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Winter Pruning for Spur-Bearing Apple and Pear Trees

Apples and pears are one of the most popular fruits to grow in the garden, and will usually still bear flowers and fruit even if neglected. Yet by simple pruning it’s possible to substantially increase the quality of the fruit. This is best to be carried out in winter months before the buds show sign of growth. Doing so will increase fruit size and sugar levels, and create equal ripening due to even light exposure.

These fruits grow on the buds of the previous growing season, so winter is the ideal time to identify the new areas of growth and create room for them. Ideally, you will be left with four to six branches spreading out from the trunk like to create an open goblet shape.

Begin by moving any weak or diseased branches to reduce congestion. A fruit tree should be an inadequate shade tree, so you’ll want to free up the centre of the tree for better sun exposure. Cut away any of the larger central branches that have previously fruited. If many need removal spread this process under a number of years, the heavy pruning will simply encourage more vigorous growth.

Prune the previous year’s growth by 1/3 to reduce congestion, though this can also be done in the summer to expose the fruit to the sun for ripening. Shorten them to a healthy bud, facing in a direction that won’t cross paths with other branches and encourages growth of healthy spurs. These are the small side branches that produce flowers and fruit. Then move onto the fruited laterals, or “sideshoots”. These should have enough space to grow as secondary branches, so cut them back to around five buds in whatever pattern provides the most even growth.

Remember, wound dressings aren’t a necessity during this process. Being cut towards the end of their dormant state should minimize shock, so the tree can simply be left alone until they begin producing high-quality fruit during the next growing season.

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