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Fruit Tree Pruning for the Home Orchardist –

Posted by erika.d.johnson | January 7, 2015


Published in: The Oregonian • Jan. 3, 2015

Hands-on Training by Pros

Thinking about growing fruit but worried about the climate or your ability to care for the tree? Find comfort in this: Southwestern Washington’s Clark County’s fruit tree history stretches back to at least 1826 when Old Apple Tree, the matriarch of Washington’s apple industry, was planted on Fort Vancouver.

Fruit tree pruning
Fruit tree pruning

Here’s another fact: The Washington State University Extension Clark County Master Gardener program is partnering with Monica Maggio of Core Home Fruit to offer a fruit tree pruning workshop from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 7. The cost is $45 and advanced registration is required.

Workshop participants will learn:

  • To identify different fruit tree forms and the various pros and cons of each form.
  • To identify the different botanical parts of a fruit tree, and to describe their importance and function.
  • Understand pruning terms such as heading cut, thinning cut and apical dominance.
  • How to effectively spend a tree’s annual “pruning budget” without going over it.
  • How to train still-flexible young branches, instead of pruning them.

The workshop starts with a classroom presentation at the Luke Jensen Sports Complex community room, 4000 N.E. 78th St., Vancouver.

Bring a brown bag lunch and dress for weather and uneven, wet ground. After a lunch break, the class will move to the 78th Street Heritage Farm orchard for a hands-on winter pruning lesson.

For more information, contact WSU Extension Clark County Master Gardener Coordinator Erika Johnson at or 360-397-6060 x 5738.

According to Johnson, southwestern Washington’s climate doesn’t easily support stone fruits such as apricots and peaches, but Clark County home orchardists can grow apples, plums, pears and numerous other fruits.

Experts says that while buying and planting a fruit tree isn’t complicated, growing and maintaining healthy trees requires annual pruning to achieve a consistently healthy and delicious bounty. Annual pruning enables you to develop and modify the tree’s shape and structure, reduce the occurrence of pests and diseases, and keep fruiting branches and vegetative branches, those that don’t produce fruit, in balance.

Here are other tips from WSU Extension Clark County Master Gardeners:

  • When pruning, always use sharp bypass pruners rather than anvil pruners, which can crush and damage branches. Additionally, clean tools with a disinfectant between trees to avoid spreading problems. Sap on pruners can spread a vascular disease between trees.
  • Fruit trees can be pruned in winter or summer, but no more than 30 percent of a tree’s canopy should be removed within a single calendar year.
  • Within the recommended maximum pruning budget, determine what really needs removing, when and why. If your trees are young, you can also take advantage of their flexibility and train branches into the position you want without cutting into your pruning budget, so always consider training options and pruning together.
  • Winter is a great time to prune small, newly planted or any established fruit trees that you want to grow larger with new growth in the spring. Avoid pruning stone fruit trees (plums, cherries, apricots) in the winter as the wet conditions can spread diseases between branches or trees.
  • Summer pruning can help limit the overall size of your fruit trees, and is a great time to prune larger trees if you want to reduce the amount of new growth it puts on each year. Summer is also the best time to prune stone fruit trees.
  • No matter which season you prune, choose primarily thinning cuts, cuts that take out entire branches back to where they emerge from a larger branch or the trunk.
  • Thinning cuts improve a tree’s airflow and light penetration and when branches and fruit are less crowded, trees are less vulnerable to the fungal diseases which thrive in damp, dark places.
  • Use heading cuts, cuts made somewhere in the middle of a branch, more sparingly, as these cuts stimulate growth and make trees “bushier” and potentially too dense for good sunlight and airflow in the canopy of the tree.
  • Additionally, thinning the fruit set on your tree in May reduces hiding places for many types of pests. This practice should occur when the fruits are about the size of a quarter.
  • Although it may seem counterintuitive to remove large quantities of juveniles to improve the harvest, the resulting fruit are larger and healthier.
  • An additional benefit is that harvests will become more predictable each year, rather than having some years where your trees explodes with fruit and others where the harvest is scant to nonexistent.