Renovating old fruit trees is perfect for a New Year

 In Fruit, Pruning
renovating old fruit trees, pruning

The author pruning an old pear tree

Renovating old fruit trees is the perfect job for a cold day with blue sky and bright sunshine!

No more so than after too much rich food and drink!

Those bright days should entice you out into the garden during the first few days of a New Year!

What better way to make a fresh start to a New Year than by renovating old trees with ladder, saw and secateurs?

Renovation Pruning

Not that you will be using the secateurs much! When tackling trees that haven’t been pruned for years most of the cutting is done with a saw.

That’s because it’s far better to cut out larger big branches that crowd the crown of the tree than faff about snipping here and there with secateurs.

Taking big chunks out tends to result in far less ‘water shoots’ being produced. N.b. in USA these are often called water sprouts.

Water shoots are shoots that reach for the sky. They are incredibly vigorous and have big spaces between the leaf nodes.

These vertical shoots are only interested in making leaf and more shoots. And since they are growing straight up are very unlikely to produce any flowers or fruit.

A worthwhile tip that I love to pass on is that the closer a shoot is growing towards the horizontal, the more likely it will be to set flower buds.

Painting large wounds with a copper based fungicide is thought to prevent fungal attack to open wounds. However, it has become difficult to source copper based paints as an amateur grower in the UK.


How much to cut out

When you are renovating old fruit trees do keep an eye on the amount that you are cutting out! Pile it up nearby so that you can then assess how much you have removed.  Compare the pile to how much wood is still left on the tree.

As a rule of thumb, it is best to limit the amount that you prune in any year to no more than a third. And that’s especially important if the tree has not been pruned regularly.

Let ‘a little and often’ be your maxim and don’t get carried away!


More practical tips

a pruned tree

A clean cut painted with copper solution

Clean cuts are the rule so your tools should be sharp. A jagged pruning cut may lead to fungal infection at that point.

I find that it’s always worthwhile undercutting large branches to prevent tearing. That is I make the first cut when removing larger branches by cutting underneath. I then cut from the top to meet up with the lower cut.

With big branches I recommend that you cut the majority of the branch off before making the final cut. Make this first cut away from the point the main trunk or branch. This is to reduce the branch weight and avoid leaving a nasty tear on the tree.

a large pruning wound on a tree

A large pruning wound healing well

It also pays to avoid cutting very close to any main branch.  This avoids enlarging the wound left but at the same time no need to leave a stub on which you could hang your coat!

Do cut out oldest branches. Also those that are crowding others by growing too close. Remove one branch if two are crossing. I like to remove branches growing into the tree centre and any that are damaged or diseased.

What not to prune

Don’t prune any stone fruits now as these take a long time to heal their wounds. In winter the spores of silver leaf disease are floating around looking for open wounds to attack.

These stone fruits are best pruned when in full leaf.

Popular stone fruits are cherries, plums, apricots, peaches and nectarines.


What to do with the bits you remove

prunings shredder machine

Electric shredder for chipping the tree prunings

Of course, the prunings will make good chippings if passed through a chipper.

However, forget digging the chippings straight into your borders now.

If you do then the millions of microbes that get to work breaking them will rob your plants of nitrogen as they get to work on the chippings.

Your chippings are far better used on paths or stacked and composted before using as mulch.

If composting do mix any soft vegetable matter with it such as grass cuttings. Mix it in well and be prepared to turn the pile every now and then.

Some of the tops of your prunings can be saved as pea sticks.

Longer shoots perhaps for taller mange tout and sweet peas.

Some of course will come in handy for a natural plant support for floppy perennials. Do get them in early to allow the perennial’s new soft shoots to grow up through them.

You might like to read more about the use of chipped prunings here.


When bundled, these prunings are called faggots! Not the kind to have with peas and gravy or certainly not the very non PC use of this word that our American and Australian friends use it for!

In the past faggots were used under hay stacks and even under roads on soft ground.

I can just remember laying faggots under loose hay ricks with my father. There are even roads over moorland that are laid on faggots. I have felt the whole road float up and down when cattle have stampeded near such a road whilst I have been driving along it!

Other Useful Reading

Tree pruning, pea shoots, faggots

Tree prunings tied into ‘faggots’

I’ve written blogs on related subjects –

Tree Fruit Crop Thinning

Fruit tree pruning in winter

A review of the Henchman tripod ladder

Cloud pruning and lifting canopies [ornamental trees and shrubs]

Intensively trained garden fruit trees


So are you going to be renovating old fruit trees in the first few days of the New Year?

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