When it’s not snowing, now is the time to prune apple and pear trees, whilst they are dormant. Plums should not be pruned at this time of year, as they are prone to silver leaf disease which enters the tree through pruning wounds. They should be pruned in late spring or summer during dry weather.
The purpose of pruning apple and pear trees is either to train them into a shape such as an espalier or cordon, to grow against a wall or fence, or, if growing as a standard bush tree, to maintain an open goblet shape which makes it easy to pick fruit and allows air to get to the branches, so avoiding disease.
Make sure you have a clean and sharp pair of secateurs – if they have previously been used for anything diseased, disinfect them before using them again. Use a pair of bypass secateurs, and press the ‘heel’ (the non sharp side) above the cutting blade so that it bruises the part of the branch to be cut off and not the tree.
The first job is to get rid of any dead, diseased or damaged wood. Then take out the weaker of any crossing branches. When branches cross and rub against each other, this allows opportunity for disease to get in to the tree. In order to retain a nice open goblet shape, or the espalier or cordon shape, always prune to an outward facing bud. Slope the cut away from the bud, so that rain water will run away from the bud and not rot it. Aim to leave about three buds from the previous year’s growth on the tree.
Espaliers and cordons will also need to be pruned in summer to maintain the shape.
For more information on pruning, growing, planting or buying fruit trees, consult the Henry Doubleday Research Association Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening (published by Dorling Kindersley), which has a good section on growing fruit, or the RHS Encyclopedia of Gardening (also published by Dorling Kindersley).