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The Cold Truth: Wait to Prune Fruit Trees
Kansas Ag Connection - 02/18/2021

Kansas gardeners may find themselves on a time crunch to take care of their yard's fruit trees once the brutal cold temperatures across much of the state subside.

Kansas State University horticulture expert Ward Upham said homeowners have through March to prune fruit trees. That task, he notes, should only be done when the wood is not frozen.

K-State Research and Extension's bookstore has two publications that will help gardeners get the job done right, according to Upham, who suggests the following:

- Pruning Apple and Pear Trees.

- Pruning Peaches, Plums, Cherries and Other Stone Fruits.

Both publications are free and available online.

Upham's general recommendations for pruning fruit trees include the following:

- Take out broken, damaged or diseased branches.

- If two branches form a narrow angle, prune one out. Narrow angles are weak angles and tend to break during wind or ice storms.

- Take out all suckers, or branches that grow straight up.

- If two branches cross and rub against one another, one should be taken out.

- Cut back or remove branches that are so low that they interfere with harvest or pruning. If cutting back a branch, always cut back to another branch or bud; do not leave a stub.

- Cut back branches to reduce the total size of the tree, if necessary.

- Thin branches on the interior of the tree.

"Prune in the order above, but stop once 30% of the tree is removed," Upham said. "Pruning more may harm the tree."

Upham and his colleagues in K-State's Department of Horticulture and Natural Resources produce a weekly Horticulture Newsletter with tips for maintaining home landscapes. The newsletter is available to view online or can be delivered by email each week.

The Feb. 8 newsletter includes specific instructions for pruning peach, nectarine, apple, cherry, pear and plum trees. Upham also details steps for pruning overgrown apple trees, and young fruit trees.

Interested persons can also send their garden- and yard-related questions to Upham at, or contact your local K-State Research and Extension office.

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