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The power of pruning

By Katie Lautar & Molly McCullagh

This time of year, Baltimore gardeners excitedly place their seed orders and anxiously wait for the chilly weather to break before they put lettuce and spinach seeds in the ground. But while we wait for warmer days, there are some plants that need our attention – our fruit trees.

Understanding how and when to trim your fruit trees can make all the difference in how they produce fruit for you.We recommend that gardeners get training before pruning any tree, and especially a fruit tree. This winter, leaders from The Remington Village Green and The Duncan Street Miracle Garden hosted experts from the Baltimore Orchard Projects to practice how to care for their fruit trees and bushes. During the workshops, we learned the basics of tree growth, the essential tools for pruning, and we practiced removing dead branches from trees by cutting out competing or dead branches. Members of other gardens preserved by Baltimore Green Space also joined in, and despite the rain on one of the days, everyone had fun and left feeling empowered to prune their own tree.

If you couldn’t make one of our “Pruning Power” workshops, read on for some tips we gleaned:

Pruning should be done in late winter or early March, when the trees are not trying to grow. The trees are less brittle during this time of year but are not yet pushing out sap to grow their leaves and buds.

Pruning requires making a series of decisions that are specific to the type of tree you are pruning and the way that tree grows. Some trees have a central branch, a “leader,” that grows straight up (like a Christmas tree) and others have more than one leader, giving them a wider, open shape.

One goal of pruning is to open up space for air flow and sunlight to penetrate through the branching. Increased air flow helps prevent fungal growth on the fruit. Increased sunlight allows fruit to grow larger and develop better flavor.

You should prune in stages over time and never cut back more than one quarter of the tree’s body at once. Cutting off too much of a tree can shock it, meaning it might not produce fruit that year or will send up many small branches in response. Over pruning could even kill the Sharper tools provide cleaner cuts.Pruning is tree surgery; sharp tools are more kind to a tree’s flesh.

When pruning you want to be prepared with at least three tools – pruning shears, loppers, and a small saw. We used all of these in our adventures.

When pruning you want to be prepared with at least three tools – pruning shears, loppers, and a small saw. We used all of these in our adventures.

After your tree has produced its fruit, be sure to clear all dried or rotting fruit from around the base of the tree. Leaving the fruit on or around the tree can attract diseases and pests.

Fun fact: All fruit trees with stone fruit – like peaches, apples, and cherries – are in the rose family!

Special thanks to the University of Marlyand Extension Master Gardeners, TreeKeepers, and The Friends of Patterson Park for assisting us. The Baltimore Orchard Project taught us so much – more than we could share in just one article. Check out their events calendar and sign up for one of their classes to learn more!