We have two very old fruit trees: an apple tree that is over 40 years old that needs thinning and a mature cherry tree that has lost several limbs. The apple tree has overproduced with several 30-gallon garbage cans of apples.
Can you advise us, especially about pruning and tree care during the dormant period?
Pruning and training to improve the spread of the branches increases the amount of sunlight that reaches the center of the tree. Your tree will produce fruit sooner and in greater quantities as a result. Keeping the canopy of the tree open makes it easier for sprays to reach every part of the tree. It also allows good air circulation around the branches, and this helps prevent diseases.
Extension has many pruning videos that offer visuals and address specific concerns:
- Pruning with the Pros video series, OSU Extension
Pruning wounds in older apple and pear trees can provide an entry point for fire blight, which is a devastating disease that can kill a tree. Limit pruning of mature trees in areas where fire blight is a problem. Use as few cuts as possible to remove damage and thin the canopy. Remove suckers that grow from the base of the tree or in the crotches as they appear.
Read more about fire blight here:
- Fire Blight, WSU Extension
Pruning your trees in stages is suggested to avoid putting too much strain on the tree. The following publication explains these stages:
- Pruning to Restore an Old, Neglected Apple Tree, OSU Extension
These publications also offer insights on ideal times to prune and other care suggestions: