Winter Pruning

As the year is nearing its end, Kimmel will be closing for the season starting December 23rd, so make sure to stop by before this date! During the off-season months, the orchard staff is still busy at work preparing the fruit trees for another successful year. In late winter to early spring, winter pruning occurs to help spur vigorous growth for the upcoming fruit seasons. Many considerations are required before pruning occurs, and this task must be performed at the correct time. Continue reading to learn the proper practices for winter pruning. 

During the fall, energy from the leaves on the fruit trees is drawn out and transported to the root system to prepare the tree for winter. As a result, the leaves turn brown, die, and fall off the trees. Once all of the leaves have fallen, this is a good indication that the tree is in dormancy. Only the roots of the trees will grow slowly during the dormant months, therefore, only a small amount of these stored nutrients are used to keep the dormant tree alive. The leftover energy is used in the spring when the tree emerges from dormancy. At this stage, the buds break open using the energy to form blossoms, leaves, branches, and roots. Winter pruning also allows the fruit tree's structure to be easily seen, as all the foliage is gone. Since all the branches are now visible, this can help ensure more accurate cuts. 

As briefly mentioned in the blog After Harvest, heavy winter pruning should not occur in early winter. This is because minimal branch growth usually occurs at this time, and the tree cannot recover from the pruning cuts causing winter injury. If pruning occurs before the tree is in full dormancy and leaves remain, this will stimulate new growth that cannot stand the harsh cold that accompanies winter. This will then affect next season's growth and fruit production negatively. Late winter pruning stimulates vigorous growth, as the less productive or low-quality branches are removed. Removing these parts forces the tree to put its energy into only the healthy branches rather than wasting energy on the poor-quality branches. Fewer branches mean more energy into each remaining branch. Pruning can also happen in early spring, as the buds open with the formation of leaves, blossoms, baby fruit, and new shoots. At this point, the non-productive or dead branches can easily be seen and removed. However, most of the stored energy has already been used, therefore, not as much growth will be stimulated when compared to late winter pruning.

There are 5 points to remember when making cuts during the pruning process.


Any branches that fit within these 3 categories should be removed. This will help ensure that any disease present will not spread to the rest of the tree either.


Branches that touch can rub off the bark providing an entryway for the disease to enter and blocks air from circulating throughout the tree. Evaluate the two branches to determine which branch would be best to remove. It is also important to remove any branches that are blocking airflow, even if it is not crossing another branch. Good airflow reduces the chance of bacteria, mold, and yeast as well as reduces the stress of the tree. High stress can attract unwanted insects as well!


It can be time-consuming to remove many small twigs and then later realize the entire branch needs to be cut. Start with the large branches finishing the process with the small twigs to save time and energy. 


This tip may seem obvious but is often forgotten. Sharpen the tools before use and occasionally re-sharpen while pruning to keep a sharp blade. Always use clean tools as well. Spraying or dipping the pruning equipment in isopropyl alcohol before each tree can avoid spreading the disease to all fruit trees.


Each tree will need different cuts, and it is helpful to step back to evaluate the tree before pruning. This can reduce mistakes ensuring more accurate cuts resulting in better long-term health of the trees. 

As mentioned above, each tree will require different cuts. Once the tree is established and older, pruning mainly consists of what is listed above, such as removing diseased, dying, or decayed branches or creating airflow within the tree. Newly planted trees may require different pruning practices to grow to the desired shape and size. It is best to research before planting any fruit tree to learn what the pruning requirements are in the earlier stages of growth. Even though the orchard will be closed to the public, staff will still be hard at work maintaining the fruit trees for next year! But don't worry there is still time to stop by before Kimmel closes for the season!

Alyssa Rosenbaum - Education and Food Safety Intern