How to Dormant Prune Apple & Pear Trees
Masanobu Fukuoka was adamantly against the pruning of fruit trees. He felt that it was unnatural. On his farm, he stopped pruning all of his fruit trees and they all died. He was still adamant that you should not prune fruit trees. So he started with new trees from seed and young fruit trees that had never been pruned. These fruit trees flourished and never needed pruning.
Unfortunately, for me I have been pruning my fruit trees, and they had been pruned when I got them. So, unless I want to start over, I plan to prune my fruit trees. I will however err on the side of less pruning when in doubt. The purpose of pruning is to allow sunlight to reach your branches, which enhances fruit production, allowing air to circulate thereby reducing disease, and to improve overall health.
The majority of the pruning you do on your fruit trees should occur in the late-Winter, well before bud break. In my area, zone 6, I like to prune apples and pears sometime in February. Below is a step by step guide for dormant pruning of fruit trees.
1. Decide what shape you would like your tree to have. Most fruit trees are open center (vase like), central leader (pyramidal with a strong straight up central trunk), or a modified central leader (pyramidal with the central leader not quite as straight). Most of my apples & pears are central leaders, but I do have a few modified central leaders.
2. Before pruning, keep in mind the shape that you have chosen, and that you would like a balanced tree, with sufficient air circulation and sunlight exposure to your branches.
3. Prune out any dead or diseased branches.
4. Prune any broken branches or stubs.
5. Prune any downward or inward growing branches.
6. Prune any rubbing branches.
7. Prune crossing branches.
8. Prune any sucker growth.
9. Prune shaded interior branches.
10. Prune any competing leaders if you want a central leader shape.
11. Make heading cuts on any branches too long and weak to support fruit. Cut branch back to an outward facing bud. Leave ½ inch of wood beyond the bud for dieback.