Q&A Fruit Trees

Julian Blackhirst answers your questions about summer pruning and general care of fruit trees.

Q&A Fruit Trees


Jacqui N — We have a Moorpark apricot and Anzac peach which we have started on to espalier this year. Should we prune over summer?

Summer pruning is used to reduce the vigour of the tree and put more energy into fruit production. When the tree is young and more growth is needed pruning can be done in late winter. As the tree reaches its desired size summer pruning is used to limit the growth of new branches.
Stone fruit should not be pruned in winter as they are susceptible to fungal diseases which can enter the wood.

Georgeous A — I have inherited an old orchard that was badly pruned. I have carefully re-established structure and canopy to shade fruit etc. I have lots of fruit with sparse growth of leaves near the ends of branches only. Will tip pruning encourage more leaf growth or am I best waiting until the fruit has been picked?

It sounds like your trees might be in a bit of shock from the hard pruning they have received. Thinning the fruit will encourage new leaf growth but I would avoid further pruning this season and let the trees recover. Tip pruning next winter will help promote growth lower on the tree.

General Plant Care

Jane W — I'm in Perth and have 3 dwarf stone fruit all bearing heavily for the first time. How much should I thin the fruit clusters and how/when should I prune?

Peaches and nectarines fruit on small, one year old laterals which grow from larger branches. Unlike other stone fruit the fruiting wood only bears fruit once before dying off to be replaced by new lateral growth.
Pruning consists of removing spent fruiting wood to encourage new growth every year. Pruning should be done immediately after fruit has been picked in late summer or autumn.
The fruit can be thinned in spring or early summer. Removing some fruit from the laterals generally results in larger, better flavoured fruit at harvest time.

Jason D — I am in Sydney and with the last cold winter I had heaps of flowers, and now heaps of apples. What do I do when I have 5 to 6 apples close together in a tight bunch? When should I thin them out?

Thin out crowded fruit as soon as the fruit is big enough to handle. Remove the larger apple in the centre of each bunch (the King fruit) by twisting the apple until it separates from the tree. This allows the smaller fruit on the periphery to grow and results in more fruit in the long run.

Helen M — My espalier apple was pruned during the winter. Can you keep snipping back the new bits as the season goes along? I want to net them and this would make that job easier as well.

Espalier fruit trees can be pruned several times over the season. Winter pruning often encourages vigorous new growth. Remove the new growth over the summer so that the tree puts its energy into fruit production.

Rita R — How do I control branches shooting from the top of my espalier plum. Summer should slow growth but how to go about it? Too late for the apricot!

Prune vertical growth over summer to the base of the new growth. This can be done as many times as necessary over summer and should encourage fruiting lower on the tree.

Lachlan H — When an apple tree has a heavy infestation of powdery mildew that doesn't seem to want to go away no matter what, would you recommend pruning the most heavily affected areas?

Pruning your apple to allow more air flow through the tree will help. Ensure all diseased prunings are removed and burnt.
Powdery mildew can be controlled by improving the health of the tree with regular fertilising, occasional watering at root level and using a copper or sulphur based fungicide before the blossoms open in spring.
Regular applications of seaweed solution to the leaves throughout the growing season also help.