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Prune fruit trees for better harvest

The fruits of your labor: pruning fruit trees for better harvest
Kathleen Ellyn

Wallowa County Chieftain

Published on March 14, 2017 8:58AM

Last changed on March 14, 2017 8:59AM

Kathleen Ellyn/ChieftainEric Sinclair of Sinclair Brothers Tree Care advises a man who plans to manage the pruning for this prune or plum tree, himself.

Kathleen Ellyn/ChieftainEric Sinclair of Sinclair Brothers Tree Care advises a man who plans to manage the pruning for this prune or plum tree, himself.

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Kathleen Ellyn/Chieftain
Everything is wrong with this apple tree Eric Sinclair is examining. It has three trunks, several sections of deadwood high up, is 30 feet too tall and has branches resting on the roof of the house. Although it produces good apples, the homeowner will never be able to reach the fruit for harvest without a very tall ladder. It’s the sort of tree a homeowner might legitimately consider cutting down to plant a new apple and is clearly beyond a homeowner’s ability to manage. In this case the homeowner decided the tree’s greatest value was as a shade tree and chose to have Sinclair prune for safety and to improve the tree’s health, rather than for harvest purposes.

Kathleen Ellyn/Chieftain Everything is wrong with this apple tree Eric Sinclair is examining. It has three trunks, several sections of deadwood high up, is 30 feet too tall and has branches resting on the roof of the house. Although it produces good apples, the homeowner will never be able to reach the fruit for harvest without a very tall ladder. It’s the sort of tree a homeowner might legitimately consider cutting down to plant a new apple and is clearly beyond a homeowner’s ability to manage. In this case the homeowner decided the tree’s greatest value was as a shade tree and chose to have Sinclair prune for safety and to improve the tree’s health, rather than for harvest purposes.

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It’s time for fruit tree care and a good pruning can mean a bumper crop of those apples, cherries or pears. “We recommend fruit tree pruning after all the hard freezes are over, early March, definitely before bud swell,” said Eric Sinclair of Sinclair Brothers tree care of Enterprise. “We’ve been doing it for the last two weeks.” By pruning the tree in early March, two important issues are addressed: The wounds created by the cuts aren’t exposed to extreme temperatures and the tree is still dormant. Pruning and shaping the tree means that when itcomes awake in the spring it will put its energy into healing wounds and producing fruit, rather than putting out sprouts that can overtake the canopy. Making the canopy umbrella-shaped and open improves the ability of fruit trees to put out produce. In fact, even in two-year apple trees, which generally put out one year of bumper crop and one average year, a properly pruned and cared for tree can put out quality crops year after year. “Fruit production depends more on the weather,” said Sinclair. “If we get a late frost it will knock out a lot of the production. Last year we had a really mild spring and we had a bumper crop. People had so much fruit, branches were breaking.” Bryan Walker of Executive Tree Care of Joseph agrees.

“My wife’s grandmother has an old two-year tree that puts out good crops every year. It just depends on weather, your pruning and care,” he said. Fruit trees are hardy, the tree professionals said, and pruning that would shock the system of a deciduous tree or an evergreen can be undertaken. An apple tree, for instance, can be topped and reduced on the main trunk by six feet each year, Sinclair said. In rare cases the tree may be reduced in height by 10 feet. “Topping is not recommended for any tree except for a fruit tree,” Sinclair said. “It’s an historic and accepted practice for fruit trees. It may even be recommended.” Many fruit trees can stand a pruning of 30 percent of their volume.

“In a fruit tree you want to take all the vertical suckers off and bring it down to where it is an umbrella ... to where you can pick it off an orchard ladder or from the ground,” said Walker. Sinclair agrees.

“There’s actually an old saying that ‘your fruit tree should be the height of your ladder,’” he said. Other trees can be pruned pretty much any time and many deciduous trees are pruned after they leaf, as this makes identifying dead or sick branches easy. The cost of having a professional prune your tree varies, because each tree is different “I have to look at it to see what kind of pruning I’ll have to do,” said Walker. “The first pruning is usually a little more costly, but after that it’s maintenance. I try to show the homeowner how to do the maintenance,” said Walker. “We do free estimates,” said Sinclair. “I’ll come talk trees with everybody for nothing.”



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