Winter Pruning for Your Deciduous Fruit Trees

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner


Winter Pruning for Your Deciduous Fruit Trees

December and January are the Months to Prune Your Deciduous Fruit Trees

The time to prune your deciduous fruit trees is when they're dormant, which means December or January in mild climates like Southern California. I only have three fruit trees, and one of them is a blood orange (citrus trees are evergreen, not deciduous), so it's easy for me to get all my pruning done in December. But if you have lots of fruit trees, or if you are just too busy in December, by all means, wait until January.

Whole books have been written on pruning various different types of fruit trees. I'm loathe to try and fit all of that information into a single article. Instead, I thought I would offer some tips that have really helped me when pruning my trees.

My first tip is to begin pruning without your clippers. Just examine your tree. Look for dead, diseased, or crossing branches. Also take note of how the tree has grown this year, and whether it needs any reshaping, or just the typical cutting back to stimulate proper growth and fruit production. Imagine what the consequences of your planned cuts will be, and what you want your tree to look like when you're done.

Another thing that was helpful for me to understand is the concept of an outward facing bud, because most pruning manuals will tell you to make your cut "just above an outward facing bud." A bud is a swollen part of a plant stem that contains tiny, tightly overlapping, immature leaves or petals. The reason you want to prune near an outward facing bud is because pruning will encourage the buds just below the cut to grow the following season. If you cut just above an inward facing bud, the plant will develop branches that grow towards the center of the plant, where less light is available to that branch. It won't be as healthy nor as productive as a branch growing out into the sunshine.

I hope these tips will help make pruning an easier, happier experience for you. If you need more help, I suggest consulting the website of your state's cooperative extension program. For example, the University of California Cooperative Extension puts out a great brochure on how to prune deciduous fruit trees.