To prune or not to prune? That is the question.


    By John Weldon


    The time to answer that question is now – mid-winter – the optimum time to trim your fruit trees. At this time of the year, the trees have dropped their leaves and are dormant. In a few more weeks buds will start to fatten on the branch and soon after that they’ll burst open and it’ll be too late, so time to get to it. Chop chop! 

    Why prune?

    For two reasons: Firstly, new growth is fruiting growth, so the more of that we encourage the more fruit we will (potentially) harvest in Autumn. Secondly, to keep things under control. A tree that is congested with a thick tangle of branches is more prone to disease and less likely to produce a bumper crop than one whose branches are exposed to air and sun. 

    Pruning also helps keep trees to a manageable size, where fruit is easily reachable. Sheer laziness on my part has meant that my olive tree is now four metres high. It’s not possible to properly harvest a tree of that size, plus in a good year I might end up with over 50 kilos of olives – too much for me to handle. I’ll need to give it a savage prune this year, cutting it down to two metres or so, which will shock the tree, meaning it might take a year or two for it to recover and to bear fruit. Better to prune gently each year than savagely every few years or so.


    A lopping saw and secateurs, sharp and clean. After cutting any diseased wood, or when you move from tree to tree, clean them with bleach diluted in water in a ratio of 10–1. 

    When pruning a young tree, you’re guiding it into the shape you want it to be when mature. Keep strong branches that grow outward and upward away from the trunk, to allow in air and light. Remove those that cross over others, grow down or inwards. Make sure to leave an outward facing bud at the end of the branches as you prune – this is where the new growth will come from.

    Prune mature trees in the same way, but also cut them back by a third or even a half; the new growth that follows this will bring the tree back to proper size in spring. Feel free to give this new growth a light prune in summer too, just to keep things under control and to maintain air and light flow.

    If you prune back too hard, and it happens, we all get carried away, it may take a tree a couple of years or so to recover. Don’t panic, just keep it fertilised and well-watered.

    After pruning.

    Give your trees a good fertiliser boost soon after pruning. They’ll be geared up to produce lots of new growth after being trimmed and so will be very hungry. Happy pruning!

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