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Making The Right Cut For Fruit Trees



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“The secret to pruning is using the right tool,” said arborist Dan Dalton of the Newtown Forest Association.

He stood in a cold breeze Saturday, February 8, with a pair of hook pruners ready to cut into a dwarf fruit tree branch. He prefers the shape and blade of a hook pruner compared to anvil-style pruners, he said. And number two: “Have a sharp tool.” Larger branches could require long-handled loppers or a pruning saw.

Mr Dalton spent the first few minutes of the afternoon’s tree-pruning workshop demonstrating the use of a sharpening stone for the roughly 20 attendees, all bundled against the chilly air. “Use gloves,” he warned. Avoid bare hands while using a sharp blade.

At the fruit tree orchard at the Victory Garden in Fairfield Hills, wind whipped across the open field, the trees’ thin branches quivering.

He advised, “Get in close to where you need to work.” He said gardeners could go after tall limbs by climbing a ladder or using an extension pole. “About climbing trees …” he said, letting the sentence trail off as he shook his head. He was “not getting a lot,” of enthusiasm for that suggestion.

Prune trees with a consideration for sunlight, he advised.

“Fruit grows in the sunlight,” said Mr Dalton. “You want to get rid of vertical growth,” with the result being “fruiting, horizontal growth.” Pruning out vertical growth gives the tree “energy to spread branches.” He also said that “cutting out the top,” branches keeps sunlight “throughout the whole plant.”

Another pruning approach takes out branches that cut into the middle of the tree, he said. “Think about the sunlight,” he repeated. Gardeners can also cut out any dead branches and “thin out crossing branches,” Mr Dalton said.

Can someone get “scissor happy” while pruning a tree? “Yes,” he said. “But, it’s hard to kill these things.”

With that thought in mind, he said, “Prune back to the bud. Look for a bud on the bottom of the branch so new growth goes out, not up.” Leave a bit of room between the cut and the bud, and cut at an angle, he said. “Pruning elicits a growth response,” he said. “The more you prune, the more growth response.

“Roots support a full tree and if you prune the tree in half, the energy supports a lot of growth — you don’t want a big response,” Mr Dalton said.

Answering another question about angling the cut, he explained, “It’s better for healing over.”

Pruning is an activity that can be done at this time of year because the tree will be growing in two months. Pruning in November “could dry out or damage the bud,” he said.

“Pruning doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s a process, not an event,” said Mr Dalton. “It’s an incremental, continual process.” Before sending participants to one of the many trees in the small orchard to practice their own cuts, he reiterated, “You want to encourage branching and spacing.”

With Meaning

The Victory Garden, Newtown Forest Association, and Tom Sawyer School of Arboriculture co-hosted the event.

Prior to the pruning workshop, Forest Association member Harvey Pessin, also a past Victory Garden volunteer, explained the orchard’s origin. “This is more than a stand of fruit trees,” he said.

Minnesota students planted the trees, Mr Pessin explained. “They wanted to do something for us,” following 12/14. “These trees are a memorial,” he said. Some of the trees were also planted by Sandy Hook teachers, he said, and added, “These trees have meaning.”

Contact Mr Pessin at 203-241-0301, harveypessin@gmail.com. Learn more about Newtown Forest Association at newtownforestassociation.org, and more about The Victory Garden at newtown-ct.gov/parks-recreation/pages/victory-garden .

Arborist Dan Dalton, with Newtown Forest Association, demonstrates how to best prune fruit trees at this time of year to improve spring growth. —Bee Photos, Bobowick
Roughly 20 people joined a tree pruning workshop on February 8, held at the Victory Garden in Fairfield Hills, home of a small dwarf fruit tree orchard.
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