Fruit quality and size are based not on the amount or kind of fertilizer you apply but on how well you prune the plants in the spring before they bloom. You should be pruning your apple, peach, nectarine, apricot, pear and cherry trees now, as well as your blueberry, raspberry and blackberry shrubs.
To prune peaches and nectarines, first remove all branches growing above and below each main branch. Then remove all branches less than 12 inches long. Finally, prune all branches back to 18 inches.
For apricots, remove all long thin whips. Allow most spurs to remain on the main stems.
Prune apple trees into a pyramid shape, keeping the crotches of the scaffold branches as close to right angles as possible to allow light penetration into the middle of each tree. Next, remove any upper branches shading the lower branches. Why? Apple quality is dependent on direct sunlight striking the apples sometime during the day. Spacing the branches properly also allows maximum air circulation to minimize disease.
Cherries are pruned primarily to thin the canopy to maximize airflow and allow for better spray coverage. You’ll need to spray to prevent brown rot, a major problem in growing cherry trees in Maryland.
Blueberry plants also need severe pruning to produce the nickel-sized fruit that are easiest to harvest. Remove all the small twiggy growth and allow only the stout yellow, yellow-green or reddish stems to remain. No one likes to stoop to the ground to harvest blueberries, so train those new branches to belly height and higher to make it easier to harvest quality fruit.
When pruning blackberries, remove the oldest canes down at the soil line and prune back the side shoots to two or three nodes from which the new stems will grow. I drive a fence post near each blackberry plant and loosely tie the main canes round each fence. To train the plants, I also use three strands of trellis wire on each side of the beds.
Most of the new raspberry varieties are primarily cane, so you will need to prune away all of the canes each spring. The new canes will grow from the roots and produce fruit. If you are still growing some of the older varieties of raspberry, remove all of the canes that produced fruit last year and space the remaining canes six to eight inches apart by first removing the weak and small canes.
Learn to Prune from the Bay Gardener
I will demonstrate how to prune blueberries and peaches starting around 9am on March 21 at Upakrik Farm, 420 East Bay Front Rd., Deale (turn is north of Park’s Liquors). All are welcome to come and learn.