The best time to prune fruit trees is in the winter and when you have enough time to finish the job, according to Ross Penhallegon, horticulturist and pruning expert with the Oregon State University Extension Service.
"November through March is a good time to prune," he said. "If you are worried about winter freeze damage, wait until after Feb. 1, which is the best time to prune in western Oregon, and March 15 east of the Cascade Mountains."
Following are Penhallegon's general rules of thumb about pruning fruit trees:
* Take a hands-on pruning class so you can see good pruning in process. Call or find online your local county office of the OSU Extension Service for workshops or demonstrations near you. County offices can be found at: http://extension.oregonstate.edu/locations.php.
* Prune out any diseased, dead, dying or crossed limbs.
* Cut off the water sprouts that grow straight up and suckers that grow out of the ground near the trunk, out of the top of the tree or from the roots. Then prune out suckers from last year's pruning cuts and from the center of the fruit trees.
* Get a good mental picture of what shape you want the pruned tree to look like this year and five years into the future. Then prune for shape, size and good scaffold branches to support the fruit.
To learn details about pruning and training fruit trees, download at no cost the OSU Extension publication "Training and Pruning Your Home Orchard" (PNW 400) at http://extension.oregonstate.edu/catalog/pdf/pnw/pnw400.pdf.
The 14-page illustrated guide gives basic principles of training and pruning apple, pear, sweet and sour cherries, peach, prune, plum, walnut, filbert and apricot trees. Order a printed copy for $3 plus shipping and handling by calling 1-800-561-6719.
Judy Scott is a public affairs and communications specialist with OSU Extension Service and Experiment Station Communications.