“How can I get more usable fruit from my home landscape?” When I hear this question, the problem is often that the gardener hasn’t properly pruned their fruit trees or bushes! Thinning early in the season prevents overproduction, which can result in smaller fruit, and increased tree breakage, destructive insects, and disease problems.
Now is the time to prune blueberries, and you can prune apple, pear, and plum trees from now through late March!
General Pruning Recommendations for Fruit Trees
NOTE: As you follow these steps do not remove more than 30 percent of the tree in one season. Regardless of what portion of the tree you prune, do not leave a stub!
- Remove all broken, damaged, or diseased branches—when cutting back a branch, always cut back to another branch or a bud.
- Prune out all suckers—suckers are branches that grow straight up. They may grow from the trunk or branches.
- Remove any branches that are so low that they interfere with your movement around the tree.
- If two branches cross and rub against one another, remove one.
- Thin branches on the interior of the tree. You should be able to throw a softball through the tree without it hitting a branch, limb, or fruiting spur!
- Later in the season, thin fruit when they are about the size of a nickel. Remove enough fruit so that the remaining ones are spaced about 4 to 6 inches apart along the branch.
General Pruning Recommendations for Blueberries
We grow two varieties of blueberries in Western North Carolina: Highbush (Vaccinium corymbosum), which grow 6 to 12 feet tall and can produce berries more than 1 inch wide and Rabbiteye (V. ashei or V. virgatum) which can grow up to 15 feet tall!
According to Bill Cline, Plant Pathology Department, NCSU, for new plantings of Highbush and Rabbiteye:
- Immediately after planting, always prune or rub off all flowering buds and cut height back ½ to 2/3.
- In late winter of the second year, remove low-lying or weak shoots and cross-overs, keeping the healthiest, large upright canes. If your plants grew vigorously, allow some flower buds to produce fruit.
- In late winter of the third year, prune out any weak, damaged, or diseased growth and remove 40 to 50 percent of the flower buds. Begin selecting new basal shoots that will replace older canes.
To achieve maximum yield and sustain the health of your established (> 3 years old) blueberries, Cline recommends the following:
“STEP ONE: Define the crown. Pruning starts at the ground, not at the top of the bush. Visualize a circle 12 to 18 inches in diameter around the crown of the bush, and remove ALL shoots of any age that have emerged from the ground outside the circle.
STEP TWO: Remove low-angled canes and crossovers. Low-angled canes that are too close to the ground are undesirable because the fruit is more likely to contact the ground, or to be contaminated by rain-splashed soil. Remove these low-lying branches, and also any canes that angle through the bush (crossovers).
STEP THREE: Open the center. If needed, remove one to three large canes from the center of the bush to reduce crowding, improve air circulation and phase out older canes. Old canes to target for removal are larger and grayer in color, and are more likely to be covered with a fuzzy growth of foliose lichens.
STEP FOUR: Thinning and heading back. As a blueberry cane ages, it branches repeatedly, resulting in smaller and smaller diameter lateral twigs in successive years. If left unpruned, this results in excessive numbers of unproductive, matchstick-sized shoots, each with a few tiny berries. To avoid reaching this stage, thin canes by making cuts to selectively remove clumps of twiggy, brushy-looking, matchstick-sized laterals. At this time also cut (head back) any long whips or canes that are too tall.”
It may be hard to prune out so many blooms, but you’ll soon see the results are worth it!
Article by Bob Wardwell Buncombe County Extension Master GardenerSM Volunteer
Training and Pruning Fruit Trees in North Carolina https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/static/publication/js/pdf_js/web/viewer.html?slug=training-and-pruning-fruit-trees-in-north-carolina
Producing Tree Fruit for Home Use