How to Prune and Weed Your Home Orchard

A guide to the tools and techniques needed to prune various fruit trees in order to guarantee healthier plant life and better harvests.

  • The sharper the pruning tools, the less damage done to the trees when cutting.
    Photo courtesy of Fotolia/WavebreakMediaMicro
  • “The Home Orchard Handbook: A Complete Guide to Growing Your Own Fruit Trees Anywhere” by Cem Akin and Leah Rottke
    Photo courtesy of Quarry Books

There’s no end to the benefits of planting fruit around your home: you have unlimited access to a fresh supply of produce; a bountiful landscape in your own yard and neighborhood; and an ecosystem ready for pollinating bees and delightful songbirds to visit. That’s not to say that a home orchard cannot come with a new set of challenges, however. A large part of planting fruit trees is maintaining them, a task made simpler when guided by the wisdom of Cem Akin and Leah Rottke in The Home Orchard Handbook (Quarry Books, 2011. While this book has plenty of advice on where and how to plant and harvest your fruits, these authors spend just as much time walking their readers through causes and solutions to possible diseases, conditions, and nonbeneficial insects that may plague the lovely backdrop they’re attempting to create. In simple and understandable terms, from selection to care to fresh recipes, Akin and Rottke will walk you through how to plant, tend, and harvest the apples, lemons, peaches, or whatever else you can gather without ever leaving your yard.

Pruning and Weeding

Pruning and weeding are often performed at the same time and both involve elements being removed from the orchard, so they are discussed together.


Trees cannot heal their wounds, not the way we can. Trees wall off damaged parts with a combination of tissue and chemicals to keep decay from spreading further. Then, if they have the energy, they grow past it. Trees don’t heal, they close. Every wound is permanent, and pruning inflicts wounds. Learn to do the least damage to prolong and enhance the lives of your trees.

Trees mount their defense against decay at the branch bark ridge and the branch collar. A swelling circles all the way around the base of a branch where it joins the trunk or another branch, and a ridge of bark pushes up in the angle between the two. These structures house the highest concentrations of the chemicals released in response to wounding. Pruning cuts made just outside the branch bark ridge and the branch collar supply the tree its best opportunity to compartmentalize the wound. Trees don’t always succeed in preventing the spread of decay, even with properly made pruning cuts. The larger the diameter of the wound, the more time the tree needs to close it, and the tougher the battle to contain decay. Big cuts make hollow trees. Try to keep the diameter of pruning cut wounds to less than 2 inches (5.1 cm).

Tree and plant stems have buds along their lengths and at their ends. Either leaves or flowers emerge from the buds. Some of these buds are easily seen protruding from a twig; many more, called latent buds, are hidden under the bark. The visible buds on a stem are called nodes (typically located at the bases of leaves). The node at the end of a twig or stem is called the terminal bud. Lengths of stem between nodes are referred to as internodal. All pruning cuts occur either at a node, or between nodes, and a tree’s response is different to each.

Trees and plants begin all the food chains on the planet by making their own food. Green plant tissues, leaves for the most part, turn sunlight into sugar. Sugars are used for energy and are stored inside trees for later use. When we prune living, green leaves from a tree, its ability to make its own food is reduced. Do not remove more than 20 percent of a tree’s canopy in a single pruning. Wait a year between prunings for young and mature fruit trees, longer for overmature trees.

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