KC Gardens

Pruning tips for fruit plantings

Green apple
Green apple

From Dennis Patton:

I don't usually write about growing fruit. Why? Well, for a while it almost seemed like growing fruit in the home garden had all but disappeared. Yes, there was the random call about growing apple or peach trees, but really not many questions.

Over the last few years backyard orchards have seen a rebirth, along with vegetable gardening in general. People started to plant apples, peaches, pears and other fruits in increasing numbers. There was also a renewed interest in the small fruits, including strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries.

Unfortunately growing fruit in the Kansas City area is not as simple as plant-it-and-forget-it. Fruit plantings require care throughout the season and for the plantings’ entire life. If proper care is not given the tree and berry plants become overgrown, disease and insect problems increase and, in general, they decline, leading to no fruit production or death of the plants.

Late winter is the ideal time to start caring for your fruit orchard. Pruning is required yearly on all tree fruits and small fruits. Pruning is best done prior to the plants breaking dormancy. Honestly, most fruit plantings I see in area backyards have seldom been pruned.

Pruning removes excess wood from the trees, which allows sunlight to penetrate into the plant, bathing the developing fruit in sunlight. It is this sunlight that helps develop the size and flavor of the fruit. Small fruits like blackberries and raspberries are sometimes full of deadwood due to their fruiting habit. Strawberry plantings are seldom thinned by home gardeners, which leads to overcrowding and a general decline in the bed and fruit quality.

Experience has taught me that for most fruit gardeners some pruning is better than no pruning. If you have tree fruits your first step is to remove any dead, broken, crossing or branches growing toward the center of the tree. This step alone will improve the health and allow the sunlight to come inside. Remember not to prune more than one-third of the live wood from a tree in any one year. Pruning heavier can stress the plant, causing it to die or produce sucker growth that must be removed later.

Bramble, raspberry and blackberry pruning should start by removing all the old fruiting canes that have died. During the winter months this might be the extent of pruning. The live canes will have set flower buds to produce this year’s crop. Much of their pruning for improved yields is done during the growing season.

Ditto for strawberries; the plants will emerge from dormancy and flower to produce the berries for mid- to late-spring harvest. Strawberry beds should be renovated after fruiting to help renew the bed for the following year.

Okay, there you have your friendly reminder that if you are a fruit gardener you have chores to do. Take advantage of warm winter days and go for it. You will only learn by doing, and putting it off will only hurt your investment.

You notice I did not tell you how to prune. Well that is a complicated subject to write about. But luckily, with an invention called the Internet at your fingertips you have access to information. Simply type the words “fruit tree pruning” or the specific fruit and the word “pruning” into the search engine and you will find more helpful hints, pictures and information to make you a pruner. Don' be afraid — as Nike says, “Just do it.”