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Keep your fruit trees small with summer pruning

Few things can be more frustrating than having a huge tree, loaded with fruit, and not being able to reach all of it. Pruning your trees in summer can help keep them at a manageable size, says Contra Costa Master Gardener Helen Erickson.
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There are many advantages to keeping your deciduous fruit trees small. The most obvious is harvesting and being able to reach the fruit without using a ladder. However, having smaller fruit yields can also be a good thing — there’s only so much fruit you can eat and use.
Smaller trees also are easier to maintain if you need to spray them for diseases and insects, and net them to prevent fruit loss from wildlife.
If you have larger trees now, there’s not much you can do, Erickson says, so it’s important to start at the beginning, when you first plant them. Here are Erickson’s tips on summer pruning.

When choosing a new fruit tree for planting in the winter, select a 1-year-old tree and after planting, cut the tree at knee-height. You’re left with a stick and a fear that you’ve killed the tree, but you haven’t. This is the first step to controlling how tall the tree will get.
In the first and second years, choose the branches you want as the main structure of your tree and remove or trim other branches. You’ll be cutting the branches back by about half.
In the third year, you should start having fruit production and you need to decide how tall you want your tree to get. The ideal size is no taller than you can reach. If you’re 7 feet tall, Erickson says, your tree can be 8 feet tall. If you’re 5 feet tall, you’ll want to keep it around 6 feet.
Two or three times a summer, prune your fruit trees, snipping off limbs and branches that are growing above the main canopy. You don’t have to be particularly careful with your cuts. Your main goal is controlling the height of the tree.
For nectarines and peaches, don’t do any summer pruning after July. Pruning later than that can reduce your future crops.
Prune your trees in a vase shape, opening up the center of the tree to admit light.
You learn to prune by pruning. Don’t let it scare you. There are lots of ways to prune trees and pruning isn’t usually fatal to the tree or to you.

Next time in the garden, gardening with nature using permaculture. Free classes are offered at Our Garden at 10 a.m. every Wednesday through October. The garden is at Shadelands Drive and Wiget Lane in Walnut Creek.

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