How cold is too cold to prune?

canadianplantFebruary 17, 2013

There are lots of general tips on when to prune your fruit trees online, but most sites lack specifics IMO. Im just wondering what is the best time to prune in a "northern" garden?

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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

This was discussed recently. I'm still of the mind that the best time is right when the tree begins to wake up. The only reason to do it earlier is that you won't have time to do it all that late. I've done it during bloom and that's not to late. But anytime after the hard freezes are past is good.

Here is a link that might be useful: best time to prune peach

    Bookmark   February 17, 2013 at 11:19AM
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Konrad___far_north(3..just outside of Edmonton)

Agree, it's said, right before waking waking up, the cuts are fresh and heal better.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2013 at 1:02PM
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Konrad___far_north(3..just outside of Edmonton)

I prune now allready because I have no time to do it all when time is right. Moose prune allot in mid winter and trees seem to handle it just fine.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2013 at 1:06PM
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alan haigh

Please, prune when the weather isn't expected to drop below -25 F. for mature apples- at least for a couple of weeks. For young apples and pears I'd say about -10 and stonefruit not below zero.

If you are concerned about canker, peaches should be pruned shortly after they begin growth but probably before petal fall (and then again in summer).

I begin pruning here in Dec and continue into April- every working day, every year for the last 25 and have never suffered damage from shakes or cold related injury as a result of pruning. We've had test winters where it got down below -20 F in the middle of my pruning season on certain years.

If pruning was so dangerous in cold weather trees that get buck rubs in Dec would always die, I think.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2013 at 2:19PM
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I don't always go by the temp. Today it is snowing, 15 degrees F and the wind is 35 sustained with gusts to 45. Its to cold to prune.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2013 at 4:00PM
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alan haigh

Raven, too cold for you, maybe not the trees. Don't know what you're waiting to prune.

I've pruned when the temp was in single digits and certainly in windy weather in the teens. Pruned during blizzards as well. The question, I think, is about how cold is too cold for the trees and it's a good one.

The literature is deficient on this because there is no proper way to scientifically evaluate it. Trees will probably respond differently to wounds depending on what stage they are at in terms of hardening off. Also, even same species are variable from variety to variety to cold tolerance in general. And the same variety will likely be more vulnerable when younger than older.

When I started my business I tried getting all pruning done during what was considered the best time- end of winter, beginning of spring. This was actually based on Cornell guidelines.

Very quickly I had to expand my pruning season and I found out that commercial growers tend to have a much more liberal idea about when to prune and they are not likely to risk the health of their trees. Early winter around here they often prune their oldest apples than move to younger apples and pears and finish up with stonefruit.

Some commercial growers in the Hudson Valley (down to Z5) prune their apple trees right after harvest.

This is based on the kind of winters we were getting before the recent warming trend.

It really doesn't answer the question by saying when you choose to prune unless you've pruned earlier in the past and suffered some kind of consequence.

I manage thousands of trees and have never seen any consequence to cold from poorly timed pruning..

    Bookmark   February 17, 2013 at 4:58PM
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I am sorry Hman the post was an attempt at humor. I prune all winter with no ill effects on everything but stone fruits. Most winters I have to prune on snowshoes and getting to that one last branch has me stepping on one. My orchard only has 300 trees from 2 yo to 100 yo and I prune for enjoyment not work. I like to prune with temp in mid 20's sunny and low wind. The trees can take a lot more than I can.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 9:29AM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX


Your point is well taken. There is probably no issue pruning stone fruit early. My only point is for the average home grower with a few trees why not wait and prune in spring.

I could easily design an experiment to test this. Take a big area of uniform trees. Assign at random several pruning dates to blocks of at least 10 trees. Do this for at least three replications of each treatment. Continue this test for at least 5-10 years on the same trees with same treatments. I'd have dates say at monthly intervals from October until April. After 10-20 years at numerous locations you'd have an answer. I assume Frecon did something like this. If not he had questionable reason to express an opinion. This is how university researchers answer a question like this.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 11:33AM
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Well it looks like the temps are supposed to moderate next week, into the forseeable future. Lows around -10C and highs around -3C.

I have to prune my young John pear (light pruning), Thin and head a few branches on my honeygold apple, pinch the top of my seedling apple and lop the top 3 feet off my toka plum (heaviest pruning this year by far). On top of that, do a few practice grafts.

I guess I should leave the plum till last, since its the most severe pruning. I guess I can prune in a week or 2 if the forcast holds up?

    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 11:37AM
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And yes, I only have 8 trees, 3 of which are too small to really prune (seedlings).

    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 11:40AM
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dmtaylor(5a (WI))

How about this.... if I prune just before it rains, and then temperatures dip down into the 20s, is this a recipe for freeze damage??

    Bookmark   March 9, 2013 at 9:01AM
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alan haigh

No. That would be typical weather during the conventionally prescribed timing of most fruit tree pruning here in the east.

Maybe it could contribute the the cambium kill that often occurs with apricots in colder climates but there is no supportive research I'm aware of.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2013 at 10:21AM
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dmtaylor(5a (WI))

Thanks, H-man. I might just go take care of things in my little orchard today then, as I'll be very busy otherwise for the next several weeks, so I figure now is my best chance.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2013 at 3:01PM
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