[NAFEX] Summer Pruning
alandhaigh at gmail.com
Tue Aug 31 14:27:41 EDT 2010
My NAFEX membership had accidentally run out so I wasn’t able to post my
take on summer pruning although I was chomping at the bit to throw in my 2
cents. I’ve rectified the lapse so I’m ready to run.
I used to base timing of pruning on the suggestions I found in the general
literature giving special attention to University based guidelines such as
those provided by Cornell. I remember one such suggestion that the best
time for pruning was in about the last 2 weeks of winter when trees are
still completely dormant but the harshest weather is past.
Later I found that Cornell recommended pruning peaches after beginning of
growth to discourage canker as wounds closed more quickly at this time. At
that point I’d already pruned hundreds of peach trees for several seasons in
the northeast without suffering any penalty. In addition, my business of
managing other people’s orchards had become far too large to accomplish all
the pruning in just a few weeks and by the time peaches were growing I had
other things to tend to.
Adding to the incentive of expanding my window for pruning were stories I
heard from commercial growers of sending out the same crews who harvested
their apples to prune the orchard as soon as harvest was over. In
hort-school I’d been taught that this was the worst possible time to prune
but these men whose survival was entwined with the survival of their trees
were quite comfortable defying this theory and did so for decades without
suffering any apparent consequence. This is in the Hudson Valley where Nov.
temps can sometimes drop to zero (a decade ago, anyway).
I realize that what can be done with apples may not apply to other fruits,
but what I also believe is that a lot of the professed dangers of pruning at
different times are either exaggerated or non-researched hearsay.
The idea that late summer pruning will delay hardening off for winter, for
instance, would have to be established with clear research for me to give it
any credibility. I’ve seen trees send out a lot of late vegetative growth
in late summer because of a long period of drought followed by heavy rain in
mid-August. Most species were not damaged by the following harsh winter and
only the plums suffered any apparent damage at all. This damage was only on
the late growing shoots- the rest of the wood apparently hardened off
normally. Carl Whitcomb has done research that indicates that late summer
nitrogen application also does not harm tested species abilities to harden
off for winter which is an indication that pruning probably doesn’t either.
If fruit trees couldn’t survive this kind of damage easily I wonder how
they’ve survived the predation of deer over the centuries and
predation tends to become most voracious in the assault of leaves and whole
branches in late summer and early fall, often leaving terrible bark wounds.
In other regions than mine there may be legitimate reasons not to prune
certain species at certain times but at least here in southeastern NY the
old adage that the best time to prune is when the shears are sharp seems
fairly accurate. I can’t speak, however, for Apricot trees, which are such
weak growers here that I can’t be sure if timely pruning might somehow be
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