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Want healthy fruit trees? January, February is the best time to prune

Tour Fred Athey’s edible landscape in Atascadero

Fred Athey of Atascadero has turned his front yard into an edible landscape with numerous fruit trees, a vineyard, an original apricot tree from Colony founder E.G. Lewis and a Johnny Appleseed tree.
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Fred Athey of Atascadero has turned his front yard into an edible landscape with numerous fruit trees, a vineyard, an original apricot tree from Colony founder E.G. Lewis and a Johnny Appleseed tree.

Q: Should I be pruning my fruit trees this time of year?”

Thomas M., San Luis Obispo

A: January and February are ideal months in which to prune your deciduous fruit and nut trees.

If possible, try to avoid periods of rain or frost because moisture or freezing can adversely affect new cuts.

The main purposes for winter pruning include controlling the height of the tree, maintaining the shape you prefer and improving bud growth for maximum fruit production and even ripening.

Thoughtful pruning can also result in strong limb structure.

Sharpen your tools to make cutting easier and neater. Prune to within a quarter-inch of a bud or a branch.

Do not leave stubs. Prune to an outside bud or outward growing branch to avoid having branches growing inward.

The height of the tree is very important. Manage the height to make harvesting, pruning, spraying, thinning and netting easier.

Branches that grow vertically offer shade. Branches that grow horizontally are for fruit production.

Try to achieve a balance for maximum fruiting, ripening and easy picking.

Prune branches that are crossing or rubbing and branches growing inward toward the center, as well as diseased branches, broken branches, dead wood and root suckers.

Try to prune so that the center of the tree is uncluttered. It is important to maintain airflow to minimize pests and diseases, and to allow enough light through the tree to ripen the fruit.

Some fruit trees bear on last year’s new growth, while other fruit trees bear on this year’s new growth.

Apples and pears grow on spurs that last a few years. With a little research, you can learn about your specific tree’s habits.

For more information about winter pruning of deciduous fruit trees, attend the UCCE Master Gardeners’ Advice to Grow By workshop on Saturday, Jan. 19, in our demonstration garden at 2156 Sierra Way in San Luis Obispo.

In the case of inclement weather, please meet in the auditorium.

The workshop lasts 10 a.m. to noon. Garden docents will be available after the workshop until 1 p.m.

A professional landscaper helped Atascadero, California, home owner Cathy Van Orman transform her backyard in a large, low-maintenance garden with fruit trees and flowers. It also has raised vegetable beds, a fountain and a hammock.

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