Lauterbach: It's time to prune your fruit trees

Special to The Idaho StatesmanFebruary 21, 2014 

Pruning a peach tree.

MCT

Now that the weather has moderated, prune your fruit trees while the branches, twigs and buds are all starkly visible. Pruning fruit trees is different from pruning ornamentals, because we're pruning for the best fruit we can reach as well as pruning to open the canopy for sun and air circulation.

If you don't prune, your tree may bear so heavily that fruit is poor in sugar quality and size, with overloaded limbs threatening to break. Even after thorough pruning, there are times when fruit trees bear heavily, threatening the integrity of limbs. At those times, if you don't prop the limbs in some fashion, and the limbs break, they often rip bark off the trunk of the tree, exposing it to disease.

Some advise removing one-third of the new top growth and two-thirds of the new lateral growth each year. Prune to about one-quarter inch beyond an outside vegetative bud. That is, a narrow, pointed bud. The rounder, fat buds are flower buds. Don't prune more than one-third of the branches and twigs of a tree in one season.

If your tree is too tall for easy harvest, you may want to "drop-crotch" the leader or lower the crown.

That is, you select the tree's leader, or tallest sky-pointing branches, and cut that central part of the trunk back to lateral branches that are at least one-third the diameter of the leader you're removing.

While this technically is a thinning cut, it will stimulate further vegetative growth, including watersprouts that drain your tree's resources. Watersprouts grow straight up, at a 90-degree angle from horizontal branches, and they're nonproductive of fruit. If you cut them off, that will stimulate production of other watersprouts too.

If, after pruning, the tree proceeds to blossom and set fruit very, very heavily, it may be signaling you it's about to die. Trees do that, trying to leave progeny to survive. On the other hand, with nut and forest trees (including oaks), there are years known as "mast" years, where nuts or acorns are produced more heavily than usual.

Summer pruning is less stimulative of vegetative growth, so you could try cutting off watersprouts in summer, but they're difficult to see once the tree has leafed out.

HERE'S A NATURAL WAY TO FIGHT APHIDS

If you've had aphids in your lettuce, plant alyssum in your lettuce row, perhaps six or seven lettuce heads to one alyssum. Aphids will be more attracted to the blossoms on the alyssum than lettuce leaves.

By "heads" of lettuce, I really mean plants. Lettuce may be loose-leafed or headed, soft headed or firm such as iceberg. Most loose-leafed lettuce will regrow if you cut it an inch and a half to 2 inches above the soil line. This cut-and-come-again only works two or three times before it's time to replace the plant.

I haven't had problems with aphids in lettuce, because we let wasps be. The only time we destroy a wasp nest is when they try to build it in a doorway. About three years ago, when I went out onto the deck, I received a firm thump on my head. I looked up, and saw a nest being built in that doorway. We scraped it away after dark, and that was the end of that.

We do use traps to snare yellow jackets, however. They don't entice paper or mudnest-building wasps. As long as you don't swat at them, wasps will leave you alone as they cruise your plants in search of newly-hatched larvae with which to provision their egg cells. They can find cabbage worms and tiny tomato hornworms easier than I.

Send garden questions to melauter@earthlink.net or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.

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