Regular pruning of your fruit trees is essential if you want to keep them healthy and looking good, and to ensure a good crop.
Freestanding apple and pear trees are best pruned when they are dormant, between November and early March, although they should always be pruned in nice weather, avoid working on them if the weather is frosty.
It is easier to prune fruit trees while it is still possible to tell the plump, rounded flower buds and the slim, pointed leaf buds apart. When the buds start to grow this gets more difficult.
Make sure your tools – secateurs, pruning saw and loopers – are sharp, blunt tools can tear branches which may lead to disease, and take your time, pruning should be a slow, considered process.
Start by getting rid of any dying, dead or diseased wood and any branches that cross or rub. Try to keep the middle of the tree as open as possible by removing any large branches. If you decide several large branches need removing it may be best to do this over a few years as very hard pruning encourages vigourous growth and may defeat the purpose.
When cutting back any branches that have grown too large, prune them to a strong lower branch but make sure the lower branch is at least a third of the diameter of the one being pruned.
All cuts should be made to outward-facing buds so that the new growths also face out or up and not into the tree. If the tree has reached a height you are happy with prune back the new growth at the tip of each branch by about two-thirds. Alternatively, if you would like the tree to continue to grow taller leave this new growth and instead cut back any sideshoots, leaving about six buds.
James Checkley, of JDC Garden Designs of Kettering, said: “Apple and pear trees should be pruned every winter to ensure a good crop. Trees that are not regularly pruned become less productive and congested. Spray dormant trees with Winter Tree Wash in December or January to prevent woolly aphid, moss and lichen growth.
“To prevent codling moth larvae from causing maggoty fruit, fix and check grease bands in late October, position the band 45cm above ground, for older trees with fissured bark apply the grease directly to the bark. Hey presto, a bumper crop next year.”