Winter prun­ing a fruit­less en­deav­our

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - HOME - Peter Cun­dall

THERE are many rea­sons why de­cid­u­ous trees drop leaves in au­tumn. Mainly so they are able to sur­vive winter. How­ever, in na­ture there is no waste, so be­fore the leaves are cast, trees draw from them all the nu­tri­ents they can.

That’s why they change colour. And these ex­tra nu­tri­ents – mainly car­bo­hy­drates – are stored mostly in buds, bark and roots, ready for a fly­ing start to spring.

In short, de­cid­u­ous trees stock up the larder to sur­vive cold times and with enough in re­serve to get go­ing again when warmer times re­turn.

This highly vig­or­ous new growth is now sprout­ing, which is why early spring is one of the best times to prune fruit and other overvig­or­ous or­na­men­tal trees to ef­fec­tively rein in ex­ces­sive growth in or­der to con­trol, shape and train them.

The tra­di­tional time for prun­ing de­cid­u­ous fruit trees, such as ap­ple, pear, plum and other stone fruits, was in the mid­dle of winter.

This was done in the be­lief that the trees were dor­mant and we could also see clearly what we were do­ing and where we were cut­ting.

How­ever, these trees are packed with en­ergy in winter, so all this dor­mant prun­ing did was con­cen­trate nu­tri­ents to stim­u­late even more ex­ces­sive growth and masses of use­less, non- pro­duc­tive wood in spring.

It hap­pened year af­ter year and by the fol­low­ing winter we were al­ways back to square one, with an­other im­pres­sive but worth­less thicket of new branches wait­ing to be pruned again.

It took a long time for it to sink in that we were wast­ing both time and ef­fort go­ing around in cir­cles.

Of course, some winter prun­ing op­er­a­tions are nec­es­sary. Re­mov­ing dead or dis­eased branches, thin­ning fruit- bear­ing spurs of ap­ple and re­ju­ve­nat­ing badly con­gested old fruit trees can be done at any time, in­clud­ing winter, and the trees ben­e­fit – giv­ing us bet­ter yields of higher qual­ity fruit.

That brings us back to why this time of early vigour is per­fect for in­tel­li­gent growth con­trol.

When trees or other de­cid­u­ous plants sprout all those new shoots in spring, the en­ergy re­quired can­not come from di­rect sun­light be­cause there are no fully open leaves to act like so­lar pan­els.

The real source is the nu­tri­ents stored in and around those burst­ing buds.

So prun­ing de­cid­u­ous trees at this cru­cial time, es­pe­cially to re­move branches that head for the sky, is es­sen­tial.

This is the most ef­fi­cient, harm­less and ef­fec­tive way of con­trol­ling ex­cess vigour.

It works be­cause new growth causes emer­gency stores of nu­tri­ents to be­come vir­tu­ally ex­hausted.

It is this which pre­vents the trees from get­ting out of con­trol.

Let’s be clear, cut­ting these trees back right now may re­duce fruit yields, but only a lit­tle.

That’s no big deal be­cause all fruit trees over- pro­duce, which is why fruit- thin­ning is so nec­es­sary.

The main ad­van­tage is growth con­trol. By fet­ter­ing over- ac­tive growth early in the sea­son we get bet­ter ac­cess to the fruit, fewer fun­gal dis­eases be­cause of bet­ter air cir­cu­la­tion and, best of all, at the end of the sea­son we are no longer faced with a great sprout­ing of new, un­nec­es­sary growth. So it saves work too.

Just the same, prun­ing meth­ods are dif­fer­ent with peach, nec­tarine or apri­cot trees be­cause they form fruit on growth made the pre­vi­ous year.

So we prune these fruit trees in or­der to stim­u­late plenty of new, healthy branches to pro­duce big­ger yields.

How­ever, even these trees are no longer winter- pruned.

That’s mainly to pre­vent dis­eases gain­ing ac­cess through slow- heal­ing prun­ing wounds.

The best time is dur­ing sum­mer, im­me­di­ately af­ter all fruit has been har­vested. They are still in ac­tive growth and en­sure rapid heal­ing and far less chances of dis­ease in­fec­tion.

The trees are then heav­ily wa­tered and fer­tilised, so by the time winter ar­rives they al­ready have plenty of fruit- bear­ing branches ready for a great crop the fol­low­ing sum­mer.

CUT IT OUT: Peter Cun­dall prunes his fruit trees.

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