Pruning Fruit Trees and Bushes

As a Georgia Grower, I’m frequently asked about the best time to prune fruit trees. I always answer that it depends on several factors. One of the major considerations is the crop that we are pruning. It’s challenging to give a definitive answer as to when to prune a particular tree because it varies. Plants do not adhere to calendars; their growth is influenced mainly by weather conditions. Georgia’s weather is known to change unpredictably, as evident from the recent warm spell that we experienced. Nevertheless, I will attempt to provide some general guidelines on when to prune your fruit trees based on common types.

Fruit Trees

For fruit trees like peaches, apples, pears and plums, pruning should be carried out during the winter dormant period, typically between December and February. But for Southeast Georgia, later in the season is better. This is because the trees are more susceptible to freeze damage after pruning, and pruning stimulates new growth. However, we recommend pruning in February if possible because it is an ideal time for our normal weather patterns, bearing in mind that Georgia’s weather is highly changeable.

Check out this article from UGA on Pruning Orchard Trees with diagrams and instructions! 

Grapes – Muscadines

Muscadines are a quintessential southern fruit that is borne on new shoots from the previous year’s growth. To encourage fruit production, prune back the canes that grew the previous year to leave only about 3 inches of growth to form spurs. Ideally, pruning should be done in February or early March, and don’t be alarmed if the vines “bleed” at pruning cuts because it’s harmless.

Blueberry 

Blueberries are also pruned in the winter months to ensure they continue producing fruit. After they are established, rabbiteye blueberries don’t need much until they reach about 4 to 6 feet in height. When they reach this height, a cane-renewal pruning program should be implemented. This involves removing one to three of the largest canes every winter at 0 to 24 inches from the ground level or up to 20% of the canopy in total. Over five years, the entire bush will be renewed, and more productive canes will sprout from the old canes, even below ground level. Additionally, you can prune excessively tall canes back to 6 feet each winter. Last year’s late frost did play a role in the blueberry crops, but proper pruning can help minimize the damage caused by unfavorable weather conditions.

Blackberry – Erect and Semi-erect Cultivars

If you’re growing erect blackberries, it’s important to prune them correctly to ensure optimal yield. In the year of planting, the canes produced by erect blackberry plants will be semi-erect or trailing. It’s vital to contain these semi-erect or trailing canes to the row area and not prune them as they will provide some fruit the following year. Although erect blackberries can be grown without a trellis, it’s useful to have one in years one and two to keep the trailing canes off the ground. This helps with weed control and prevents soil from splashing onto the fruit. For this purpose, consider constructing a lightweight trellis in the first year made with small posts and plastic baling string. Tie the trailing canes to the trellis. Most commercial growers of erect blackberries in Georgia use trellises to help support heavy crop loads. The V trellis type is generally preferred as it helps produce high yields.

New canes produced in the second and succeeding seasons will be erect. Cut these to a height of 40 to 42 inches in early summer to encourage lateral shoot development. This practice reduces excessive height of the canes while increasing the stability of the hedge. Several prunings may be necessary. During the dormant season, prune out the dead canes that provided fruit the previous summer. It’s recommended to shorten any long, lateral branches during winter pruning. Reduce these by one-third to one-half of the length of the branch.

Olive Trees

Pruning olive trees is essential for maintaining tree health and promoting optimal fruit production. Here are some general guidelines on how to prune olive trees:

Timing: Pruning should be done in late winter/early spring before the trees start to grow new leaves. This timing is ideal as it allows the tree to heal quickly before the onset of new growth.

Remove Water Sprouts: Olive trees often produce water sprouts or suckers, which are unwanted shoots that emerge from the base of the tree or along the trunk. These water sprouts take away the tree’s energy from fruit production, so it’s essential to remove them as soon as you notice them.

Remove Dead or Damaged Wood: Dead or damaged wood can harbor pests and diseases, so it’s vital to remove any dead or damaged branches. This will also encourage new growth.

Shape the Tree: Olive trees should be shaped to maximize light exposure, promote airflow, and ease of harvest. Remove any branches that are crossing each other or growing inward. Keep the center of the tree open to allow sunlight to penetrate and encourage the growth of lateral branches.

Prune for Fruit Production: Olive trees produce on the previous year’s wood, so it’s important to maintain a balance between fruit production and vegetative growth. This can be done by selectively removing branches that do not produce fruit or removing old or unproductive wood. It’s important to leave enough fruiting wood to ensure a bountiful harvest.

Limit pruning: Olive trees do not require heavy pruning and can be damaged if over-pruned. Avoid removing more than 25% of the tree’s canopy at once.