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Pruning Ohio’s Fruit Trees

Teri and her husband live on five acres in Central Ohio with a vast lawn, three gardens, a farm pond, many trees, and a lot of yard work!

Pruning shears and clippers come in various sizes.

Pruning shears and clippers come in various sizes.

Tree Trimming in Ohio

Pruning excessive vegetation from fruit and deciduous ornamental trees in Ohio's ever-changing climate helps bring about strong, healthy flowers, drupes, pomes, and nuts. When it comes to growing fruit and nut trees in the Buckeye State, a solid-yet-flexible pruning schedule geared for Ohio’s weather helps to produce a good seasonal crop.

Whether your trees are in a grove, sizeable orchard, or merely decorating a backyard landscape, “cropping for crops” is the phrase to remember; prune for a healthy and more bountiful harvest. Popular fruit trees growing in Ohio include apples, cherries, peaches, pears, and plums. For happy squirrels and wildlife in your yard, be sure to trim up oak and walnut trees, too!

Trimming excessive vegetation helps fruit grow larger.

Trimming excessive vegetation helps fruit grow larger.

Fruit Damage

Too many shoots and twigs will stunt fruit growth. Old brush and dead branches prevent sunlight from soaking into greenery—clearing out all this debris allows trees to develop stronger and healthier flower buds.

Trees that are “un-snipped” can produce fruits, too; however, their lesser yield may lead to smaller or diseased pomes and drupes. Apples and peaches, for example, grow larger and will ripen better when their trees’ sunlight-produced food supplies head directly to foliage, buds and fruits (instead of unnecessary leaves or branches).

Along with helping the tree develop a well-shaped canopy, pruning and removing unwanted brush allows rainwater to better access tree roots.

It's important to watch the thermometer. Outside temperature gauges and thermometers are easily obtainable.

It's important to watch the thermometer. Outside temperature gauges and thermometers are easily obtainable.

Dealing With the Weather in the Buckeye State

Ohioans know it; our weather is sometimes (often) unpredictable. Cold winters can turn into cold springs, or, perhaps, early warmer springs bring frigid temperatures into the month of May. Unseasonably “warm” winters can lead to cold springs—just when you think the danger of frost is passed (by mid-May or so), your newly-embedded fruit or vegetable plants get “zapped” in falling temperatures.

Planting fruits, vegetables, and flowers in Ohio can be a guessing game, too, especially in northern areas of the state. When it comes to pruning fruit (and all kinds of) trees in Ohio, the goal is to trim branches before they spurt new growth during the dormant season in early spring (after the snow melts and temperatures reach above 32 degrees Fahrenheit). Ohioans hope that’s in March, but it may be April or into May.

These “rules,” however, are really only guidelines because the true determination of when to prune varies with each particular tree species and where it grows. However, broken or falling tree limbs should be removed as needed.

Snip, snip!

Snip, snip!


Larger growing fruit trees that have not been trimmed in several years can undergo some “major snipping,” says Ohio State University Extension. Thickly set or main branches that come off the trunk at 90-degree angles are typically the strongest offshoots; however, those growing parallel are fairly weak—especially if they show signs of rotting.

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When using a hacksaw to cut limbs measuring more than three inches around, make the first slice at about 12 inches from the branch collar or trunk. Cutting the top areas first will ease the weight of the limb, making it less likely to break during the entire removal process. Snip the smaller branches and shoots with a sharp pair of pruning shears or clippers.

Fruit-Producing Trees

For fruit-producing trees, trim branches by making small, thin slices just past the flowering buds. Early spring is typically best, but, in Ohio, most types of plum, cherry, peach, apple, and pear trees—as well as nut producers—can be trimmed during the late part of dormancy. For best results, spread the snip-sessions over a couple of seasons.

Tree Scars

Callus formation—scabbing on closed wounds—is different for each species. Typically based on size and environmental factors, wound scars develop calluses much like human skin. Air circulation allows deeply-pruned or wind-damaged trees to thicken faster.

Some arborists recommend wound painting (applying a tar-like substance over the break). However, in Ohio, letting oxygen get to the open sore on an otherwise healthy tree is a better way to facilitate the healing process, says OSU Extension.

JJ plants a pollinator peach tree.

JJ plants a pollinator peach tree.

Planting Tips

Bite into that tangy peach, crunchy apple, or juicy pear and experience the satisfying moment, especially when it comes directly from your own backyard. When planting fruit trees in Ohio, consider these factors:

  • Space: Each tree sapling must have enough room to grow. Tree size (height and width) at their maturity varies with type and species.
  • Pollinator: Does your desired fruit tree need a mate? Learn the facts: ask a garden store expert before you buy. Trees (some peach varieties, for example) may need a second variety planted nearby for pollination.
  • Location: Direct sunlight and good earth; test your planting soil for pH levels. Soil pH determines whether the dirt is acidic (sour) or alkaline (sweet). The pH scale runs from zero to 14, with 0.0 being the most acidic and 14.0 being the most alkaline. A neutral pH value is at 7.0. Ohio’s pH ranges between 6.0 and 7.0.
It's a good crop this year!

It's a good crop this year!

Tree Care Tips to Remember

  • Trees need six to eight hours of full sunlight each day and well-draining soil.
  • Cutting back branches so they’re evenly spaced allows more room for flower buds and developing fruits.
  • Trimming newly-planted trees to heights of around 30 inches helps them develop a good, aesthetic shape.
  • The little sprigs of vegetation on the trunk may look cute, but if not removed, they will develop into strong branches and offshoots that can damage or hinder the tree.
  • Thin out the buds every couple of years or so; too many fruits will weigh branches down and cause stunting and disease.

Questions & Answers

Question: It looks like my cherry tree is full of buds while the leaves are falling off. Is this possible?

Answer: If it's happening, then, yes, it's possible. The unseasonably warm temperatures we've had in late September and early October have caused many types of trees to bring about new growth. (My magnolia tree has new buds and I saw a few on my weeping cherry). The "old" foliage is beginning to turn and drop now; temps will be more reasonable as we get into October. Other reasons for falling leaves could be the result of disease (fungal or bacterial) or water-related (too much or too little). Much like what happens when buds emerge in the spring, if a freeze comes along, the buds get, as we like to say, "zapped." These new buds will likely freeze (when the time comes); whether there will be new growth in the spring depends on the tree -- location, soil, sunlight, nutrients and overall health of it. Time will tell.

Question: Can you recommend a fruit tree specialist to take care of my trees in Columbus, Ohio?

Answer: You can contact the Ohio State University Cooperative Extension; they may be able to help. Depending on your trees and environment, arborists and nurseries in Central Ohio may have specific do-it-yourself programs or offerings for hire.

© 2016 Teri Silver

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