Home Orchard Society Pruning Class

February 16, 2011

On February 5, I attended a pruning class taught by the Home Orchard Society. The class was held at their Arboretum located on the Clackamas Community College campus in Oregon City. It cost $10 to attend, and I think there was about 75 people there. We were first given a quick 10 minute lecture, which was followed by a little bit of a question period, and then we broke out into five groups for demonstrations and hands on experience.

The reason for pruning an orchard is to keep the tree manageable for picking fruit, but also to improve the tree health and fruit quality.

Pruning can be done any time of the year, they said. In fact, the tree is less likely to try and make a new limb at a place where you take out an old limb if it was pruned in the summer or fall. The reason most people prune orchards in the winter is because there are no leaves, which allows you to see the structure of the tree easier. However, probably the most important reason is that farmers are much busier in the summer and fall with harvest that they don’t have time for pruning, and in the winter, there is not as much demanding things to be done that they have time for pruning.

First off, I was told that everybody prunes differently, but that unless you cut the tree down, the trees are pretty forgiving. Here are some of the key points they made:

  • Cut out any diseased or dead wood.
  • Cut off all limbs that grow straight up, as they will not produce fruit. These are known as water sprouts.
  • Cut off limbs that grow towards the middle of the tree. You want the middle of the tree open for light.
  • Cut limbs that rub against each other, as that breaks the bark and gives a place for disease to access the tree.
  • Cut limbs that tend to grow downwards. I believe this was because those limbs will put out more wood and not so much fruit. However, if it has another branch growing up from it, prune back to that limb.
  • Cut branches that are too tall to pick fruit from.

Prior to going, I knew to take out water sprouts. However, I have a tenancy to prune the tips off other branches because they start to look like water srouts. What is really going on is that the branch goes from having buds that will bear flowers and then fruit, to buds closer to the tip of the branch that will bear leaves. Buds that are a little out from the stem and that are fat are flower/fruit buds, and buds that are closer in and flat are usually vegetative leaf buds.

I didn’t know that was the difference between the buds, but to my untrained eye, that does explain why the tip of a normal branch began to look like a water sprout. Thing is, on a normal branch, it is perfectly okay to leave these tips. In fact, cutting them off is like doing a heading cut. What then happens is that the energy from the tree pushes out the limb but finds that it stops, and so it causes growth, especially limbs, at the point of the cut. So by making a heading cut, I’m actually encouraging more limbs, which means more pruning in the future!

Heading cuts has its place and can be good, but I was probably over using the technique. What I should be using more of is a thinning cut (see page 5 for an illustration of the difference). A thinning cut is the entire removal of a branch, which then allows more light an air into the tree and to other branches. The result of the cut does not exactly promote the growth of more limbs per say, but the limbs that do come in are evenly distributed though the tree and not just at the tips near cuts like with heading cuts.

So despite everyone pruning differently, and that trees can be pretty forgiving of pruning, I felt this was a well spent $10 to see an orchard pruning demonstration followed by being able to prune on trees myself under instructor supervision. Gives a person confidence!

Further Reading:

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