Season: Winter

Winter fruit tree works

During the winter months pruning of your Apple and Pear trees can aid healthy growth and retain a good form for your garden trees. There are a diverse range of methods to prune fruit trees, for small trees the tips given here can help you complete a basic prune but larger trees require an arborist to use climbing and scaffold techniques to do a proper professional job.

Fruit tree

Poor pruning can weaken the metabolism of the tree and even trigger dieback and loss of fruiting yields.

When we inspect mature Apple and Pear trees in gardens it is often a balance of customer concerns over the size of the tree concerned in dominating the garden area and the techniques necessary to maintain a healthy fruit crop. Good pruning can open up the tree to more light, raise good yields and give the tree good shape.

For small trees follow these steps:-

  1. Remove the sucker growth from the lower trunk and branches. These are of little value both to tree yield and aesthetic form. Use a good pair of loppers for this operation.
  2. Remove any dead or diseased branches as well as those with no indication of buds. It is from these buds that flowers and fruits will develop in the spring. When making the cuts try to leave an angle just above the nearest outward facing bud, this lessens the chance for disease and dieback and lets rain water run off easily.
  3. Once these tasks have been done the remaining pruning depends upon whether you prune trees as spur bearing or tip bearing specimens. Most Apple and Pear trees are spur bearing which is where the flowers and fruits come from old wood; tip bearing trees require a lesser prune of new growth and can be a little more complicated.

General advice is to prune to open up the tree so more light can pass through it, remove small branches that are unlikely to bear the weight of the fruits these can be thin limbs or ones with poor angles. A good shape to have in mind is that of a vase form and one that gives you a ideal working height to pick fruit in the autumn.

Where a tree is near to a wall or fence you can prune to produce a flat fan like shape (espalier), this can take several years to create, so patience is required!

The finished small tree prune should be thinner in form and if done correctly the size of fruits will increase but the number reduce. When picking the fruit do not pull it off the tree but do a twisting action, if the apple is ready for picking it should easily drop into your hand. The fruits should be stored to retain moisture and not dry out, I use a number of holed plastic bags and then carefully place them in boxes in my garage.

Diseases and Pests

A wide range of pests and diseases affect our fruit trees, a tree that is regularly pruned and fed is less likely to fall foul to many of these problems. A good tip is to collect and burn the autumn leaves especially if you have suffered from pests and diseases this year. This burning kills the spores that need to over winter for the next season.

Diseases such as Mildew (grey powder like coating to leaves) , Winter Moth (holes in leaves) , Woolly Aphid (white fluffy lumps) , Scab (blotches on fruits) and Codling Moth maggots can all be treated with sprays.

Treatments can vary from bio friendly through to your garden centre sprays. The techniques include the encouragement of predators for pests such as aphids for example, ladybirds and lacewings find these a tasty meal through to spraying a diluted washing up liquid mix onto aphids or just rubbing them off your leaves!. Where a spray is required then either methylated spirits or derris can be applied.

For Mildew can spray copper fungicide as the season progresses.

Be cautious with sprays that are of a systemic nature as these are absorbed by the trees and can appear in the fruits.