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"Fruit Pruning Primer: The Tools”

 “Fruit Pruning Primer: The Tools”

by Marilyn Odneal, Horticulture Adviser

MOUNTAIN GROVE, MO – Pruning is simply removing part of your plant, but it is a very important practice used to manage fruit crops. The majority of pruning is done in the dormant season, from winter to early spring. Young fruit trees and bushes are trained by pruning into a good basic structure that will eventually hold fruit in an easily accessible place for picking. This basic structure must be maintained on mature plants by annual dormant season pruning.

Annual dormant season pruning involves thinning the crop by removing excess fruit buds, pruning out excess and poorly placed wood, and removing dead and diseased tissue. Thinning the fruit buds results in bigger and better fruit production from the buds that remain and reduces stress on the plant that can result from overcropping. Pruning opens the plant up to better sunlight interception and air circulation. Improved sunlight interception means more sugars are produced by the leaves through photosynthesis resulting in a healthy plant and sweeter fruit. Proper air circulation means quicker drying of rain or dew from the foliage and less chance for fungus diseases to grow. All this just by dormant pruning!

Using the proper tools will make your pruning work a joy rather than a chore. The three tools for most pruning jobs are a hand pruning shears, a loppers and a pruning saw. When choosing tools, make sure they are the best quality you can afford and that they are comfortable for you to hold. Replaceable blades are a nice feature to consider.

Hand pruning shears will handle branches up to ¾ inch in diameter and is the tool that you will use the most. (I use one that is designed for smaller hands.) The bypass or scissors shear is preferred over the anvil shear. The difference is that the bypass blades pass each other (like a scissors) resulting in a cleaner and more precise cut while the single anvil blade cuts down to a flat surface or anvil. The anvil cut will often leave a tag of bark or tissue at the end of the cut.

Loppers are long handled shears used to cut branches 3/4 to 1-1/2 inches in diameter. The shaft of the loppers may be aluminum, fiberglass, wood or steel. Loppers with a longer shaft (26 inch shaft or 32 inch overall is what we use at the experiment station) are better for fruit tree pruning.

Pruning saws are used for branches larger than 1-1/2 inches in diameter. Pruning saws have blades with teeth that are angled to cut on the pull stroke. You can purchase pruning saws with protective sheaths or ones where the blade folds into the handle.

It is critical to keep pruning tools sharp so they make smooth, clean. It is also important to clean and oil the metal parts of your pruning tools after use. Joe Wright, who has worked at the State Fruit Experiment Station for over 25 years, explains how he makes sure his pruners are clean and ready for use. “I clean my pruning shears with dish soap and a non-metal scrub pad after pruning to remove sap and other residue. I make sure I spray some WD 40 on them afterward to prevent rust. When we prune apples that have fireblight or other disease we use rubbing alcohol or Lysol spray to disinfect our pruners between cuts. A 10 percent bleach solution can also be used, but that tends to corrode the metal on the shears, so you have to be careful to remember to rinse that off after you are done.”

Our fruit pruning primer will continue next week. In the mean time, check out our bulletins on fruit pruning at You may also want to mark your calendars for our Pruning Workshop on Saturday morning, March 7 at Mountain Grove.

Please direct comments or questions concerning this column to Marilyn Odneal via email at; write to Missouri State Fruit Experiment Station, 9740 Red Spring Road, Mountain Grove, Mo. 65711; or call (417) 547-7500. Visit our Web site at