Pruning Fruit Trees and Fruit Bushes
To the beginner, pruning is always one of the more mystifying jobs in. Where are concerned there are strange words like ‘laterals’, ‘spurs’ and a host more to cope with, Do we really have to know what all these mean?
To be honest, no; but it does help to know a few basic expressions because they will keep cropping up when you read about the subject.
To begin with, though, it would be as well to look at the reasons for pruning fruit at all. There are two that overwhelm all others and neither could be said to be the more important because both have to be borne in mind.
They are, first, to shape the tree or bush and, second, to maintain a balance between growth and fruiting. One can add more factors to these, such as encouraging fruiting or encouraging growth,the removal of dead, broken and diseased shoots and branches and those that are in the wrong place. All these are part of pruning and have to be considered, but they are ‘how’ you prune, not ‘why’.
Aor bush that isn’t pruned will certainly not die, but it will go progressively downhill with age — along with the quality and quantity of fruit. It will stop growing and, as in the wild, it will become congested with shoots and branches which periodically die.
Having established the benefits of pruning, therefore, what are the tools that you will need? First, a good pair of secateurs. These are of two basic designs: scissor or anvil action. The first explains itself while, in the anvil type, the blade presses onto an alloy or hard plastic pad. The scissor ones cost more, but give a cleaner cut.
The other tool that will be needed if you are dealing with large trees is a good pruning saw. Forget any nonsense about carpentry saws; these are useless for the job and will probably be ruined. The handiest type is a small, hollow-ground, folding saw. It takes up very little room and gives a beautiful smooth cut. Pruning saws cut when pulled, not when pushed.
A couple of other tools that might be handy are a pair of loppers and a long-arm pruner. The loppers are for cutting branches that are too thick for secateurs but awkward for reaching with a saw, such as in black currant bushes. The long-arm pruner is, obviously, for pruning parts of the tree that are out of reach from the ground.
All these tools will be useful all over the garden, not just with the fruit, so it pays to buy good ones. They must also be kept properly sharp at all times; blunt tools are useless and will damage the wood you are trying to cut.
Having looked at the reasons for pruning and the tools needed, what happens to a tree or bush when it is pruned? What are the effects of pruning? There are two basic facts relating to pruning fruit trees and bushes. One is that cutting a shoot back encourages it to grow. The other is that an unpruned shoot will produce more fruit buds and produce them quicker than a pruned one. In practical terms, if a one-year-old shoot is shortened by half during the winter, two, three or even four new shoots will grow out from buds in the following year. If it had not been pruned, it would simply have got longer without producing any, or certainly fewer, side-shoots (laterals). In addition, many of the buds lower down would have developed into fruit buds.
With these two facts in mind, the gardener can decide which course he wants a particular shoot to take and act accordingly. That sounds terribly pat and easy and, in fact, pruning is quite easy when you understand what a particular action will result in. Of course, the skill comes when you find out that not all shoots act in the same way; it is as though some have never been told what the rules are.
Remember also that no cut should be made without a definite purpose.