Gardening & Living in Grand Style
Fruit tree basics learned over the years…
by Michael Johnson
Utah State University Extension Agent, Grand County
Feb 08, 2018 | 949 views | 0 0 comments | 52 52 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Another winter is slowly making its way toward spring and at this time we need to all think the words, “more moisture, more moisture, more moisture,” really hard.

​ I admit I say that to myself regularly in years like this, but we know this isn’t the first time we have had limited winter moisture and it’s not likely to be the last. Moisture issues aside it’s definitely time to be thinking about pruning your fruit trees.

​ Pruning fruit trees is best done after the worst of winter has passed, but before the trees bloom or leaf out, which means over the next month while they are dormant. Since cold weather is still possible, start with the hardiest such as apples, apricots, pears, and plums and finish up with peaches and nectarines. Prune fruit trees to develop a strong branch structure that will hold fruit without breaking any limbs. Don’t put boards under the limbs to hold them up or let limbs droop down, from which they don’t recover, since that’s not good for the tree now or into the future.

​ Fruit trees should not be managed like ornamental trees. Fruit trees provide edible fruit to enjoy and share with friends. Ornamental trees most often are used to provide shade for our yards and houses. If you want a large tree, grow an ornamental tree. A well-managed fruit tree will give you more fruit than you know what to do with — in a good fruit year that is — and if kept to a reasonable size, help you keep better control over insects and diseases while providing you with an easy harvest. Well-pruned fruit trees, with appropriate and timely thinning of fruit, will also lead to greater production and higher quality fruit than a larger poorly cared for tree. A well-developed fruit tree would ideally have the lowest scaffold limbs (main branches) starting about knee height and grow to no more than nine to ten feet.

​ For best pruning invest in quality pruning equipment, starting with a bypass hand pruner used to cut branches or twigs a half inch or smaller. Next would be a bypass lopper or long-handled pruning shears for limbs from one half to 1.5 inches or so. For large cuts, use a quality pruning saw. For the strongest branches, you want the limb angle from the trunk to be between 45 and 60 degrees, though not all limbs grow out perfectly from the trunk. To help you obtain the best angles you might need to spread a limb — for this you can use weights or notched limb spreaders — and if you need to narrow the angle use cotton string to tie a limb to other branches or the trunk. Depending on how well your tree is growing you will likely need to leave these for at least a season, and possibly up to three seasons, to give time for the limb to grow in place.

​ Finally, disease, especially cytospora, is common and it’s very important even during dormant winter pruning to clean your equipment between each use, if not between each cut. You can do this by spraying your pruning equipment with Lysol (yes, it works quite well) as you prune or put some rubbing alcohol in a little spray bottle.

For further information on the specifics of pruning there are some good bulletins on the websites of Utah State University, Colorado State University and others.​

​ Previous articles can be found on The Times-Independent website. If you have a topic you would like to know more about call the Utah State University-Extension Grand County office at 435-259-7558 or email

​ Thought for the day: “It’s so dry the trees are bribing the dogs.” — Charles Martin

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