Even in the case of young trees between the ages of 6 and 8, winter pruning encourages growth and is crucial to the subsequent shape of the tree. The right months for winter pruning are January and February. This is when fruit trees are in their dormant phase. The structure of the crown is also easier to identify since the tree has no leaves.
You might ask yourself why winter pruning is so important today when trees used to bear fruit in times gone by without ever being pruned. The answer is quite simple: These days the demand for large, attractive looking fruit has grown. A tree will undoubtedly bear fruit at harvesting time even without winter pruning. But un-pruned trees often bear lots of small fruit, which places a strain on their branches, causing them to break under their load in summer. So if you want a decent harvest, you should definitely consider pruning your fruit trees in winter.
Before you venture forth and get started, it is advisable to take a closer look at your tree so that you don't make any critical errors during pruning. The best time for pruning is on a dry winter's day when the temperature is not below - 5 °C. Since it is possible to make a lot of mistakes when pruning, here are the most important points at a glance:
• First remove the thicker branches which grow inwards, down or straight up, and get rid of dead foliage.
• Any branches growing straight up should be removed at the fork to encourage them to grow and to promote blooming. This will also strengthen horizontal boughs and those growing outwards, because the best fruit branches grow here.
• Fruit shoots which already have flower buds in the winter should be cut back by approx. one third. This will prevent branches from becoming too long and stop them from breaking under the weight of the fruit.
• For fine-tuning purposes, any thin branches growing straight up or straight down should be pruned.
• Use a sharp tool for all pruning work. GARDENA loppers and GARDENA tree and shrub loppers, for example, enable precise and even cuts even in the crown of the tree.
• Of course, there are other things to take into account for winter pruning, but we can't cover all of them here. You can find more tips in diverse gardening literature.
Winter pruning is not only recommended in order to promote a good harvest - it also protects fruit trees from diseases such as apple scab. Such diseases can spread undisturbed in straggly branches which have not been pruned. Problems with fungal attacks and rotten branches can, however, also occur if trees are not pruned correctly. Different methods of pest control are highly recommended in the winter, too. You can, for example, use a wire brush to remove loose pieces of bark from trunks, which is where most pests seek sanctuary. To prevent against this beforehand, you can inject a substance containing oil into the trunk.
Since pruning trees in winter represents a real challenge for many garden owners, it is often neglected. However, to obtain a better harvest even inexperienced amateur gardeners should bite the bullet - because practice makes perfect.