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Clark County Extension Service
Amy Simpson, HorticultureCindy Ham, 4-H and AgJoAnn Vann, Family & Consumer SciencesPhone: 870-246-2281Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Above: Plum tree pruned to an open center.
by Amy Simpson
February 15, 2022
It’s February, and in the south that means its "Prune-Almost-Everything" time. This
includes fruit trees, small fruits, most roses, and many other flowering trees and
shrubs. For gardeners, it’s an exciting time because it means we’re on the last leg
of winter, and spring is just around the corner.
If you have a home orchard (and as far as I’m concerned, if you just have a couple
of fruit trees, that counts!) and want to be more confident in your pruning, then
this blog is for you. In Arkansas apples, pears, and stone fruit including peaches,
plums, and nectarines all do well, although those stone fruit can be high-maintenance
divas, but I’ll save that for another day.
Don’t know which tree fruit varieties do well in Arkansas? Read our Tree Fruit Cultivar Recommendations for Arkansas publication.
THE WHEN, WHY & HOW OF PRUNING FRUIT TREES
In Arkansas, we typically prune fruit trees in February. However, in large orchards
they start pruning earlier in the winter to allow enough time to get them all done.
It is less stressful on the plants during this season because they aren’t actively
putting their energy into new growth and flowering. It’s also a lot easier to see
what you’re doing when there aren’t any leaves, and the chance for insects to infect
the new cuts is much lower in the winter. To maximize tree health and fruit size,
it is good to prune your fruit trees yearly.
Dead or diseased wood can be pruned out any time of the year. Just make sure you’re
disinfecting your loppers, pruning shears, or saw between each cut to avoid spreading
disease. Use a 1 part bleach to 9 parts water solution for disinfecting.
Why is pruning fruit trees necessary? There are several reasons:
How you prune your fruit tree depends on the kind of tree it is.
Pruning a tree to have a central leader means establishing a central trunk with well-balanced
scaffolding limbs radiating from it. You want to train these branches to have wide
crotch angles (60-80 degrees) with the trunk. You can make your own limb spreaders
or they are easily available online and at garden centers to help you accomplish this.
Just remember it needs to be done with the branches are young and pliable. Make sure
the branches are evenly dispersed around the trunk.
Pruning for an open center is just as it sounds.
There is no central leader and the branches form an upside down umbrella shape. This
method helps improve yield and quality of stone fruit. Typically two to five scaffold
limbs are left, spaced evenly apart around the trunk.
For both methods, the first three years after you plant is critical to getting your
scaffolding right. After the first 3 years, your tree structure should be established,
so you switch to pruning to increase yield and quality.
For details on how to train fruit trees in both the central leader and open center
methods for each year of production, check out our Pruning Fruit Trees fact sheet.
If you would rather watch a video to learn, watch our Peach Tree Pruning and Apple Tree Pruning videos that demonstrate open center and central leader methods.
Just remember it’s important to prune your fruit trees in the dormant season to improve
the health, yield, and quality of your trees and fruits. Be sure to refer to any of
the before-mentioned Extension resources to help guide you on how to do it correctly,
and as always, contact your County Extension Agent if you have any questions.
Pruning resources and tips
Grow Your Own Groceries:Gardening from the Ground UP: Beekeeping - Apiculture in Arkansas Take the Hobby and Small Flock Poultry in Arkansas course Arkansas Food Freedom Act for homemade food salesArkansas Emergency Preparedness Food Preservation
Podcasts: Around the Homestead Podcast: Beekeeping Basics Podcast