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When to prune trees

It has been said that the best time to prune is every month in the year. If carried out consistently, this is undoubtedly true, but most growers would, find it inconvenient to do so. Pruning is not confined to any distinct periods or seasons. Some of the best growers carry heavy pocket knives and whenever these see a small branch which is undesirable, they remove it. As a rule, however, pruning as a distinct practice is performed during late summer, and known as summer pruning, or during the dormant period and called winter pruning.

Summer pruning tends to induce fruitfulness in trees which are prone to throw all their energy into vegetative growth, but it is a devitalizing process. Followed for any considerable period it causes a decline in both vigor and fruitfulness of the tree. It cannot be recommended as a general practice. Winter pruning may be done at any time during the dormant period. Late winter or early spring is preferable to early winter under Wisconsin conditions. Where branches are removed early in the dormant period, the wounds make no progress toward healing until growth starts in the spring. These wounds permit a much more rapid evaporation of moisture from the tree and unless carefully protected are very likely to check and become favorable places for fungus and bacterial diseases to gain a foothold.

The delicate cambium layer which forms the new tissue for healing the wound is also likely to be killed back for some distance from the edge of the wound, making it a very much more difficult matter to secure proper healing. If done in late winter or early spring, just before growth starts, the probability of injurious results is materially reduced.

Second Season's Pruning
Pruning the young tree the second season after setting consists primarily in removing the superfluous branches which have been formed on the main branches chosen at the first pruning, and in shortening the growth. The tendency to leave too many branches the second year is almost as great as at the first pruning. Two or three strong branches, depening upon the number of main branches left will be sufficient to fill in the head.

They should be well distributed on the main branches, and quite near the base of the branch so as to keep the top of the tree low and the foundation strong. Branches with a tendency to grow into the center had best be removed the second season as there will be sufficient time to thicken up the head later on. Those chosen for further development of the head should be shortened or headed-in.

The amount to be removed will depend upon the extent of growth during the past season, and the character of the tree. Occasionally heading-in will not be necessary, but as a rule from one to two-thirds of the past season's growth should be removed. Trees with a weak, slender growing habit will be cut back more than those making strong, heavy branches.

At this pruning, precaution should be taken to correct any defects in the direction which the branches are taking. If there are open spaces being left in the top, prune so the top buds of branches on either side will be on the side next to the opening. If the branches have a tendency to grow too upright, cut back so that the top bud will be on the lower or outer side; if they spread too much, have the bud on the upper or inner side. Pruning back to a particular bud is of great importance in the early pruning of a tree if the best head is to be secured. Many growers pay too little attention to this matter when heading-in.

Choose, if possible, a good strong bud in the position in which desired. In cutting back, make the cut just above this bud. A strong knife will be found best for this purpose. Cut across the branch diagonally, beginning at about the level of the bud on the opposite side of the branch, and come out on the other side about an eighth of an inch above the top of the bud. This leaves the bud protected and gives a wound which will heal rapidly.

Third Year's Pruning
If the pruning during the first two years has been properly done, that for the third year will require less attention. The frame work of the tree should be formed by this time so that the pruning will consist almost entirely in removing superfluous shoots and cutting back the new growth which is to be left. Brarnches which rub or are inclined to form bad crotches should be removed. Too many branches should not be allowed to grow into the center of the tree as it is desirable to keep the head quite open to permit the entrance of sunlight and allow good air circulation through the top. Pruning for subsequent years will follow closely that outlined for the third season.

Pruning Neglected Trees
One may find himself in possession of an orchard in which the pruning has been neglected. Putting such trees into good condition is quite a difficult problem. The first thing that the grower should realize is that usually this operation will require more than one year. As a rule the top of a neglected tree resembles a brush heap. It is very dense and a large proportion of this growth should be removed. However, if this is done, in a single season, the tree is forced into heavy top growth, and conditions are almost as bad at the end of the season as they were at the beginning.

In pruning a neglected tree the first thing is to cut out the dead wood. This should be followed by removing the water sprouts or suckers that have arisen from the main branches. If these are not numerous, the more seriously interfering branches will next receive attention. Usually this is about all that it is advisable to do the first season unless it is the intention to replace the old top when, of course, the pruning will be much more severe.

Pruning the second season consists in removing the new growth of water sprouts and further opening up the top if desirable. Unless the top is to be renewed, it is advisable to remove no more large branches than is necessary as this is likely to leave large openings in the tree. If the tree has begun to make much growth at the ends of the branches, these twigs may be headed-in as in the regular pruning.