Why would you bother to prune a tree? They survive in the wild perfectly well without some human coming along and hacking bits off them. But the trees in your garden or orchard, especially your fruit trees are not wild. If you want to maximise the quantity and quality of fruit they will bear, and make sure that every individual tree is as healthy as it can be, then pruning is essential.
Different trees have different requirements, so in this article you will find all the specifics on how to prune young, as well as mature apricot trees in Australia.
When is best to prune apricot trees?
So, when is most convenient to prune your apricot tree? Actually, there are several beneficial times of the year with their pros and cons.
Fruit trees can be pruned in winter when they’re dormant. When you’re pruning for structure and shape, it’s easier to see what you’re doing if the tree is bare. The downside is that cuts made in winter take much longer to heal and open wounds in the tree are the perfect places for disease to enter.
However, pruning apricot trees in summer can be actually better for the tree. The cuts will heal more quickly reducing opportunities for disease or moisture to enter. Pruning apricot trees in autumn is also acceptable providing you choose a warm, dry day when the forecast is for continued warm weather.
Regardless of the time of year, you should only prune an apricot tree if it needs it. Signs that a tree will benefit from some judicious cutting are:
- Dead or diseased wood – Deadwood harbours insects that spread disease, so chop the infected wood to avoid that.
- Branches are broken or torn – Jagged wounds need to be cut neatly to prevent disease finding an entry point.
- There are crossed branches – These look unsightly, but more importantly, they can rub, creating sites where fungal spores or bacteria can enter.
- The centre of the tree is crowded – Poor air circulation makes trees vulnerable to infections, especially fungal infections such as a silver leaf.
- There are weak branches or shoots – Removing weak shoots encourages established branches to grow more vigorously and produce more fruit.
- You have a young tree that needs pruning for structure – Formative pruning in the early years will serve you and your tree well in the future.
How to prune apricot trees (step-by-step)
Formative pruning of a young apricot tree is somewhat different to pruning more mature apricot trees, so we’ll look at these two things separately.
Either way, there are specific tools you need to have.
- Bypass secateurs or clippers – These are handheld and work like scissors, best for green stems up to around ¾ of an inch thick.
- Anvil secateurs – Also held in one hand, anvil secateurs feature a blade that comes down onto a flat surface, used for removing dead or dry wood.
- Loppers – These are robust secateurs which can be used on branches up to 2 ½ inches thick. Loppers can be bypassed or anvil.
- Pole loppers – With an extendable handle or pole so you can cut higher branches from ground level.
- Pruning saw – Some pruning saws can be used on branches up to 5 inches thick.
- A ladder – If you need to cut branches beyond the height you can reach.
Pruning young apricot trees
Follow a step-by-step process to help your tree attain a healthy, balanced shape. If you need to remove branches, take them back to the main trunk at an angle so that the upper edge of the removed branch is flush with the trunk. This will leave the protective collar in place and mimics the way trees naturally shed branches.
- Remove any broken or damaged branches.
- Remove branches which are crossing or growing at odd angles.
- Remove branches or shoots that are within 18 inches of the ground.
- Remove branches with a ‘narrow crotch’ those growing more up than out. You aim to encourage an open heart that allows good air circulation.
- If you have two branches within 6 inches of each other, choose the stronger or the one better placed with respect to other branches and prune the other one back to the trunk.
Once you’ve removed excess branches, it’s time to prune back the branches you plan to keep. In the first year, these should be taken back to 2 to 4 inches in length with at least one remaining bud. In the second and third years reduce the length of branches by about a third to a half.
You need to prune back to a bud. Select a bud which is facing outward to encourage open spreading growth. Prune to around 1/4 inch above the bud. This is high enough so the bud will not die back and close enough that you won’t have an ugly stub.
Pruning mature apricot trees
If the early work has been done correctly pruning mature trees is much more straightforward.
- Remove dead or diseased wood first.
- Remove unwanted shoots growing from the main trunk.
- Take out the weaker of any crossing branches.
- Remove branches which are growing straight up, are at odd angles, or which are taller than the trunk.
- Remove old shoots that are no longer bearing fruit to encourage new growth.
- Thin the canopy if necessary to encourage air circulation.
- Prune an apricot tree to maintain its health, to develop structure and balance, and to encourage heavier fruiting.
- It’s possible to prune you apricot tree in winter, summer and autumn. However, it can prove more beneficial to do it in the summer or autumn months when cuts will heal quickly.
- You’ll need a range of tools, and these must be kept clean and sharp.
- Correct pruning of young trees makes your life easier in future years.