Sharon Hull, This Week in the Garden

 Sharon Hull, This Week in the Garden

The pruning of deciduous fruit trees can be a confusing business. Traditionally, these trees were pruned during the winter when they were dormant, but now experts are also recommending summer pruning.

Summer pruning a plum. (Sharon Hull — Contributed)

Matthew Sutton of Orchard Keepers ( is definitely one of the local experts and he is always my go-to person when I have fruit tree questions so I asked him to explain summer pruning.  He explained not only the “how to” but also the “why,” which for me at least made understanding and using the techniques suddenly crystal clear. And I learned that it doesn’t replace winter pruning but supplements it.

Sutton and other experts will tell you that the goal is a tree of manageable height, usually 6-8 feet tall, maximum 15 feet, for ease of care and harvest. Winter pruning stimulates new growth; summer pruning stops or limits growth, so is better at restricting tree size. For maximum health and fruit production, a tree needs to be trained so that sunlight can penetrate to all areas. (Did you know that a fruit actually colors better and becomes sweeter when the rays of the sun strike it directly?)

The pruner wants to create a “chimney of light” reaching through branches that are evenly spaced and which do not shade each other. Proper pruning will result in even dappled light falling on the soil beneath the tree, and this is best achieved when the basic form is created in winter, but growth is…

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