Proper fruit tree pruning
Russ Metge from Simply Trees is here to share his journey as a business owner where he does’t just prune trees but also educates his clients on the importance of proper fruit tree pruning in Salt Lake City, UT.
Russ Metge is a professional Horticulturist with a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture from Brigham Young U-Idaho. He is a husband and father of four. He owns and operates Simply Trees, a pruning business in Salt Lake City that specializes in fruit tree pruning and horticultural pruning of other specialty trees, vines, and shrubs like Japanese Maples, grapes, roses, raspberries etc. He loves working outdoors, and the only thing he likes more than pruning fruit trees is teaching others how to prune fruit trees with his on-site, one-on-one fruit tree pruning workshops where clients learn how to prune fruit trees with there very own trees as examples. When Russ is not pruning trees he enjoys connecting with like minded gardeners online via Twitter, Facebook and his blog which can be found at www.simplytreesut.blogspot.com
Tell us a little about yourself.
So last time, I was father of 3 daughters expecting a fourth and now I’m a father of 4 daughters. probably the biggest change since last year. I own an operate a business in Salt Lake City where I pruned and care for people with fruit trees, mostly with a backyard orchard, a list of clients that I pruned for year after year after. I love my job! Not many people can say they love their job but I’m definitely one of them.
Tell us about your first gardening experience?
I don’t have a first experience. I’ve been around gardens since I was little kid. I do remember as a child, spending a lot of time in trees, just climbing trees. I have 4 brothers, and a sister, too both sides of me, one that’s al little bit older and brother a little bit younger, spent a lot of time climbing trees, lots of mature apple trees as a kid, catch honey bees in jars… see how many fit in a jar…
Yeah, just doing the typical boy thing.
Weren’t worried they’re gonna sting ya? I just heard people worrying about that the other day. I got out by our honey bees and never worry about getting stung.
I got stung several times throughout the summer, running around bare foot, stepping on a dandelion in the grass that had a bee on it, getting stung by a honeybee, just part of growing up for me. We were careful, we would just turn the jar upside down and the bees would fly upward.
What’s interesting. I just remember when the trees were in bloom they were just humming with bees, every single blossom had a bee on it. We have a few apricots trees starting to bloom here in SLC, and I seldomly see a honeybee… it’s kind of sad how it’s changed over the years. Now adays with all the pesticides and everything it’s definitely affected the bee population. I have seen that and experienced it first hand!
Maybe we can talk about what we can do to help the bees, you were saying that it’s raining is not a good time to prune.
There’s a lot of pest control, even organic gardeners have to do, it’s just different.
Good Cultural Practices for Fruit Tree Pruning Care
The first and most important part of making sure your trees is making sure your tree is not susceptible to pests is to have good cultural practices:
- is make sure your tree has plenty of water
- gets plenty of sunlight
- remove the lawn from the base of the tree.
- make sure that your tree is as healthy as can be
So it is make sure your tree has plenty of water, make sure your tree is planted in a location in your garden in a place where it gets plenty of sunlight, it’s important to make sure that you remove the lawn from the base of the tree. A lot of my customers plant their tree in the middle of the lawn, which is not a bad thing. Lawn mowers and string trimmers come and are damaging the bark and so there are a lot of things you can do to make sure that your tree is as healthy as can be.
I actully have one customer of mine, I pruned for the very first time, that I pruned for last year and he called me up in the summer, and I could just hear this anger in his voice, and he told me that his apricot tree, that he remembers planting whenhe first bought his house that was probably 2 feet and 30’ tall .
He called me and said his tree was dying, and I knew it wasn’t because I did anything wrong because pruning trees doesn’t kill trees.
I asked him did you look around the base of the trees, what do the leaves look like? And I started asking him all these questions. … No, nope, I think you pruned it too heavy. .. I said, go out and take some pictures and lets see if we can identify what’s going on with this tree.
So he went outside and took some pictures of the trunk and so inside the bark he could see the exoskeleton of an insect that had emerged from the bark.
But he, lost a mature tree that wasn’t just a tree, it was a tree that he was emotionally attached to, it was part of his existence, he’d had it for years, he was just devistated that it could happen. He broke down in tears. It’s hard for me to see something like that happen too.
I think we had a really early spring last year, had some pretty cold weather, then we had some cold snow, late in the season, then we had a really hot dry summer. So I think that tree was under a lot of stress, and experiencing drought conditions and struggling to get enough water, is the main reason it will be more susceptible to an infestation like that.
Every tree is going to have pests, it’s part of nature, its just part of gardening, that’s just what we do. When you put a tree under stress that’s what it’s gonna do. So we want to make sure the tree is as healthy as it can be… that’s the difference of life or death of a tree.
So you want to make sure the tree is as healthy as it can be… Most important thing you can do as a gardener to make sure that your fruit trees are going to be I don’t like to say pest free-
… able to fight off natural disease that occur in our areas.
Golden seeds, I’ve had a lot of guests talk about water is important and can help you with your production but also, here we are again and the spring is in the air, dry and hot and we’re almost ready to plant yesterday was the first day of spring. Suggestions and things listeners can do to stay healthy ahead of time.
So that’s kind of the cultural practices, the most important thing you can do.
It’s not just for pest control, you’re gonna get better fruit as well.
Multiple benefits to that, once you have good cultural practices …
Fruit Tree Pruning
Pruning is an important part of that. We talked about that in our first interview.
- will open up the tree
- it allows light into the tree
- more airflow
- it won’t get so much fungi breeding inside the canopy of the tree
Pruning is another practice, where pruning properly will help make sure that your tree is healthy.
One of the things I like to bring up during the pruning process, is correct pruning techniques are gonna minimize infestations.
I just pulled my chain saw out, which is a rare thing for me to do, and I took a peach tree down to ground level, it was infested, I maybe be pronouncing this wrong, but
It’s a fungal disease: affects the peach tree branches, causes bleeding you get that gummy sack, tree was pretty open, kind of in a shaded area, so the tree wasn’t planted correctly so it wasn’t getting the energy planted to stay healthy and then improper prunning techniques one of the steps in my 8 step pruning method that I use.
Is to remeove the leader, I like to open center to allow the sunlight and allow the air to flow in time the center of the tree. If you chop the leader out when the tree is mature it leaves a big wound at the very top of the tree, which is not a good thing because then if you get water up there, the moisture is a great place for fungus, the moisture sits on top of that.
The branches are composed of 2 parts:
- dead hardwood center core
- alive green flexible sapwood ring
the center which is kind of a darker color, if you’ve seen firewood there’s a darker core and a lighter ring of the branch. The center core is heartwood, it is dead wood, it’s only function is to give the tree structural integrity. It’s hard, it’s brittle, but it’s strong and it’s kind of like the rebar in the center of the tree. That out ring is a green layer, it’s flexible, and allows the tree to bend and move.
So the combination of hardwood and sapwood is perfect, with this rigid structure with flexibility to move in the wind.
Nature knows what it’s doing much better then you and I do, so it doesn’t have to think about it. That’s just the way it is. So if you make a large cut on your fruit tree, you’re exposing a large wound and in time that would is gonna seal off and heal, and close up, but if it’s a large wound, that sealing process, will take so long the inner core, that heartwood will begin to rot away. That affects the structural integrity of the tree. The tree will still live.
You’ve probably seen trees with a hollow rotted out core, really old trees will have a hollow core, they’ll survive year after year after year, but they could be stronger. If the core is going to rot out it doesn’t mean the trees going to die, but the structural integrity is gonna be compromised.
So that’s sort of a tangent from the citasporem infestiation on this peach tree. But what you can do, when you are pruning fruit trees that you’re
- starting when they are young, and
- you’re pruning the tree if you do have so you don’t have to remove a large branches.
If you have do have to remove a large branch or especially when you are removing the leader, the center part of the tree, you want to cut it perpendicular to the leader
don’t want to leave a flat surface on top of that cut, you want to cut it at a slight angle to allow moisture run off the tree.
Have you ever seen a large branch that’s been cut, and sort of swells, on the edges and starts to swell off, If you can imagine that but on top of your tree, if you remove a branch growing straight up and you imagine that welling happening around that wound, it’s gonna create a little bowl, where water will just sit there.
So that is just gonna cause all sorts of things with your trees…
Rot … and …
Yes, rot and citasporem.
I read an article if you cut that one, prunning technique, if you just cut any branch that growing upward it at a slight angle, that alone is repsonsible for making your orchard 50% better results at keeping the citasporem infestation likely in an orchard.
Just making it a cut at a slight angle. The point is prunning is an important part of making sure your tree is healthy, and it has to be done correctly, and you need to educate yourself on the correct methods, so that you make sure that your getting superior results and not damage your tree.
Tell people the best advice for pruning:
- do it when trees are young
- stay on top of it when the trees are young…
less likely to make mistakes when the tree is young, you’re much less likely to have these problems I’ve been talking about but if you wait and let it go fro years you’re just increasing your risk of the tree failing in the future due to pest problems.
The website is gonna tell you a little bit more about the company, if I was gonna work in my area.
I teach an onsite fruit tree pruning workshop.
So people hire me to come out to their backyard, and teach them how to prune fruit trees one on one and we use their tree as the example. And so the reason we bring this up, is because the outline to that course is on the blog and it’s free!
All the information that I teach people, is there and it’s free and anybody can access it, and as I go through the outline if I mention a word you don’t know. It likely will take you to another blog post that explains that word and gives you specific information. It’s growing more and more each year.
I’ve been adding more about pest control, as my clientele grows, I’m getting a lot of questions are about pest control, they are usually pest control related. There will be more blog posts about pest control and how to treat them organically.
Probably as people are seeing more pests as the environment and as our climate changing, that’s probably very valuable, with new pests and diseases coming up everyday.
Yes, that’s true with the emerald ash bore, that’s moving across the country, it’s not even native to here but once it’s introduced, because it has no natural predators it can devastate entire forests.
We’re living in much more hostile environment when it comes to pests then we did 10 years ago.
Wow, so I don’t know anything about that… what’s the emerald ash bore?
They believe it was brought in through shipping containers through packing material or pallets of freight or something like that made from ash trees in Asia, but in Asia it’s not a major pest. They had a hard time trying to identify what this pest was and where it came from. But once it was introduced to the US, it came in through Michigan and the Great Lakes, it devastated all of the ash trees in those areas. Once it’s in the area, unless the treated properly the mortality rate is 100%. Its just one example of how we’re living in much more hostile environment.
it took years and years and to discover, what it was and how to treat it, so a lot of research is focused on one particular pest,
we’re a little more prepared for it.
What other pests are you getting… that you see on the fruit trees then?
the one that people complain about the most
coddling moth that bores into the apple trees
anyone who grows apples probably knows about coddling moths. It’s difficult to control, because it is a caterpillar, there are some organic pesticides.
some I don’t recommend unless they are absolutely necessary, even though they are from extracts plants, they’re not selective and its not like their gonna kill one bug and not another.
- Neem oil is really common for insects that have a piercing sucking mouth part like aphids and mites and stuff.
- It’s a horticulture oil but it can affect the beneficial insects as well. Its’ extracted from neem oil, but it will effect
- pyrethrum an extract from a daisy like chrysanthemum flower
- attacts a bugs nervous system, shuts down, some bugs recover but usually what happens, the bug is paralyzed till it’s starved to death That you can use on fruit trees, but it basically, doesn’t mean that your not gonna be killing bees and beneficial insects. A lot of it has to do with the timing.
Make sure it’s timing is right.
don’t spray a tree in full bloom,
if you do you’re gonna be willing bees
some insects are only present at certain times
base of tree, it’s easy to treat when it’s
once it’s in the bark
time it so when it emerges and and flying around laying it’s eggs. You want to have something on the base of tree, when the adults are laying their eggs, so you can interrupt the life cycle of the pest.
Just because they are organic doesn’t mean it’s safe. What’s good about something that’s organic is it decomposes immediately, where as the synthetic pesticides are designed to be persistent, designed to last a long time and not so gardeners don’t have to spray over and over again … a lot longer to prevent, they have a lot longer negative affects to the environment.
I think it’s great. Nobody’s talked about that I can think of that the organic pesticides are gonna go away instead of stick around. One thing people have talked about is that you have to keep using more pesticides because they lose their power?
The reason they lose their powers. they’re interrupting process that
I spent a few years in the Philippines, and there are some very large cockroaches, and very large spiders, crawling on you in the middle of the night. I don’t know what you wanted crawling on you fans blowing on us through the night if we saw a cockroach, we killed it, we gave them the sole treatment, if we saw them we just whacked them with the sole of your shoe, so we gave them the “sole” treatment. One night I saw this spider running across the wall, with this cockroach so much bigger then it…. I didn’t know the spiders were eating the cockroaches…
If I were to come in and spray the house, now there’s no beneficial insect eating the cockroach, and I’ve interrupted that whole natural cycle, so now I have to spray on a regular basis in order to keep both of them out of the house. That’s where we’ve interrupted a lot of these natural processes, that take care of these pests naturally.
Using organic methods in your garden, the idea is not eradication, we don’t want to eradicate, it’s control, finding that threshold, Yes, I’ll take a few apples with some wormhole that I can cut out those worm holes, but I want to keep my tree from completely dying.
I don’t want an apricot tree that is mature, I don’t want it to die completely, so I want to keep an infestation from occurring, but I don’t want to iradicate everything. If you eradicate everything if you leave a piece of dirt fallow, you’re gonna have more weeds then if you left
same with pest control, it creates a vacuum, stuffs gonna come in to fill that void, and bad pests are gonna fill that void.
that’s kind of where we want to work with nature
synthetic pesticides, were gonna be fighting nature. For the chemical fertilizers, it’s like crack it gives the garden high, as soon as it gets off that high it’s like, ou have to replace it with more crack. It’s an addiction.
it’s a difficult process from chemical warefare.
Those were great examples, it made it very visuall, and we could see them… I would take a spider of a cockroach anyway. Spiders don’t bother me.
In the Philipines, they stayed on the walls. And we had geckos that would hangout inside the lights. We have mosquitos would hang out…
That’s another example where we can work with nature, we can take care of these pests and some people might be bothered about geckos in their houses.
It seems like I had a friend send me pictures from Key West with geckos in Florida in their house. So the other day I was talking to Howard Garret the Dirt Doctor talking about using corn meal for fungus.
I’ve heard of corn gluten being used as a natural pre-emergent for weeds, so it unnaturally keeps the weeds from germinating. Corn meal I haven’t heard of for fungicide. Neem oil, for
We put some cinnamon oil with water to spray for aphids for some plants…
a lot of plants
people are afraid of [esticides
some landscape plants that you put in your garden have natural pesticides qualities
some plants are actually poisonous, even to humans.
There’s a taxis genus that is a yew pine with little red berries, those berries are highly toxic to humans. Part of the reason is to keep pesticides away from your home is the toxicity and posion, but know some landscape plants can be toxic and poison if you’re concerned about that it might be good to do some research and find out what landscape plants are toxic and what plants are beneficial that are maybe deterent for insects.
planting things like onions, I’ve heard that marigolds will help deter pests. You can actually plant feverfew in the Chrysanthemum family that has some of this natural pyrethem.
Especially if you’re using plants that will naturally deter insects in your garden.
started talking about the coddling moth and how hard it is to control
lots of organic sprays that you can put on, the coddling moth enters before it starts to feed, so if you spray something on the outside of your apple it’s not really effective. So what people do is get these little bags from Japan, the the apple will mature inside the bag, that’s an example of a a mechanical prodcut that will protect your fruit from being attacked by this pest.
We talked about cultural methods
but there are also mechanical methods
You can put sticky traps in your fruit trees, they are usually used identifying what’s attacking your trees and then you can treat it properly.
there are other traps
mechanical methods of pest controls.
Even a fly zappers, we had a conversation on twitter, if you would will kill beneficials if they are zapping mosquitos and have a few casualties, to keep these mosquitos from eating me. Maybe you just turn it on for an hour.
So there are all these things you can do
- mechnical device
- to help you in your pest controls
- good pruning habits
- organic pesticides
a lot of tools to keep their plants healthy without having to use synthetic toxic chemicals in your landscape.
Maybe there are two more products I could mention now while we’re talking about it.
there’s a product called BT
we talk about chemical warfare, this is biological warfare.
it’s a bacteria strain, it infects the gut of caterpillars, caterpillars from butterflies and moths, so if this bacteria you spray it on the tree and it starts to feed on that leaf it grows in the stomach the caterpillar starts feeding and dies. So if a mammal or a beneficial insect eats an aphid, it’s not gonna affect those types of pests because it’s specific to caterpillars.
its just bacteria and know with all pesticides, you don’t want to spray your fruit tree and then it effects milkweed where the monarch butterflies.
You need to follow directions, use it responsibly, there could be some negative effects
on insects that we don’t want to kill. We have diatemacsou earth
- a powdery clay substance,
- it’s fossilized sea creatures
- it’s really fine,
- a powdery dust
you can mix it with water and spray plants with it, it’s just a powdery dust for us, but if you look under a magnifying glass, it’s like razor blades, it gets inside the insect.
Diatemaceous earth is another product it’s not a pesticide that helps to control pests,, it’s just a dirt basically. Those are other products you can use,
there are a lot of things you can do t o keep the tree from dying. It’s not worth putting all that energy into your tree and then see it die because of an infestation.
I was gonna say back when you were talking about wasps things in the fruit trees. That’s good because the wasps eat the honey bees too?
There’s different wasp species, wasps are considered beneficial, in many ways, they’re predatory insects.
There are small wasps that lay their eggs inside the aphids, and when it hatches, it emerges and the aphid dies… Mud dobbers,
Yeah, they show up on the back of picture frames in my house!
it’s a mud robbers, If you we’re to find a mud dobber nest that doesn’t have a hole, that’s the larva still in there. The hole is the larva emerging out as an adult. I pulled off a mud robber nest that was still sealed off and I looked inside, and it was packed full of spiders, it catches a spider, stuffs this tube full of spiders, lays it’s egg in there, when the egg hatches it feeds on those spiders, and then the it emerges as an adult.
They’re predators, they feed on other insects, each species has a different habit and
preference on food. So it’s just good to identify. This is a good point any pest.
If you are concerned about a pest,
- try to identify what it is
- learn about its breeding and feeding habits
- you can determine if it’s beneficial insect or a harmful insect
If it’s not a beneficial insect.
If you determine it’s a harmful insect:
- you can learn about its breeding and feeding habits
- try to identify what it is
- you can interrupt that life cycle.
- you can interupt it’s feeding habits
learn about its breeding and feeding habits,
If you are concerned about a pest, you can determine if it’s beneficial insect or a harmful insect. And if it’s harmful you can learn about its breeding and feeding habits, and then once you can interrupt that life cycle, if it is a harmful insect you can interrupt the breeding cycle, it’s feeding habits eliminate what it’s feeding on and that will eliminate the pest. The more you understand, the more self education you do to learn about a specific pest the better you will be able to control that.
Identification is an important part of that, I know we usually ask about an internet resource this might be a good one.
There’s a Facebook page called the insect id Facebook page, and I have learned so much about pests from that page, you just shoot a picture of it. A lot of people submit a blurry picture that makes it hard to identify but if you move your phone back and forth, and you get a nice clear image, as close as you can, keep it clear, there are some amazingly smart people who watch that all day, who are happy to help you identify what that pest is.
It’s an awesome resource, better then any website that gives you a picture with word.s Usually within minutes you get a response! 1000’s of members and 1000s of experts waiting to help. It’s a huge resource!
Do you want to answer any of those ordinary questions I usually ask?
Well we’re still, in between places, in a temporary place now, so I haven’t spent a lot of time in our own garden, so busy helping other people with their gardens.
Last year the peaches did pretty good, apples did good. One thing that seldom does well in Utah, are cherries, it seems like when a customer says they want to plant a cherry tree, my comment is “yeah, they make great bird food.”
IT’s just so hard to know when the harvest is, and the birds know exactly when they are ready to harvest, I’ve had so many customers kind of watch their cherries, and they come out with their bowl in the morning and the birds have just wiped it clean in 24 hours.
Maybe you could watch birds if you like birdwatching!
Yep! for that one day
There are organic controls there too, an example of a mechanical netting, you need to be careful, because some birds would be caught in that net.
Make sure that you prune your tree that so that the height is low enough that you could put a net. Some cherry trees get so tall, it would be impossible to get a net over that tree.
The birds kind of did that to us last year. We just have pie cherries.
This is my favorite time!
They make nice flowers in the spring too, when the blooms.
It’s timed almost predictable, you can see the apricots first start blowing, well first you get crocus and forsythia then you start getitng the apricots, magnolias, pears
then the red buds come al little later… see that as different varieites of plants all bloom at a different rate, and then they all kind of go in an order…
When we first started talking you said something about the rain today and it could create fungus.
So, fireblight is a bacterial deisease that affects mostly apples and pears in this area, if there is any fire blight in a tree, and you start climbing it in the rain, and the rain spreads that really bad, so if I’m pruning and moving through the tree, and touching stuff, you just run the risk of causing a lot of damage from fireblight in the tree. You shouldn’t do pruning when the tree is wet, make sure that everything’s dry. There’s other fungal disease that can spread on a day.
Today’s kind of a rain day, hopefully it dries up, probably gonna have to my books.
Yep I know that well! You shared a ton of stuff with us today about how to keep everything healthy in your yard!
It’s a complicated subject to talk about pest control, it’s complicated and it can be overwhelming. IT’s best to start somewhere if you see a bug in your landscape, maybe that’s where you start,
- take a picture
- identify it,
- learn about it
person can sit down and learn everything you need to learn one weekend, every weekend, just like plants you have to plant, you have to watch it as a baby, and then when it grows to a mature fruit, experiencing it. Really we put so much emphasis on the pests that attack those plants
To have bettter success as a gardener
- if you identify a pest
- organic ways to control that pest
there’s a lot to learn, so helpfully this gave them a good overview. Do you just want to review the 4 things you were saying at the beginning.
- make sure your plants are healthy
- mulching them
- soil is good so they can feed the plant give the plant all the nutrients it needs.
- don’t water in the evening and putting moisture on the leaves, that just sits there stagnent all night long especially in the summer, when it’s dark and damp. You’ll get fungus growing on the plants if it’s damp.
That’s what the cultural practices, what you do as a gardener as a landscaper is what you do to keep it healthy, that’s probably the most important part you can do as far as making sure you have a healthy garden.
- proper pruning techniques
- prune when it’s young
- make the cut the right way
- not cutting large branches
- open up the center so it has light and has airflow through the tree and it stays dry
- beneficial insects can come in and feed on the harmful
- mechanical controls
- bags to put around your fruit
- sticky traps
- some organic pesticides like pyrethrum and neem oil that could be used last resort, but make sure you are timing it correctly, and where you are applying it and at what point do you decide to introduce that
- biological control with BT that affects the gut of caterpillars
- DE that you can spray or mix with water to spray on plants.
A lot of different tools there. Everything we talked about, a good overview of how to organically keep pests from becoming an infestation and ultimately killing a mature fruit tree.
Once again you were a fan static guest and I’m sure listeners have at least on tree if not more fruit trees in their yard. We have one of those old trees, and it has one of those big leaders, I’m gonna have Mike look at your website before he cuts that.
I think that was form Cornell or purdue ipm, insect pest management, from one of those two universities, but it talked about the citasporem infestation, how cutting that angle will make a 50% improvement.
I can totally relate to that man, because it’s like our oldest tree and it produces the most apples. What about birds being good for eating those harmful insects.
They’re infected by pesticides too, theres a lot of granualar things people put on lawns and birds will come, they have a crop where they feed on seeds, and they pick up gravel. The crop crushes that together, before they move it to their stomach, and they pick up rocks and pebbles and sand…. Sometimes they pick up those granules and that will kill them too.
I think people are gonna think if I have an old tree, maybe it will produce a little more maybe I can think of some things I can do to make it a little healthier and grow a little longer and not have to cut it down.
even the oldest ones if you and all the other lateral branches that need to be moved, so plant your replacement as long as it’s still giving you fruit and you can get that up and going. Even the oldest ones if you know what you’re doing you can get some fruit out of it if you take care of it.
I love answering questions, people elsewhere have that same questions, so if I answer your questions I can use that to help thousands of people, comment on the blog, ask me questions, tweet, email me, I love to help to people!
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