Fruit Tree Pruning Time – Or is it?
Some couples disagree about when to turn on the furnace in fall, others about the proper time to ask for directions or –– if partnered, you can no doubt fill the blank. With us, it’s a long-standing difference of opinion about when to prune the rescued old fruit trees in the New York yard. Bill wants to do it in late winter, when farmers have always pruned their trees. I want it done in summer, because I know there will be more flowers, less regrowth and fewer water sprouts.
He has the weight of tradition on his side; I have nothing except being right. And as “want it done” suggests, I have ( and should have) zero say, because he’s the one who does it.
If you’re serious about summer pruning, trying to produce good fruit or a well-behaved espalier, you follow some modified form of the Lorette system, developed in the early 20th century by Louis Lorette, a professor at the Lycee Agricole in Wagnonville, France. The process is briefly described by NAFEX member Mark Lee, gone into more deeply by a publication from New Mexico State University. M. Lorette’s book itself is out of print, but there are copies – both English and French – available through Bookfinder.
The climate of the Northern US having little in common with that of the Department du Nord, modified is the operative word; you can get into trouble treating your trees as though they were in France. But assuming you’re managing mature trees, not encouraging young ones, there’s much to be said for pruning that tends to stay put.
See all those useless, non-flowering water sprouts sticking straight up? That’s a present from last year’s dormant pruning. It’s not so bad on trees that have been kept in check from infancy, but it can still be a pain in the pruner.
The Argument, Short Version:
Advantages of dormant pruning:
Leafless branch structure is clear; you can see what you’re doing
Fungus diseases are dormant too, so there’s less danger of transmission
Tree is just about to start the active growth that promotes wound-healing
You are not doing the 30,000 other agricultural things that claim your time in midsummer
Advantages of summer pruning:
Vegetative growth is restricted. Tree stays smaller.
Tree does not send up a gazillion water sprouts that must in their turn be pruned.
Fruiting spurs develop closer to main branches, and there are often more of them.
It’s ( usually) more pleasant to be working outdoors