How to prune winter fruits

Nick Moyle and Rich Hood 27 November 2020

One of the most important allotment jobs to do at this time of year is to prune your fruit trees and bushes. Pruning will ensure your plants stay in peak condition, which will hopefully maximise your fruity harvest the coming season

Not all types of fruit should be pruned at this time of year but we have four—apple, blackcurrant, gooseberry and autumn raspberries—that require us to don our winter coats and get busy with the secateurs. 


Apple trees

Some of our allotment apple trees are approaching 10 years old—we’ll be cutting them back to shape them and keep them from casting too much shade over the rest of our plot. 

The key is to avoid removing more than 20 per cent of the branches. A heavy cut at this time of year will cause the tree to throw out a multitude of thin branches in the spring, making the tree overly dense and less productive. We want our trees uncluttered and airy to allow sunlight in to ripen the fruits—ideally pruned to create an open, goblet shape. 

Any branches that cross over will be removed, along with any dead or diseased wood. We’ll use secateurs to deal with small branches and twigs—branches thicker than thumb-width will be dispatched with a pair of lopping pruners. Large branches will feel the wrath of our fearsome branch saw.


Blackcurrant bushes

The tart round berries of the blackcurrant grow best on the bushes’ newest branches, ie those that grew in the year just gone. 

We’ll first target old branches at the base of the plant, chopping them out as close to the ground as we can manage. This will focus growth onto younger shoots which will shoot forth in springtime. 

We’ll also remove any straggly branches that run parallel to the ground and, just to keep the plant to a manageable size, we’ll also remove any branches that are veering too far from a vertical direction.


Gooseberry bushes

Gooseberries tend to be more robust than blackcurrants, and will grow fruit happily on both old or new stems. It’s still worth chopping out any stems that are over three years old, as they will begin to run out of steam and be less productive. 

We’ll remove these oldies first, then set to work on any overcrowded areas, thinning out stems to allow new shoots to grow. We’ll also chop back all remaining branches by a half to set us in good stead for a bulging berry bounty next year. 

Wearing a decent pair of thornproof gloves is always advisable when dealing with gooseberry bushes as its spiny stems can pack a real punch.


Raspberry canes

Our final late autumn/early winter fruit pruning task is also the easiest. We grow autumn fruiting varieties of raspberries which simply require hacking back to ground level. In springtime, new canes will emerge from the stumps which will bear the season's fruits. 

Folks with summer fruiting raspberries will need to chop back stems that have borne fruit the season just gone—a task that should ideally be conducted mid-autumn.


Aftercare for your tools

Once your winter pruning session is complete, it’s important to give your tools a good clean. Chances are it will be a while before you use them next, and overwinter storage in damp sheds is an invitation for rust to come a-knocking. 

Carefully remove any sappy residue with a scourer or similar, wipe the blades down with oil and add a drop or two to any mechanisms. Tools with wooden handles will also benefit from a wipe down with linseed oil or a similar wood nourishing oil.

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