Published on Thursday, October 14, 2021

By Victoria Torley

To prune or not to prune, that is the question. The answer is – Prune away! Especially those fruit trees.

You can prune fruit trees for a lot of reasons. We prune for a desired shape, for more flowers, for larger flowers. We prune because a dead branch is definitely going to fall and take out the roof or the window. We prune because something has gotten scraggly and overgrown its garden spot. And we prune so that a tree will produce more fruit.

Not that pruning is easy. First, the pruning tools have to be cleaned so that diseases aren’t spread. No walking from the mandarina to the orange tree unless you swab that set of clippers or pruning saw with alcohol or bleach. No, no. And you have to stop and sharpen them if you have more than a couple of trees because those cuts need to be neat and tidy – no squishing that branch, you need a clean cut.

And just how do you help the tree produce more fruit by pruning it? It sounds almost counter-intuitive. You are removing branches that produce fruit to make the tree more fruitful? That is exactly what you are doing. By removing branches, and even minor trunks, you are allowing more air to circulate through the tree and letting more sunlight into the tree’s inner surfaces. By doing those two things, you are also reducing the risk of disease. So, prune away, but what and where.

First things first. Pick all the fruit and look at the tree carefully. Are there crossed branches on your tree? Crossed branches are branches that are rubbing against each other each time the wind blows – rubbing away the protective bark on the tree. If you have crossed branches, one has to go – usually the smaller of the two. There, you have made your first cut.

Now look for dead twigs and branches. These have to go, especially if you see a hint of fungus on them. In fact, if you find fungus on ‘healthy’ branches, they should go as well. Do not pile them up to rot into mulch. If you have fungus on your tree, the diseased branch goes into the fire. The same goes, of course, for anything infested with insects. Off to the burn pile, please.


That was the easy stuff.

Now you have to get rid of ‘extra’ branches that are preventing the circulation of air and sunlight. This involves careful evaluation of the tree. Which of the larger branches produced the most fruit this year? Prune nearby branches to provide that area with more air and sun. You may be squeamish about cutting heavier branches but take a deep breath and be ruthless. Your tree will be happier for it.

More on pruning next week.

Editor's note: More information on this article, Ms. Victoria Torley, gardener columnist, can be reached at

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