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More pruning techniques to create fuller and more productive fruit trees

A vibrant red male American Robin (Turdus migratorius) is fluttering its wings in a rural New York State almost bare crab apple tree - an instant before swallowing its just-picked fruit - in a backyard near Rochester, NY in early January.
Willowpix/Getty Images
To ensure a healthy and productive fruit tree this spring, prune back branches now.

Even in frigid temps, layer up, grab your pruning shears and head to your apple and pear trees to begin shaping them now...

While we're dreaming of warmer days in the garden, we can be actively pruning apple and pear trees.

Orchardists are out in the snow and the cold and starting to prune now, too. They'll prune fruit trees right up until the buds start opening up in April in May.

In our own landscapes, we just need to know the age of the tree before we begin, as the techniques are different.

For pruning a new fruit tree - perhaps one that you purchased last year - it's important that they get it off to a good start.

Begin their healthy lives in your yard by giving these trees a nice structure of branches. As the tree ages, those branches will have enough girth and strength to support fruits.

Pruning this way now creates a scaffolding of branches, meaning that you have branches evenly separated around the trunk of the tree in a whorl.

As you snip away branches, make them evenly spaced around the tree so they don't shade each other.

Also, when pruning, make sure to create good crotch angles - that's the angle between the the trunk and the branch and it should be between 45 and 60 degrees for apple trees.

If you have a peach tree, that angle should be wider. For pear trees, the angle should narrower.

For existing and well-established fruit trees, you can always take off the dead disease in broken branches at any time.

Ensure that the branches are not rubbing or crossing or shading each other.

The idea of winter pruning is to create strong, well-spaced branches to allow a lot of light coming in. This helps you get better fruit production and less disease.

If you have an old, wild tree that you've inherited with a house, for example, you can bring those back, too.

Decide first if this is a tree that you want to harvest for fruit or do you want to just have it as a wildlife tree for the animals to use.

Once you've decided that, take off the dead branches and don't prune off more than a third of the new growth.

Prune gradually over time so as not to shock the tree and an old or wild tree could become a nice centerpiece in your yard for years to come.

Q: I have a hoya that I inherited about 15 years ago. It flourished in the window of my grandmother's kitchen when I was growing up. That hoya was 70 years old! My paternal grandfather brought the cutting back from Florida to my maternal grandmother in Guelph, Ontario. It was so lush and full of blooms and it was doing very well in my Montreal apartment for about five years. But this year, it's thinning out and dropping leaves. - Carol Anne, in Montreal

A: First of all, you can prune back about a third of the foliage. And when you cut it, cut right above where the leaves are.

That's going to stimulate new growth and that new growth is where the flowers will form.

Repotting it with fertilizer can also help. And if still doesn't flower, it might not be getting enough light, even in your bright room with indirect morning sun.

Maybe consider moving it to an even brighter room, in indirect sun and perhaps that will be the trick to get your hoya to flower again.

And next episode, we'll discuss winter pruning for blueberry and bramble bushes so send any questions you have!

Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.
Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered.