Favorite Pruning Guru

Folks here frequently recommend certain videos on pruning but I usually find them disappointing because of a lack of holistic understanding about how trees grow demonstrated by the you-tube gurus, probably because of an inadequate background in the fine points of arboriculture. To my mind, being a master pruner requires a complete understanding of all the known interrelationships between soil, roots, leaves, sun, etc. But perhaps I just like to overthink things. Such a level of understanding is not necessary for maintaining a tree after shaping it via a recipe, but it sure makes it easier to make hard decisions about removing big wood. .

Here is an article by my favorite pruning guru which I haven’t posted for a while and it’s been updated since. The 1-2-3 rule of pruning | Good Fruit Grower

My favorite writer about arboriculture is Richard Harris. His book is, "Arboriculture, Integrated Management of Trees Vines and Shrubs. You don’t need to pay for the latest edition.


I read your own excellent guide to 1-2-3 pruning some years ago and try to factor it into my understanding, but I had trouble applying it for a couple of reasons, neither of which are the fault of the system.

I think the biggest issue was that I was far too hesitant to remove wood, and as a result I have too many scaffolds too close to one another. I also let them grow out too long. As a result the fingers from one scaffold tended to grow into the fingers from the next and vice versa. The fingers tended to be long and wimpy and needed to be cut.

It has taken me years to figure this out and I’m still not sure if I’m right, but that’s the way I’m approaching it now. In a typical year I get way more apples than I really need or even want, so it’s neurotic, pure and simple, of me not to get more forceful with my trees. I’m working on it.

I think your experience-drive, information backed approach to fruit culture is extremely useful, but get hung up in application myself. I like to think I’m getting there, but I’m a couple of years older than you and I don’t know how much longer I have to learn! Anyhow, thank you for your contributions. I wish I could follow you around for a few weeks with a video camera.


Thank you for posting this…

Personally, pruning is probably the most daunting thing I deal with (well, that and squirrels).

Im sure I should be getting dozens of pounds of kiwis (if not more) by now on my 15 year old vines. Instead I get perhaps a pound or two. I know I should be pruning the male back hard immediately after flowering, but I’m always too shy to do what I suspect needs to be done.

My Asian pear is a 15-20 foot, single stem with branching that grows no more than 1.5 feet from the main trunk.

I still have a cornus mas that I am planning on pruning this fall after leaf-fall.


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Look at the kind of wood Kiwis bear their fruit on and favor that wood over all the vigorous uprights (actually, on Kiwis confined to a trellis, upright is a bit of a misnomer, the vegetative wood grows every which direction) and prune them several times during the season to favor fruiting spurs. I stopped growing kiwis because they do require too much pruning and, to me, they are a kind of forage fruit and not a fruit staple. They are also a favorite nesting site here of catbirds, the most aggressive berry fruit eating bird we have.

You mean it is available online for free? Can you post a link?

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No, I mean earlier editions are much less expensive and just about as good. It is a text book so the latest edition runs for crazy money, although I have to admit I haven’t read it, Harris is no longer the lead author of it and it apparently was a very limited edition. I have the earlier copy here that they want $80 for but it isn’t much different than the earlier one that runs for less than 12 bucks. Arboriculture Integrated Management Landscape by Richard Harris - AbeBooks Here is an e-bay source for the later edition one that I use. Arboriculture : Integrated Management of Landscape Trees, Shrubs and Vines by Nelda P. Matheny and Richard W. Harris (1998, Hardcover) for sale online | eBay

It’s pretty weird that there are no more current books on arboriculture that reach the caliber of this one that I know of. When I was a student of horticulture the arborist teacher was a Shigo fanatic and taught classes around his books. I was not satisfied with the level of science that Shigo worked from- all the research he sites in his books is his own and his outlooks is strongly affected by ideology. I went through the entire library collection of books on arboriculture and the Harris one struck me as being miles better than anything else available. I showed it to my teacher and noticed a couple years later that he was using it for his classes.

You might be able to check it out from an on-line library.


I was able to buy Harris from Amazon for $5.00 including shipping about three years ago.

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You bought when prices were less. Check out Amazon prices now, it’s insane. How did you like the book?

Do you mean my guide to pruning by ratios. That’s a lot different than than Bas’s article, which is simply about sustaining healthy 2 year spur wood on apple and pear trees. I think it’s an important article because the literature I’ve seen never really clearly describes how to manage bearing wood and just talks about spurs almost as if they are eternal- no mention of cycling. I had to figure it out on my own when I started- then I discovered Bas after I’d been running the Home Orchard Company for a decade. I learned from him about making hinges to bend rigid branches and forcing new shoots from old wood by scoring- which I shared with this forum.

The thing about your article that took a long time to click for me was the concept of rotating out old wood to make room for new, more virile wood. (We can ignore the implications for those of us mere humans who are of advancing years.) I got it quickly enough; it was the application that I had trouble with. I got paranoid about removing any spur wood and choked up my trees.

Later I learned about keeping a “light chimney” down the center of the tree and opening the whole thing up, trying to keep new fruiting wood in the optimum part of the tree.

This year I got almost no fruit because of the late frosts. Now I’m seeing lots of vigorous spur wood and I’m afraid that next year I’m going to have a lot of thinning to do.

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Certainly better than the usual alternative.

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@alan, in reading through the Good Fruit Grower article you recommend I read this on page two:

(On young, nonbearing Bartlett and Forelle trees on Open Tatura with 2,000 trees per hectare or 800 trees per acre, we have used Ethrel sprays in mid- and late summer to terminate extension growth of laterals. This method of vigor control often resulted in laterals setting terminal fruit buds. Ethrel was sprayed [without a wetting agent] at the rate of 300 to 700 millilitres per hectare [4 to 10 ounces per acre] three to five times. The differences in rates depended on the temperature in the orchard after spraying. A low rate was used when it was hot, and a high rate when it was cool. The active constituent of Ethrel was 480 grams per litre of ethephon.)<<

and in viewing the video I linked: A couple of good videos on summer pruning pomes

it seems to me that the pruner is controlling vigor by late summer pruning. Do you see it that way?

I’m starting to understand the 1-2-3 approach is preferable in that it keeps young, virile wood producing young, virile spurs. But this question is designed to get at the controlling vigor aspect. Since I am not going to start spraying Ethrel can I simply use the heading back in late August through September to accomplish that?


Also, check bookfinder.com for a listing of used & new volumes. I just ordered one listed as used, very good, for $5 which included shipping. Thanks for the pruning advice, Alan.


I don’t use ethrel and that is likely a commercial production thing. Late summer pruning is less invigorating than dormant pruning but more so than early summer pruning. I like pruning pears when it’s hot and dry and far away from fire blight season. But I still end up pruning most I manage in mid to late winter.

The thing about 1-2-3 is that most of the newer apple varieties produce their best fruit on that 2-year shoot wood and also using that wood encourages annual production.

Pears are not nearly as cooperative at sending up shoots throughout a tree and you have to compromise and manipulate them sometimes, especially ones like Bosc and Bartlett that sound out some pretty crazy shoots. When I’m trying to get them to spread out more I often tape vigorous shoots that arise behind the front of the branch to the front piece to extend the reach of a branch- even if I have to cut the shoot back a bit to stiffen it.

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