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Growing Gilchrist Vol. 2: Proper Care and Maintenance for your Fruit Trees

Fruit Tree Maintenance and Care

Calls about how to properly care for backyard fruit trees like citrus, peaches, nectarines, pears and apples are almost a weekly occurrence at the extension office. So being that we are moving into fall and the dormant season for many of these fruit trees it seems like a good time to highlight some important care practices to help your fruit trees live longer and be more fruitful!

Care for fruit trees has a few main components tree placement, fertilization, and pruning. Pruning is the most relevant to this time of year so that is the topic of this months Growing Gilchrist.

You can create some positive and negative impacts on your fruit trees by pruning them. To make sure you are helping and not hurting you need to know when to prune, what to prune, and how much to prune.

Citrus

When pruning citrus, you should wait until after the fruit has matured and been harvested but make sure to prune before the tree flowers for next year’s crop. You still should make sure you prune before winter as new growth will be more susceptible to freeze injury. Pruning at the wrong time can lead to increase leaf miners and psyllids which can lead to the spread of canker and greening.

Aside from annual care you should consider pruning if trees have dieback, defoliated tops, or a reduced crop. Pruning in this case helps balance the shoot-to-root ratio increasing longevity and performance.

A good citrus care routine with annual pruning can:

  • Reduce pests and disease
  • Improves performance, fruit size and quality
  • Rejuvenates trees

Peach and Nectarines

If you didn’t know peaches and nectarines are produced on one-year old wood, wood that was grown during the previous spring, summer or fall. Knowing this when pruning peaches and nectarines can make or break your crop for next season. In general, these trees should be dormant pruned, after the leaves have dropped in the fall. There are also two pruning strategies for these trees as well.

First year pruning (dormant season after the tree is planted)

This pruning is to establish scaffold branches which will support the fruit bearing branches of the tree in later years and make the tree form ideal for fruit production and harvesting. This pruning should leave three or four branches that grow approximately 45 degrees from the trunk of the tree. These branches should be pruned two to three feet from the trunk of the tree. Leave small shoots and stems along these scaffolding branches.

Peach and Nectarine pruning and training through the first three years.

Peach and Nectarine pruning and training through the first three years. Credit: University of Minnesota Extensions 2018

Second year or later pruning

This pruning should also be done during the dormant season. In this pruning focus on lateral branches coming off of the scaffolding branches. Ideally these branches should be trimmed back to two to three feet from the scaffolding branches. Typical tree shape for peaches and nectarines should leave an open center of the canopy to allow light into the canopy to stimulation new fruiting wood and aid in harvesting. Third- and fourth-year pruning should be similar to second year pruning and aim to maintain an open center to continue light penetration into the canopy.

Blueberries

Annual post-harvest hedging should be conducted in summer usually in June. This removes the tops or ends of the canes on the blueberry plants. Waiting too long for post-harvest hedging can reduce yields.

After a plant reach 4 to 5 years of age its often a good idea to perform a process called cane-renewal pruning where about 25% of the oldest canes on the plant are removed down to the crown of the plant. Cane-renewal pruning is done in December and January but can also be done during the summer hedging period as well.

If blueberries have been left unpruned for several years and production is lacking you can rejuvenate those plants with a significant pruning. This method calls for pruning all of the plant’s canes to one to two feet from the crown, unlike cane-renewal pruning where only 25% of the canes are pruned. This will substantially reduce yield in the next year or two but can help prolong the productive life of the plant.

Pears and Apples

Similar to pruning peaches and nectarines, young apple and pear trees need to be trained to determine the form of the tree later in its life. Because these fruit trees have a more vertical growth form, they are pruned using a central leader system. Initial pruning selects a leader stem with three to six scaffold branches selected about 6 inches apart vertically and equally spaced around the trunk.

 

Pruning bearing trees is important to keep a consistently producing tree but should only be done when the tree is at least 4 to 6 years old. You should look for weak or shaded-out, dead or diseased stems for removal. Pruning higher limbs more than lower limbs can help lower limbs not become shaded out and stay productive.

Summer pruning is a good idea in early summer or after harvest to help thin trees and remove unwanted vegetation like waterspouts, root suckers or fire-blight-infected stems. This can help keep a proper growth form and reduce the impacts of disease.

Thinning fruit can make the tree carry more fruit to maturity increasing yield and quality of fruits. A general rule of thumb is to remove one fruit per cluster of fruits. This can be done during mid-summer but thinning about four to six weeks after blooming in the spring can help produce a better crop for next year as flower buds for next year are usually formed around four to six weeks after full bloom.

Central leader pruning used for Apples and Pears.
Credit: University of Minnesota Extensions 2018

A Season of Service: 4-H Members & Service Learning 

As we move into the holiday season, many 4-Hers are planning their annual service projects. One of the main pillars in the 4-H program is service learning. In 4-H, members take a pledge at each meeting that reads: “I pledge…my hands to larger service…for my club, my community, my country and my world.” Through their involvement in 4-H, members learn to identify community needs, what steps it takes to address community needs, planning service projects to target the needs of others, grant writing to support community projects, reporting on community service projects, and partnering with other organizations to help people in their communities. This year, many members are completing individual service projects due to COVID-19 restrictions, but many small groups from clubs are also teaming up to serve their community by writing cards to nursing home residents, collecting items for holiday baskets, assisting younger members with their projects, assisting the elderly with shopping or lawn care, volunteering at community resources like the library, the springs, or their church, and many more. This year, more than ever, we need to mobilize our young people and influence them to help their neighbors and we challenge you all to do the same. Help them see that the world is bigger and that a little kindness and community service can truly make an impact. Please contact the 4-H Extension Office if you have a child who needs help getting started with their community service hours or if you would like to learn more about 4-H Service-Learning Projects.

Don’t for get to sign up for Growing Gilchrist text alerts by texting @growinggil to 81010 to stay up-to-date on offering from the extension office.

Sources

Citrus Pruning:

https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/HS/HS126700.pdf

Peach, Nectarine, and Plum Pruning:

https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/HS/HS36500.pdf

Blueberry Pruning:

https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/HS/HS135900.pdf

Pear and Apple Trees:

https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/pruning-training-apple-pear-trees/

University of Minnesota Extension Fruit Tree Pruning:

https://extension.umn.edu/fruit/growing-stone-fruits-home-garden#open-center-pruning-1137111

Subtropical fruit tree pruning:

https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/HS/HS137200.pdf

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