Many gardeners tend to neglect their fruit trees. They should be pruned every year. Skip a year or two and you may be in trouble. The top may become a tangle of crossing branches, the tree may be too tall to pick the fruit from the ground, effective spraying may be difficult and the fruit may not get enough light to be of good quality.
It's best to prune in late winter or early spring before the tree breaks dormancy. When growth starts in the spring there is a movement of stored food from the roots and heavier wood into areas of active growth. Pruning after this growth can cause heavy loss of food to the plant.
Actually the job is not difficult. Do not be afraid to cut your trees down the size and keep them open with strong, well-speced branches. It is better to prune your tree and make a few mistakes than to allow it to become a tall, tangled mess of branches.
You will need a crescent or curved blade pruning saw, long-handled loper and hand pruning shears. With these tools you will be able to remove branches of all sizes.
The three major aspects of pruning are heading back, thinning our and removing large or small (thinning out), make a smooth cut as close as possible to the branch or trunk for which you are removing the side branch. When heading back (shortening of branch) cut just above a strong side branch or bud.
Remove the least desirable of two branches that cross each other, or if one shades another. This will open the tree so light can reach the leaves and fruit inside. It also permits thorough spraying to control insects and diseases.
As the tree grows, head it back to keep it at a desirable height. With young trees, 4 to 6 years old, cut it back to six to eight feet. As the tree grows, you may increase this to 10 to 12 feet. Always head back to strong side branches. A low tree will make it easy to prune, spray and pick the fruit.
Application of a wound dressing after pruning is not necessary. Research has shown thar such dressings do not help with healing or provide protection from decay-causing fungi.
Heavy pruning of young trees delays bearing. The more branches that are left, the faster the growth rate of the tree will be, since more leaves can produce more food, through photosynthesis. Thus the tree will become fruitful earlier.
Once the apple tree is in good condition, very little pruning is necessary to stimulate good fruit development. This is not true of peach trees, which require more pruning to keep te branches from becoming too long. They should be headed back every year.