OPINION: By Extension

January, February and early March are the months to be pruning fruit trees. It is best to prune the trees during the dormant season. Most fruit trees can use a trim every year, to remove weak or injured branches and to promote strong, healthy structure.

If trees haven?t been pruned and are eight or more years old, however, they may need considerable work. They?re probably only producing fruit at the top and on outside branches, because that?s where they?re getting good sunlight.

Removing unproductive center-tree wood is a four-step process:

(1) Remove ?sucker? limbs growing from the trunk, roots and any branches that are three feet from the ground or lower.

(2) Stand 20 to 25 feet from the tree, to get a good look at overall structure. Look for limbs that are growing vertically and parallel, thus shading other limbs. Remove one or two of these limbs, so a high level of sunlight can reach the tree?s interior.

(3) ?Lower? or trim back the tree top, making it more accessible for pruning, picking and pest control.

(4) Study the tree again. Identify the major fruit bearers?sturdy branches that are growing at a wide angle away from the tree center. They likely will be getting shade from a number of small branches, growing just above. If so, remove enough of these higher, lateral branches to allow sunlight in.

Not all fruit trees are pruned alike. Peach trees have no leader. They are pruned to have an open center. Peaches and nectarines are pruned more severely as they fruit on 1-year-old wood. Peaches may be pruned to one-half of the total wood of the tree.

Apples, cherries, pears, plums and apricots set fruit on two-year or older wood. They are pruned more lightly than peach and nectarine.

Pears are the least heavily pruned at no more than one-tenth of the total wood. Excessive pruning of any fruit tree may delay fruit production for one or two seasons.

Instructions are available from the Extension Office in Marion.

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