Despite being considered “off-season pruning”, summer pruning of fruit trees has its place in the home orchard. For example, summer pruning may be necessary to repair damaged tree limbs. If a branch is broken by the wind or by a heavy load of fruit, then prune back the ragged edges, making a smooth cut that leaves no stubby stump.
Summer pruning, or pinching, of tender new branches is also recommended to ￼encourage huskier growth in vigorously vegetative trees. This discourages long, weak, “leggy” growth from flourishing. Summer pinching helps manage the tree’s overall size as well, which is especially handy if your dwarf fruit trees tend to be more on the robust side.
There are many reasons to consider summer pruning of fruit trees, but the ultimate purpose remains the same: detecting what needs correcting.
July & early August. The active growing season, before things slow down in fall. This also takes into consideration cases where a harsh winter and spring may delay new growth.
Remove current problems. Dead, damaged, diseased limbs should be removed before they become bigger stress factors for your tree. Remove crossing/rubbing limbs, and limbs that grow inward toward the tree’s center.
Create a sturdy structure. As mentioned earlier, long, weak growth should be pinched back. Hand pinch, or prune, 3 inches (or so) off the end of each soft, leafy shoot. Repeat in late summer if side shoots grow rapidly out.
Avoid pruning if rain is in the immediate forecast. Rain can stir up disease elements, like fungal spores, that may take advantage of fresh pruning cuts. Wait for the weather to be more cooperative.
Avoid heavy pruning in summer. Summer pruning should merely maintain the structure which you define with heavier pruning in winter/early spring. Heavy pruning should always be saved for when fruit trees are dormant and less prone to stress.
Avoid pruning too late. It may seem backward, but pruning actually encourages growth. If this growth is encouraged too late in the season, it could be at risk of winter injury. If you miss your “summer pruning window”, just wait to prune in the winter/early spring instead. Note: you do not need to wait to remove damaged, dead, or diseased limbs, or suckers and watersprouts. These should be removed as soon as possible.
With these things in mind, and pruners in hand, you are ready for summer pruning. Let us know how it goes!