The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Tips for pruning grapes, raspberries, and fruit trees

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

A glimpse of spring and our hands involuntarily quiver and quake with each rise in degree on the thermometer. Tremors that aren't registered on the Richter scale, but on the pickup scale, determined by the number of truck-size piles of branches blemishing our landscapes.

If you are hankering to prune something, the following plants should be pruned by early March before the buds open.

Grapes - Remember when pruning grape vines the grapes are produced from the buds of one year old canes which are about 1/4 to 1/3 inches in diameter and are reddish brown. When properly pruned, 80 to 90% of the grape wood is removed every year. Now you know why people can make so many grape vine wreathes.

Grape vines with a main trunk and four canes are often trained to a two wire trellis. Before pruning select four strong lateral one year old canes (arms) that are near the trellis and mark with a ribbon or colored tape. The largest and heaviest canes are not good fruit producers.

Tie the four arms to the trellis. Choose four more lateral canes to become the arms for next year. Remove everything else. Prune off the ends of this year's arms so that 10 to 15 buds remain on each of the arms and only two buds are left on the renewal spurs (next year's arms).

Raspberries - The basic rule to remember in summer bearing (one crop) raspberries is that fruit is produced on the cane in the second year of the cane's growth, then that cane dies and should be removed after harvest or now. Also remove all short and weak canes. The large remaining canes are thinned to 4 to 8 inches apart. The canes are cut back to 5-6 feet tall or if no support is provided 3 to 4 feet tall.

The exception to the above rule is everbearing raspberries such as 'Heritage' which produce a second crop in the spring on the same canes that produced last fall. The spring crop canes are removed after harvest. Some people prefer to treat everbearers as fall crop only and cut all the canes off in late fall after harvest or now.

Fruit trees - Peaches and apples especially require annual pruning to remain productive. If left unpruned, fruit production tends to be limited to the top and outer portions of the tree. Harvesting also becomes a real chore left to the giants of the family. Peaches are pruned just before bloom and during bloom.

Apples should be pruned now. 2013 was a big production year for many fruit trees, even to the point of branch breakage. Remove any dead, diseased or broken branches. Do not leave branch stubs. Sterilize tools with alcohol or bleach after each cut to reduce any disease spread.

Branches should not grow into each other or rub. If two branches of about equal size form a narrow "V" attachment, then eliminate one of the branches. The strongest branch attachments form 40 to 90 degrees angles with the trunk. With most apple trees the fruit is produced off of the short stubby spurs so preserve these.

Prune only the branches which you can reach standing on the ground. Leave the climbing to the professionals. None of us climb as well as we used to and we don't bounce as well either.

Confused by all of this? Check out our University of Illinois Extension websites: Small Fruit Crops for the Backyard Apples & More Raspberries & More

A great publication Small Fruits in the Home Garden C1343 with a small price of $6 is available through your local UI Extension office or UI Publications Plus PH: 1-800-345-6087 (toll-free within the U.S.) or 1-217-333-2007

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