Pruning, branching, and sexual maturity and fruiting

I’ve been pruning with the idea in mind that major wood removal of the kind I usually do during dormancy will retard the onset of fruiting in a tree but the thinning and size control cuts I associate with summer pruning will not.

I’ve also been removing wood that approaches 1/2 the diameter of its main branch, so as to distribute the tree’s resources to different areas of the tree appropriately and keep the tree’s basic form intact.

But now I’m finding on my frankenpear that some of the branches seem to fruit reluctantly until they’re allowed to branch out some. Cutting branches that start to compete with their source branch seems to set them back.

Right now I’m constantly thinning the thing to keep it open and control its size. But what actually will get those branches fruiting? I know that allowing generous fruiting will help slow a tree down and I’d like to encourage that. I should mention that the tree does bear quite a bit of Gold Spice, and I get a few fruit of other varieties, but it’s still a weed. I keep it to 12 feet tall and have had it since 2005.

And free bonus question- why does cutting shoots back to three leaves promote spurs, and why won’t two or four work as well, or will they?

Thanks all!


I’m glad you brought this up, Mark. I had followed the same advice that you apparently have and found it wanting. Although I may not have satisfactory answers for you I have some thoughts on the matter.
The focus of a lot of pruning efforts/tutorials seem to be 1) ‘size control’, 2) ‘open’ structure, and 3) fruit set, and, each grower has to determine which is a priority based on the age/status of the tree.
Some advice that is given doesn’t make sense to me, so I’m trying a dif approach. First of all I’m allowing max vegetative growth until the summer solstice. Why? Vegetation makes sugar which feeds the soil microbes which break down soil components to an absorbable form that trees can uptake. This is important for a tree’s growth, ability to set/carry fruit, and resistance to disease. So, to me, pruning (like I used to do) before the solstice doesn’t make sense for my size trees. Sure, if your tree is the size you want and resists disease, no need to make this a prioroty with your tree(s). I see young trees as good candidates for max vegetative growth in order to get established.
Second, is fruit set advice. Basically what has been studied is the effect of various treatments (pruning, length of pruning cuts, bending, girdling, even ‘breaking’ the limb) on tree hormones and/or fruiting. BUT, the tree doesn’t even initiate fruiting buds until after the solstice. So, to me, it doesn’t makes sense to apply any of these techniques until, say, July. This is particularly important to know for young trees because the fruiting techniques slow vegetative growth that these need to get established. Now if you have a tree that grows like a weed (my sweet treat is over 12’ in its 3rd leaf even with ‘size control’ pruning ) THEN vegetative growth can be slowed by the fruiting techniques listed above without adverse consequence.
I hope there is more to be said on the matter.


Well Anne, it looks like it’s just you and me! Well, we’ll just have to get by without 'em.

You talk about allowing maximum vegetative growth in a younger tree (i.e., one that is not yet the size I want) and I agree with that logic. I imagine it will vary a lot with location. I’m in Montana, but if I were in the midwest or south I might have to adjust my thinking. What are your thoughts on that?

As far as the solstice is concerned, somewhere I had gotten the idea that spurring was increased by pruning up until the solstice, not so much after. And I don’t know where I got the idea, nor do I know the logic behind it. So I won’t argue one side or the other, but I will observe that some of the things that happen to a tree at one time are very dependent on things that happened earlier -sometimes months or years. A tree’s growth in one year might depend more on the year before than on the current year, since food stores took place then, for one example.

But I really don’t know, and I thank you for shedding some light on the subject.


Well Mark, your latitude (i.e. northness or southness :slight_smile: ) may make a dif in what varieties of onions you can grow successfully, but not sure about any differences in tree training. At my latitude our longest day is about 14 hours 45 min. Yours is longer.
Plants seem to respond to changes in day length - i.e. whether expanding or contracting. When days start to shorten it seems all of nature begins to prepare for next year.

Here is a link from U of Mich which uses the solstice as a determiner in fruiting trees.

I totally agree. I’ve come to look at fruiting as a balance between stores above and below the ground. I learned this from gardening many years. Let’s use onions as an example again (I’m getting ready to harvest mine here soon). If the leaves are stout and thick and green above the ground, you know you are making a big onion as that is where the stores go. I saw one YouTube poster advise trimming the tops of the onions to keep them neat. WTH !!! You just attenuated your onion harvest!!! Same with trees except we don’t harvest the roots :slight_smile: but nature teaches us these things…well some of us catch the clue…sometimes.

In a few weeks I will start my limb bending process, choosing which branches I want to fruit. I won’t bend all of them, just 1 fruiting branch for 2 storage branches - again, managing the stores. I’ll leave the 2 out of 3 branches to continue making stores for the roots to support all the fruit growth next year, and these will get partially pruned at dormancy. Sometimes I feel fruit drop is an indicator of insufficient stores from the prior year as the fruit start to size up. And, of course, some uber vigorous trees will get a little haircut too.

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Wish I could answer your question Mark but my trees are all young. I’m encouraging them to grow and branch out so that I’ll have enough wood to winter prune and get better shape on my trees. I’ve made very few thinning cuts since I’m not really producing much fruit yet.

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Good morning Anne, and thanks for your response. I liked the U of M article a lot and it helps clarify a few things.

I still wonder, though, why some of my pear branches seem more likely to fruit after they branch. Of course, pears are given to vertical growth, but I’ve trained these branches over the years to near-horizontal, so it’s not just a matter of the weight of the branch pulling the limb down. (Should mention that the branching I’m talking about seems to want to occur towards the end of the limb, perhaps partly a function of available light in the outer part of the tree.

In a similar vein, my prune plums (one on its own sucker root and one grafted to tomentosa) didn’t even bloom until seventh leaf and only fruited (barely) in the eighth, even with limbs pulled over and virtually no pruning over their life span.

Day length is a big factor with many varieties, witness southern vs. northern onions or spinach and so on, and no doubt living things in general developed response mechanisms to day length. But there are other factors. Our season can range from 90 frost free days to 140 or so, while the deep south may never frost at all; we typically get about 12 inches of rain/year, but coastal regions get many times that. And I think relatively small things can make a big difference. For example, year before last we had just one week towards the end of June that was very hot with the rest of the summer more average, and last year my apples were the best ever.

It’s funny. I’ve been gardening for over forty years and fussing over my fruit trees for nearly twenty and I think I know less now than when I started!

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Most of my trees are at the stage where size control is the main issue

I’m concerned to keep them shorter w/o cutting away the fruiting wood

I agree. We get an avg of 45" rain/year so our minerals get washed out and need to be replenished.[quote=“marknmt, post:6, topic:6227”]
In a similar vein, my prune plums (one on its own sucker root and one grafted to tomentosa) didn’t even bloom until seventh leaf and only fruited (barely) in the eighth, even with limbs pulled over and virtually no pruning over their life span.

This would lead me to get a ‘low acid’ soil test ad maybe consider foliar spraying some nutes. The folks at Intl Ag Labs and High Brix Gardens have lots of good insights regarding foilar nutes to increase yield that they have proven over and over. Their philosophy of growing disease resistant healthy plants with high nutritional value naturally suits me like a glove. Here is an article on blueberries.

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Thanks for the article Anne it was very informative, as is this thread. I don’t know enough to contribute but I enjoy the discussion.

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I couldn’t find this article on their website but I found an excerpt in a newsletter. It begins with a dialog…

Can you help me? If I don’t get a crop this year I am facing
bankruptcy. I have to harvest a crop from my cherry trees and they
haven’t been producing well."

“Perhaps–what is your fertility budget?”

"Not very much this year. Is there anything you can do to

R.K. was at the end of his rope. Not enough fertility in his soil,
no budget, almost out of hope.

We had him spray a single ingredient with water that cost less
than $2.00 per acre @ 1 ounce per acre. The only problem was that he
got cheap and just sprayed every other row. This caused the foliar
spray to cover half his trees. You can guess what happened. Half the
tree produced abundant cherries while the other side looked like a
desert wilderness–no cherries. This is a classic illustration for
foliar sprays;

In this case the ingredient was a liq B12 but I think they use soluble seaweed and soluble Ca a lot for foliars.

Thanks, Anne. Interesting articles. I appreciate your linking them.