Expert tips for winter pruning and practical tool maintenance

Expert tips for winter pruning and practical tool maintenance

In winter, when the sap in the trees has slowed to a snail’s pace, it’s the perfect time to prune trees, especially if you want to encourage new growth in spring.

Tino shares what he keeps in his pruning kit:

• Bypass secateurs – for cutting wood up to 2-3 cm thick. If you find yourself labouring, then you risk hurting yourself and the tree.
• Loppers – good for wood up to 4cm thick, and they have long handles to reach higher branches.
• Pruning saw – Tino has a folding one for larger branches.
• Clear safety glasses – to keep sawdust and small twigs out of your eyes.
• Disinfectant spray – Tino keeps a small spray bottle with methylated spirits in for spraying tools between trees to avoid spreading diseases or fungi.
• Sharpener – to keep tools sharp, which is the best way of getting a clean cut and making the job easier for you, too.

Always make sure the blade of the secateurs – the cutting edge is on the side of the tree that’s going to be left; if you have the blunt hook on this side, you risk bruising the living tissue. Cut as close as possible to the little ‘collar’ at the bottom of the branch to avoid leaving a stub that may get infected.

Stonefruit, especially apricots, should not be pruned in winter; they tend to bleed when cut in cold weather and that can make them more susceptible to infection. They should be pruned after the fruit is harvested in late summer or early autumn.

However, quince, apples and pears benefit from a winter trim:

• Start with any suckers coming up around the roots.
• Work your way up, focusing first on any dead, diseased or damaged limbs.
• After that, go for shape, clearing out any inward-growing stems that will clog up the central section of the tree.
• Finally bring the overall height of the tree down to make it easier to maintain and to be able to pick the fruit.
A winter trim will mean less blossom and fruit in spring, but it ensures better-quality fruit and stronger branches that are less likely to break under the strain of too much fruit. Don’t cut too much off unless you want to promote lots of new growth in spring.

Planting and pruning a new fruit tree

With a new, young fruit tree, it’s important to check its roots, which are what the tree relies on for solid growth. Cut off any dead or damaged bits. When planting, position the roots over a small mound in the bottom of the hole you’ve dug, and backfill with compost to ensure good spring growth.

The next step is the hardest – cutting back your tiny new tree. Choose 3-4 good branches to form the basis of the final shape, and cut out the central stem back to here. Then trim back each branch to an outward-facing bud, to encourage side growth away from the centre of the tree.
Finally remove the tag so it doesn’t ring-bark and kill your tree!

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