If you?ve always thought that January is the optimal month for pruning fruit trees, you may want to reconsider. According to experts at UC Davis, pruning in summer rather than in winter can better control mature trees that grow vigorously and become unmanageable.

Pruning between May and August is recommended primarily to thin out excessive foliage high in a tree to let sunlight reach lower fruiting branches. A side benefit is that by slowing growth now less pruning is needed during winter dormancy. A pear and an apple tree in my own garden are so vigorous that I?m pruning them now, hoping to keep them at a more convenient size.

There are some disadvantages however. Because retarding growth occurs while fruit is on the tree, it?s possible that ripening will slow down along with the loss of foliage and that fruit could be sunburned.

The UC book, ?The Home Orchard? (Publication #3485), whose techniques I?m following, is a good resource for all types of fruit tree pruning as well as other maintenance procedures. It can be purchased from the UC Cooperative Extension office at 133 Aviation Blvd, Suite 109, Santa Rosa, or online at http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu.

Gardeners looking for hands-on assistance will want to take in Master Gardener Al Derrick?s workshop on Care of the Home Orchard next Saturday, July 18, at 10:30 a.m. at the Harvest for the Hungry Garden, behind the parking lot at Christ Church United Methodist 1717 Yulupa, Santa Rosa.

Rosemary McCreary, a Sonoma County gardener, gardening teacher and author, writes the weekly Homegrown column for The Press Democrat. Write to her at P.O. Box 910, Santa Rosa, 95402; or send fax to 664-9476.