Harvesting the produce of your own fruit trees is a pleasure that everyone should have access to. Adults can readily appreciate the fact that fresh, home grown produce is almost always much tastier than supermarket fare, not to mention working out at a tiny fraction of the cost of bought produce. Young children get a thrill from watching fruit trees move from bud to flower, to fruitlet to ripe fruit, through the spring and summer. They also get immense satisfaction from the time of picking the fruits - an experience that any parent would be pleased to get from something as simple as a fruit tree!
Pruning your fruit trees is essential to getting the best possible crops. Trees that are left unpruned generally become very leafy, crowded and bear large crops of undersized fruit - the tree itself will also reach for the sky, taking most of the fruit out of easy picking range. If a tree is pruned too much, the crops will be small and the fruit may be big but taste bland.
Pruning trees is quite simple - like so many things, it is really easy when you know how. There is one crucial factor, however, that is key to pruning your fruit trees: timing. There are essentially three main occasions to prune your trees - early summer, late summer and mid winter - and the right time depends on the type of tree that you have.
All fruit that have a single stone in the middle, such as cherries, plums, damsons, peaches and apricots are the main ones that you see in Britain; but almonds are in this group too, this should be pruned in the summer time. This is not the ideal time to prune a tree, but there is a very good reason for doing so: the fungus that causes Silver Leaf disease, which can require the removal of an infected branch, spreads its spores during the winter months. By pruning your tree in the summer, you ensure that this relatively rare but nasty problem won't trouble you.
Other fruit trees like apples, pears, medlars and quinces, should all be pruned in the winter, when they are dormant - generally speaking, this is the best time to prune any deciduous tree.
Restricted forms that are trained on wires, like cordons, fans and espaliers are a bit of an exception. Because you are aiming to deliberately stunt their growth, you actually want to deprive them of some of the sugars that they worked to produce during the summer. Normally, a tree sends most of its sugary sap down into its roots for storage during the winter. If you prune your trained trees in late summer, during the second half of August, you effectively cut off some of the sugars before they get a chance to be stored.
Regardless of the type of fruit tree, you should remove dead, broken or diseased branches without delay at any time of year.
Finally, it is always better to nip an unwanted branch in the bud than it is to let grow and cut it out when it gets bigger. If you spot a branch beginning to grow inwards, towards the middle of the tree, or where it is sure to cross with other branches, whip it out sooner rather than later.
When pruning any tree, remember to disinfect your tools (Dettol or Jeyes fluid is fine) before you use them and in between pruning different fruit trees - if you suspect any infection on the tree that you are working on, disinfect the tools in between every cut.
It is also recommended to cover up any cut that you make with a product like Medo or Prune 'n' Seal, although Vaseline or soft wax could also be used if you can't get hold of some.
Anna Stenning is an expert on keeping fruit trees well maintained and lasting longer.