Winter or dormant pruning
Of course, pruning is what everyone thinks of as a winter task. And that’s true for most apple and pear trees. Winter is the best time to make big cuts on apples and pears, and by big cuts I mean a cut where you use a saw. Cuts on a tree do not heal, they seal or callous over. Winter gives your tree more time to seal a large cut.
When the leaves are off the tree you can really see which branches are crossing and rubbing and are not in the best place.
Winter pruning stimulates growth so it isn’t always the best choice for your apple tree. If your tree responds to each pruning cut with a swarm of new vertical growth, also known as watersprouts, you may need to move to summer pruning. Don’t cut off all of those watersprouts, as they will just come back in a frenzy. Cut off about 1/3 of the biggest watersprouts; cut about 1/3 of them down to 3-4 buds, and leave the last 1/3 so that you can train them to be fruiting branches. I could teach a class just on watersprouts!
Do not prune cherries or peaches in the winter. Stone fruit are more susceptible to fungal diseases than are apples and pears. Prune cherries in summer after harvest. Prune peaches in early spring. Plums are more forgiving – you can prune them in late winter, and always in the summer. Prune stone fruit on a dry day, preferably with a dry day before and one after you prune.
See our Pruning Fruit Tree guide for tips.
For more instruction and practice in making pruning cuts and talking a lot about watersprouts, attend one of our upcoming Pizza and Pruning parties.
Late winter or early spring – assuming the snow is gone and won’t be returning – is a great time to plant a fruit tree. Plant a tree when it is dormant, and it will have time to adjust to the new location before waking up to grow leaves and fruit. Take advantage of the cool rainy winter season to get those roots established without having to water.
See our How to Plant a Fruit Tree guide.
Other Winter or Anytime Tasks
Remove any fruit still on your trees – also called “mummy” fruit. Rotting fruit invites fungal disease. If you have any fruit still on the ground, any bugs overwintering have probably already exited and are in the ground dozing until spring. Next year make a point to clean up those fallen apples as they happen.
Watering bags should be gone! The root crown of your tree needs to be open to the air so that the tree can receive oxygen there.
Remove weeds around the trunk of the tree. It’s easier when the ground is damp and the weeds aren’t actively growing.