According to an extension horticulture specialist at North Carolina State University, winter pruning is extremely important to the growth of a young fruit tree. Growers that neglect annual training and pruning find themselves with short-lived trees that produce lower quality fruit. Failing to care for the framework of the tree can result in serious limb breakage under a heavy load of snow or fruit. Since fruit trees in the Northeast should not be pruned after July (due to potential winter damage), it’s important to take advantage of the increased growth potential that winter trimming offers.
Which to Trim and Why?
Summer and winter pruning have very different effects on fruit trees. Winter pruning, also known as dormant pruning, is an invigorating process that can spurs growth but reduces the fruit bounty of the next season. That’s why only young, relatively untrained fruit trees need a vigorous winter trim- it will prepare them to bear larger loads later in life. Older trees can benefit from a little work as well, but keep in mind that new growth on an established tree often causes more trouble than it’s worth. The reason that this growth spurt occurs after winter pruning is because the trees are still in their dormant stage, so the level of energy doesn’t decrease despite the removal of nutrient-consuming shoots. This extra energy shows up in the spring in the form of rapid growth.
When to Trim Fruit Trees
Pruning should begin as late in the winter as possible, because cold weather injury could pose a real threat to a newly trimmed tree. Those who are unfamiliar with winter pruning should seek the advice of a local tree maintenance professional who can advise on proper technique to decrease the chances of damage. Apple and pecan can be pruned the earliest. The typical rule of thumb for other types of fruit bearing trees is to prune the latest blooming first, and the earliest blooming trees last. Age is a significant issue to the health of a tree during pruning, as well, since younger trees are more susceptible to winter injury of any type.