|Weezer... helper goat and knowledgable pruning specialist|
There are some general rules to follow. With fruit trees, I alway start with water sprouts. They are those horrible long vertical shoots that come back year after year. While I am pruning water sprouts, I am looking for anything dead, diseased, or broken. All of these things I prune out as I go. I prune out any suckers at the base of the tree. The last thing I do is a lot of walking around the tree, looking for branches that touch or rub or that are really odd looking or very out of place. Keep in mind what you want to keep on your trees (apples and pears don't get rid of the spurs, stone fruit you want to keep one-year-old wood so that you have fruit.) and know when to stop - it is easy to get carried away. Never take out more than 25% of your tree in one year.
It is important to tell you that when I prune fruit trees, I don't prune for beauty. At least not the kind of beauty that you may have in your mind. To a fruit grower, a properly pruned tree is beautiful, but can look a little odd to someone else. It takes some time to get comfortable pruning, making cuts, and to be comfortable with the look of the tree after pruning. The most important thing that you can do to get comfortable is to take a few free community classes and then just do it. Apply it. We have nicknamed our orchard "The Learning Orchard" because it is where we apply what we learn. We have made some mistakes, but it teaches us, and we get better at it every year.
I started with my apple tree in my backyard. When we first bought the home we currently live in, this tree was an absolute disaster. I have spent six years getting it under control. This year I had water sprouts to prune and a few minor cuts to make to get her looking good. I love how easy pruning can be when you have properly pruned previously. These trees are old, and the rootstock is really vigorous, which leads to a lot of water sprout growth every year.
Then I moved to my pear, which is looking as good as my apple... finally!
Then I started in on the orchard at the farm. Seventeen apple trees later... This only took 4.5 hours and that includes clean up (YAY!). When trees are pruned properly and regularly, your work load becomes so much easier. Our trees are old, and they had been neglected for years, so it took us several years to get them looking better and producing well again.
When making thinning cuts you are intending to remove an entire branch to open up some space. It is important that you cut in the right place. You do not want to flush cut the branch. This leaves a wound that is difficult for the tree to heal. But you also don't want to leave too much of a stub. You need to make natural cuts at the branch collar.
Spring is in the air. I am thrilled it is finally here. Now get outside and prune!!!