January is traditionally considered a good time for pruning fruit trees and bushes… and let’s face it, there’s not much else to do in the garden at this time of year.
With the unusually warm winter we’re experiencing, it’s all the more important this season to do any necessary fruit pruning now rather than leaving it until February or early March. Trees and bushes will be coming out of dormancy much earlier than usual this year.
The crossing branches from this young apple tree should be removed.
A typical thicket of raspberries before cutting down and thinning
Half the rasberry canes in this bed have been thinned (rear row) and half cut down to the ground (front row).
This redcurrant bush has been pruned to create a more open, goblet-like shape.
Soft fruit is very straightforward to prune. Autumn fruiting raspberry canes are usually all cut off to a couple of inches above the ground in Jan/Feb, and summer fruiting raspberry canes thinned out leaving one new cane every 3 inches (also remove all the old dead ones which will be browner and sound hollow).
However, often people don’t know whether their raspberry canes are supposed to be summer or autumn fruiting… don’t worry, just treat half the row as summer fruiting, and the other half of the row as autumn fruiting. Any canes left standing will fruit earlier, and any cut right down will fruit later, giving a crop of berries over a longer period whatever sort you have.
Currant and gooseberry bushes are pruned with the aim of creating an open shape, like a bowl or wine goblet, with no branches in the centre of the bush. This improves air circulation (and simplifies picking too). Also obey the general principles of fruit pruning, removing any branches that are dead, diseased, damaged, or that cross over their neighbour, and cut back any that are too long and spindly.
Apart from that, it’s a good idea to try to create a 6-12 inch clear section of stem at the base of gooseberry bushes to aid weeding and prevent overladen branches from resting on the soil and taking root. The last thing you want is a thicket of gooseberry bushes – they are hard enough to weed around at the best of times with their long vicious spikes!
Blackcurrant bushes appreciate hard pruning, but red currant bushes should be pruned more lightly.
Moving onto the pear and apple trees… just follow the general principles (remove dead, damaged, diseased or crossing branches and cut back spindly ones to half or two thirds their length). Apart from this general tidying up, a long term aim is to create a nicely shaped, balanced tree, so remove branches if they are over congested, or if there are too many one one side of the tree.
Leave your cherry and plum trees completely alone if possible, as they don’t like to be pruned. If pruning of cherry or plum trees can’t be avoided (e.g. the tree is getting too big, seriously unbalanced, or is damaged or diseased) then don’t prune them in winter as this runs the risk of the tree contracting silver leaf disease. Prune young cherry or plum trees in April, and established trees in July.