Creating Fruitful Yields – Winter Fruit Tree Pruning & Grafting

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Creating Fruitful Yields – Winter Fruit Tree Pruning & Grafting

Do you have a young fruit tree? Not sure when, or how, to prune it? Well get those pruners sharpened, because winter is the opportune time to make those fine cuts that will yield abundant results in the fruiting season to come! These cold, wet months are a crucial time to prune many plants that are lying dormant, storing their energy and focusing on development below ground rather than above. This month, I am highlighting practices that go hand in hand but can often be daunting for most newcomers, the concepts of fruit tree pruning and grafting.

On the quest to keep all the new growth of spring and summer under control and balance your canopy, it is all too easy to lose focus on the quality of cuts being made. However, more than just aesthetics can be compromised with improper pruning, which can lead to stress and poor growth cycles in the future. The simple act of using dull tools can create a wound that increases the likelihood of air-borne or pest-induced diseases, leaving the tree in worse shape than before. So how do you begin this challenging task? Start by asking yourself a few key questions to determine the desired structure of your fruit tree. Do I want it to reach its full growth habit making fruit accessibility harder as the years go by? Think lots of time spent up on a ladder with baskets of fruit. Do I want to maintain my tree in a backyard orchard style, accessible from the ground? Is this a good species to espalier and make into an edible fence? Is grafting different varietals to diversify my trees production the goal? This will help determine what types of cuts you make to encourage different growth patterns that allow you to shape the tree overtime.

If grafting is your intention, then it is important to leave adequate space above the cut for the fruit bearing bud to prosper once grafted to another fruit tree stock within its lineage. Saving your scion (or the fresh new growth that is pruned) is an important next step. When fruit trees are pruned in winter, they are in a low energy growth state and it is important that the scion remains that way so that it does not begin to sprout before it can be grafted. Scions should be placed in a labeled bag and stored in a refrigerator with a moist towel to retain hydration and maintain dormancy. Generally speaking, it is best to graft in the spring, from the time the buds of understock trees are beginning to open, until blossom time, typically April or early May.

For many, pruning is an art form, and there are lots of classes including meditation practices that are centered on this. While it is easy to lose yourself in the number of techniques available on the topic, nothing quite compares to observation and a little practice. So before you head out to start shaping your trees this winter, one last piece of advice – determine what your desired outcome is ahead of time, slow down and take a look at the whole tree before each cut and always make sure your pruners are sharp and disinfected. Happy Pruning!

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