Master Gardener News Pruning Fruit Trees

By Donna Adrian, Master Gardener, Cooperative Extension Service, White River, S.D.

Pruning Fruit Trees

February is a good time to start pruning your fruit crops. It is important to prune your fruit  trees at the right time to avoid the risk of damage to the crop. 

The ideal time to prune most fruit trees is anytime between February and April. Avoid pruning early in the winter because this may cause severe winter injury to the trees.  

Proper training and pruning are essential for the development of productive fruit trees. The main objective of pruning is to open up the tree canopy to maximize light penetration and allow air movement through the tree. 

Light penetration is important because flower buds for the current season’s crop are formed the previous summer. 

Light is essential for flower bud formation and also affects fruit set and fruit quality. Fruits should be exposed to bright light every day during the growing season. Heavily shaded fruit is small, less-colored and not as sweet as the same fruit exposed to light. Opening up the tree canopy is important because it permits adequate air movement, which promotes rapid drying after rains to minimize disease infection and also allows thorough pesticide penetration.

Severe pruning upsets the tree balance and results in over-stimulating the growth of water sprouts or suckers, which cause excessive shading and affect fruit color and delay maturity. It is best to prune lightly or moderately every year. 

The tree man, John Ball would tell us you can eventually trim fruiting trees till you can throw a ball through it.  Do not remove more than 30 percent (or 1/3) of the wood in any given year. With proper annual pruning you can avoid excessive pruning and cuts of more than two inches in diameter.

When you prune, make clean cuts at the outer edge of the collar that forms where the branch joins the parent limb. This will minimize healing time for the pruning wounds. 

When reducing a branch length make thinning cuts and not heading cuts. Thinning cut is the removal of the entire shoot back to a side shoot. Heading cutting is the removal of only a terminal portion of the shoot. This encourages excessive growth behind the pruning cut. 

If you have dead or cankered branches on your trees, disinfect pruning tools between cuts to prevent chances of spreading fire bacteria from infected trees.

Growing grapes is becoming more popular in South Dakota. The valiant grape is a variety that was developed specifically for cold hardiness and for less than ideal growing climates by Dr. Ron Peterson of South Dakota State University. He is credited with creating this hybrid that can be grown in U.S. Department of Agriculture zones 3 to 9. 

Described as being very Concord like in flavor, these purple grapes are typically used for juice as well as jellies. Valiant grapes prefer dry summers and can suffer from rot if the weather is too wet.  It is similar to our wild grapes except larger. They should be trimmed back about 70 per cent in the spring. Use chicken wire to protect the bottom section from rabbits during the winter.  Cut the vine in early spring while the plant is still dormant. 

How to start a grape vine from another grape vine: Take about a 12 inch section of the branch, about pencil size each cutting must have three nodes or buds to increase the chance of successful growth. Make the first cut just below the bottom node and the second cut 1 inch above the top node. Make the top cut a 45-degree angle so you remember which side is up and which side is down. Put the cutting in a 6-inch pot filled halfway with a loose potting soil. While you hold the cutting upright, add more soil until it reaches the middle node of the vine stem. Even the soil surface and tamp it lightly to secure the cutting in place. The end with the 45-degree angle must point upright.

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