The vegetable garden has been put to bed, the last of the leaves raked and you’ve planted a few new spring bulbs. You think all your garden tasks have been completed, and it’s time to head inside and pour yourself a cup of tea. But before you tuck away your garden gloves and pruners, consider keeping them handy for one last task.
Late winter, or dormant season, is prime time for pruning many fruiting trees and shrubs in the Pacific Northwest. Pruning in the winter allows you to see the structure of the tree without its leafy growth obscuring your view of the branches. This helps you to determine the best cuts to make.
Winter pruning also encourages vigorous growth come spring. By removing underperforming, weak or diseased branches, you leave behind the healthiest branches for the tree to pour its energy into when spring growth begins. Late season pruning also allows a tree to heal from any pruning cuts that have been made.
Fruits that benefit most from dormant season pruning are apples, pears, figs, persimmons, grapes and blueberries.
Before making any cuts, remember a couple of points; work only with clean, sharp bypass pruners. Doing so reduces chances of injury to your tree by making clean cuts that heal faster.
Avoid spreading a disease from one fruit tree to another; keep a canister of a spray disinfectant in your garden tool kit to disinfect your pruners. Lysol will do the job as will isopropyl alcohol.
With pruners in hand, step back and observe the fruit tree you are about to prune. Plan to remove only up to 25 percent of the branches, so you will need to be selective in what is removed.
Keep in mind why we prune fruit trees; to allow better light and airflow to the center of the canopy, improve branch strength and structure and increase the overall fruit quality.
Try to ensure that most of your cuts are thinning cuts. These are cuts made just outside where a branch grows from the trunk or main branch.
Your first step should be to remove any dead, diseased or damaged branches. Next, remove any branches that are crossing each other and could therefore lead to rubbing, which causes injury to branches.
Begin with the largest cuts first. When removing a large branch, saw carefully in order to not cut into the branch collar (the branch collar is the swollen portion where a branch is attached to the trunk). You may need to do this in pieces so that the weight of the branch does not cause any tearing. Or, you will need to undercut the branch by sawing first from the bottom and then finishing your cut from the top of the branch.
After these cuts have been made, you will more than likely be at your 25 percent pruning budget, and your job will be finished. You will now have a fruit tree or shrub that is primed to produce delicious fruit for you this summer and fall.
If you would like to read further about how to prune fruit trees and shrubs in the dormant season, both Washington State University and Oregon State University Extension Service programs offer many publications for free online.
See the references listed below for a few of these. The WSU Extension Clark County Master Gardener Program, as well as many area nurseries, offer various dormant season pruning classes during the winter months. So they would be well worth checking out, if you would like to attend a workshop.extension.wsu.edu/clark/workshops-events/ homeorchardsociety.org/events/