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Pruning fruit trees and raspberry bushes ready for the growing season

Published: 22nd February, 2017

Pruning fruit treesFebruary is nearly over and the days are getting longer. Spring will soon be with us. One of the jobs that needs to be done before leaves begin to appear and the sap starts running is the pruning of fruit trees.

Pruning fruit trees will help in many ways. It will help with fruit yields, increase air flow, reduce risk of disease and keep the overall size to something managable. The point of pruning a fruit tree is to cut out some of the excess wood so the tree doesn’t put its energy into it by maintaining and producing branches, and instead puts its energy into producing carbohydrates in the form of fruit (fruit sugars).

Many fruit trees like to produce their fruit on first year wood. This means that you need to cut back the trees very hard in their winter pruning to remove excess 2nd year growth and promote as much fruit producing wood as possible.

A lot of people get worried about pruning their fruit trees in case they might ruin them somehow, but actually because they do need to be pruned severely, it’s actually very difficult to make a mistake!  Use a sharp pair of cutters and create nice clean cuts, ensuring as you go that you wipe down your tools as you move from tree to tree to stop any disease that may be present crossing over to your next tree.

The number one rule of pruning is that you want to cut out as much branch overlap as possible so that they are not growing into each other. Crossing wood can create rub which will open up the bark and make it susceptible to disease. As the season progresses and the trees go into overlapping bracnhes will also start to shade each other, hampering the growth of the fruit. Sweet fruit needs a lot of sun to produce the sugar so you want to get as much sunlight into the middle of the tree as you can. Take the branches as far back to the main part of the tree as possible creating air and space between the remaining branches. This will also help prevent diseases like mildew.  Try to remove branches that grow inwards and keep those that grow outwards to maintain a nice open shape.

You also want to remove all broken, dying and diseased wood. You’ll usually be able to spot diseased wood by the bark being a different colour or a ring around where the disease begins. It may also be shrivelled. As you cut away wood try to keep the tree balanced so it isn’t heaver on one side than the other.

Once you have removed the larger branches that need it, take your secateurs & move on to the smaller stick like branches that shoot off in all directions. Cut back them back flush to the main branch just leaving a few here and there. Essentially you are again trying to remove any overlap so branches are not bumping into each other and each branch has just 1 or 2 smaller shoots coming off it.

February / March is also an ideal time to cut back raspberry bushes. As last year’s canes have been dying away since the end of summer they have been sending down nutrients back into the root system but now they have done their job. In cutting back raspberry bushes you are looking to narrow the row to about 30 – 60cm at its base, remove the canes that produced fruit last year as these are now spent and then thin out the remaining canes so they have more space. You’ll end up only having a very small proportion of canes remaining from the number you started with.

First up are last years spent canes which you can recognise by the grey peeling bark and the little branches sticking out which are the shoots that bore last years fruit. These canes are now dead and need to come out. Cut them right at the base and pull them out as you go. Secondly help thin out the bush by removing the thin spindly canes which are weak and will just not produce very good fruit. Any canes that shoot out beyond the 60cm base, remove these also as they’ll end up shading the canes further in and the fruit will rot.

Finally you’ll have a selection of good, thick shooting canes which may already be carrying buds and will produce this year’s fruit. Keep the thickest, highest and strongest of these. You don’t need to trim off the tops but if they are going to get so high that you are going to be unable to reach the fruit there, then by all means trim them back a little bit. Tie your remaining canes to your supporting trellis or wires and you’re all set to go for a good summer of raspberries.

The final preparation for your fruit trees for the growing season is to feed them. Use a fertiliser that contains nitrogen (N) to encourage good growth, phosphorus (P) for root growth and potassium (K) for fruit and flowers. Sprinkle the fertiliser over the tree’s rooting area and then surround with a layer of mulch to improve soil structure and fertility as it is drawn down into the surface layer by earthworms.

Check out Henry Street Garden Centre for a great selection of fruit trees and high quality fruit fertilisers.




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