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Maintenance of "neglected" fruit trees can restore beauty

Many people, during the purchase of a home or old farmstead, find themselves in possession of fruit trees which have been "neglected" for some length of time, appearing large and overgrown and most commonly producing poor quality fruit. Aesthetically, however, I often find these large trees very pleasing due to the beauty of the natural rounded crown shape which has developed over several years. On first impulse, however, owners are often inclined to prune such trees immediately and severely.

It is important to allow several years to complete the process of tree renewal. Pruning which is too severe results in excessive, non-productive shoot growth. It is best to reduce the amount of existing growth in increments over time with the judicious use of thinning cuts. Thinning cuts, or those which remove wood at its base or point of origin, are most desirable, as they allow the size and shape of the tree to be maintained. In other words, if one uses thinning cuts correctly, then the tree size can be reduced while still maintaining the natural shape of the canopy. In fact, this is what one wants to do for any tree that is pruned. It is all too common to see trees whose forms have been destroyed by severe heading cuts.

The first step in pruning a neglected tree is to remove all diseased or dead material. Next, very upright, extremely vigorous shoots which are shading the interior should be removed. Limbs which are joined to the trunk at a narrow angle may be removed, while leaving limbs with wider crotch angles. In some cases, having too many scaffold limbs may be a problem. The excess wood may be removed to leave three to five lower scaffolds with fairly wide crotch angles spaced evenly around the tree. When trees have been pruned extensively, they should not be fertilized the following spring. This will prevent excessive, unproductive growth from redeveloping.

With a good working knowledge of basic principles of plant response to pruning, proper pruning techniques and clear objectives for the tree, performance can be improved while maintaining the beauty of the tree.

Web posted on Thursday, February 01, 2007

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