If you haven’t finished your pruning with spring clearly approaching, you may be wondering whether it’s too late to prune your trees.
It’s just one of the questions we’re asked all the time about pruning. So today, we’re answering this and some other common pruning FAQs.
1. Is it too late to prune now?
No, is the short answer.
As we explain in this blog, generally, you can prune most fruit trees (apples, pears, peaches, nectarines and plums) in winter while the trees are dormant. But, as with all aspects of pruning – there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ thing to do, just cuts and consequences.
So, what are the likely consequences of pruning in late winter/early spring?
- Pruning in winter encourages a strong growth response in the trees.
- The later you prune, the less the tree is likely to grow in response.
- If your trees have already broken dormancy when you prune them, you’ll be wasting some of the energy they will have already put into growth.
- But that may be better than leaving them completely un-pruned.
2. What’s the difference between a heading cut, and a thinning cut?
At the end of every branch or lateral (smaller side-branch) is an ‘apical’ or ‘terminal’ bud. It releases a hormone (called auxin) that suppresses the growth of the buds below it.
Any time you make a cut that removes the apical bud it’s called a ‘heading’ cut. The effect of a heading cut is to create branching.
This is a very stimulating type of cut, as usually the 2 or 3 buds immediately below the cut will start to grow.
On the other hand, if you make a pruning cut back to a lateral, but leave the lateral intact – i.e. leave its apical bud in place, that’s called a ‘thinning’ cut.
This is a less stimulating type of cut. It’s a good way to remove some wood from the tree without creating branching.
3. Should you remove all growth going into the middle of the tree?
Large branches that are growing into the middle of the tree can create shading over the lower branches. For this reason, they should usually be removed. This is especially true of branches higher up in the tree, less so for branches growing lower in the tree.
However, it’s not a ‘rule’. (We definitely don’t like pruning rules, it’s all about cuts and consequences, people!).
It’s also important to remember the pruning principle that says a tree will always try to replace whatever wood you remove. And the more wood you remove, the more likely you are to push the tree towards growing wood at the expense of growing fruit.
Therefore, if there are a lot of large branches to remove, it’s a good idea to do it over a few years rather than all at once. The aim is to keep the trees in balance between producing wood and producing fruit. Therefore, aim to remove as little wood as needed each year, to create the shape you want.
Small branches (or laterals) that are going into the middle of the tree often do not need removing. In fact, they can be very useful fruit-bearing wood.
Removing all the laterals that grow into the middle of the tree is one of those “rules” that can end up doing quite a bit of damage to your tree!
It’s easy to accidentally create long bare patches on your limbs by removing these laterals. , particularly low down in the tree where it’s easy to reach them.
Those bare patches become wasted real estate, as you’ve effectively removed all the fruit growing wood – it’s one of the rookie mistakes we help you avoid in our Pruning Mature Fruit Trees short course.