It’s all in the timing when it comes to pruning fruit trees

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Debbie W. of Sebastopol asks: What are the benefits of summer verses winter pruning on fruit trees?

It’s a good idea to do some summer pruning, specifically to young trees, to remove any branches growing in the wrong direction, criss-crossing, rubbing, etc., in which will then help you to develop a nice framework and structurally sound tree.

Summer pruning involves removing the vigorous, upright shoots, called water sprouts, that are not needed to create the framework of the tree. It also includes heading (pruning) back shoots to control the trees’ height. Summer pruning can be done during the spring and summer months.

If there’s a nice branch, that, if removed, leaves a big gap in the tree, then try to bend it and/or stake it towards the direction that you want it to grow in.

Bending branches might be a better way to go instead of removing or heading back that branch. Then you won’t have to wait for a new branch to form.

If you do the necessary summer pruning, then you’ll have far less dormant pruning to do in winter. But, the one good thing about winter pruning is the absence of leaves which provides a nice, clear view of the framework of the tree, and exactly what needs to be pruned.

So, at this time, you can thin or head any branches that you couldn’t see when you were doing your summer pruning.

When it’s time for dormant pruning, it’s best to prune the stone fruits, such as cherries, plums, peaches, (with the exception of apricots), in early January to late February, rather than in the fall or early winter, like December.

Pruning wounds made late in the dormant season will heal faster than those made in fall or early winter. There’s less time for disease organisms to infect the wound which could cause problems in spring. Besides, the spores of many organisms that cause branch diseases are more prevalent with early season rains than later rains.

This is especially true with Eutypa disease, which infects apricots and grapes and causes severe gumming and branch die back, so don’t prune apricots late in the season. Prune them around September or October.

Apples and pears can be pruned at any time.

Russ E. of Santa Rosa asks: I planted a few bareroot apple, peach and plum trees this past winter and I see on some of the trunks an area of discolored bark. It’s a darker color than the rest of the truck. Can you tell me if this is normal? Some young trees with thin bark will burn if exposed to the hot afternoon sun, especially on the west facing side.

As the tree matures and the bark thickens, the risk of sunburn diminishes.

Also, the leaves of a mature tree usually shade the trunk of the tree during the hottest part of the day.

When you plant a fruit tree of any kind, it’s best to paint the trunk, all the way up to the first branches, with a 50-50 solution of white water-based paint and water.

This light coat of paint acts like a sunscreen for the tree until the tree develops thicker bark and gets acclimated to the full sun.

The paint will wear off in a few seasons.

Is this sunburning to your trees a problem?

Sunburn, also called sunscald, will burn and harden the bark of the tree, and as the tree grows and expands, the bark will not grow with it, as it has been damaged/killed by the intense heat of the sun.

This damaged area will then crack, which will allow insects and diseases to enter into the tree, just like when your skin burns, cracks and peels.

Be sure you’re watering the trees sufficiently to keep that root system damp. Cover the soil with mulch if necessary to prevent water from evaporating.

Dana Lozano and Gwen Kilchherr are garden consultants. Send your gardening questions to The Garden Doctors, at The Garden Doctors can answer questions only through their column, which appears twice a month in the newspaper and online at

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