees benefit from having lateral branches pruned heavily. Take them back to just a couple of leaf buds in length — these buds will shoot, and hopefully form a fruiting spur.
Don’t waste the prunings. Healthy fruit wood can be air dried, then used as kindling, as fuel for a food smoker, or to provide a lovely fruity fragrance to wood fired ovens and traditional wood fired barbeques. Apple smoked pork… yum!