Most fruit trees are pruned the same way, making winter pruning a fairly straightforward task, but there are a few exceptions.
With some fruit trees, the ends of their branches shouldn’t be cut off, otherwise they won’t fruit, because they either fruit from the ends of the branches, or only produce fruiting branches from the uncut ends of older branches.
In the previous article How to Prune a Fruit Tree, Step By Step we discussed the general rule for pruning fruit trees, which is as follows:
Cut back all new growth back by half (or as little as 1/3, up as much as 2/3 depending on length), to an outward-facing bud, making the cut at a 45-degree angle, and 6mm (1/4”) above the outward-facing bud, to shorten the fruiting branches back to a manageable length.
That’s a general pruning rule, which applies to most fruit trees, but in this article we’ll look at the exceptions – figs, persimmons and pomegranates.
Winter Pruning Figs
Some fig varieties produce two crops a year in temperate and sub-tropical climates.
- The first crop (known as a breba crop) is produced on the tips of the previous season’s growth (year-old wood).
- The second and much larger main crop, is produced at the base of the current season’s growth.
The best way to prune figs is to cut back the longer branches by half, sacrificing the early breba crop, while leaving the shorter branches untouched to produce the early breba crop.
After a year, the shorter branches will grow into longer branches, and the pruned longer branches will produce many short side-branches which will carry a breba crop. The cycle repeats, year after year, alternating the long and short branches, so in any year, the fig tree has a mix of short and long branches, producing both a breba crop and main crop.
In the first year, new growth arising from last year’s growth (year-old wood) is pruned back.
- long branches of current season’s growth is cut back by half to an outward or downward facing bud in winter, so it can produce more branches next year and renew the fruiting wood.
- short branches are left unpruned, as the early breba crop is prodiced neat the ends of year-old wood.
In the second year, the pruned branches will shoot new branches from their buds, and these new branches will carry next year’s breba crop on their tips if they are left unpruned.
The short branches that were not pruned will grow in length, and the new growth is cut back by half to a downward or outward facing bud in winter.
In the third year, the cycle repeats. The new branches grow in length and are cut back, and the pruned branches shoot form their buds to produce new short branches which will carry the breba crop.
Here are all three pruning diagrams shown side-by-side to show how the branches grow and are cut.
Winter Pruning Persimmons
Persimmons have very brittle wood, and if the branches are allowed to get too long, they are prone to breaking under the weight of the fruit. If they’re not pruned, persimmons trees have a tendency to biennial cropping, where they produce a large crop one year, and almost nothing the next. They definitely must be pruned!
Persimmons fruit from new growth that arises from the last few buds of the previous season’s growth. If the ends of all the new branches produced last season are pruned off, this will effectively remove all the fruiting wood.
To prune a persimmon tree, leave some shorter new growth unpruned, this will produce the fruit. The longer new growth can be pruned back to a few buds from the main branch.
After a year of growth, the short branches will grow in length to become long branches, and the pruned branches will produce many short branches, which will be the new fruiting wood in two years time.
Winter Pruning Pomegranates
Pomegranates are vigorous growing trees, if left unpruned they can grow quite dense and crowded with lots of old, unproductive wood. They also sucker readily, producing many shoots from the base of the stem which rob the main tree of vigour. If left unpruned, the suckers will grow to produce more main trunks, resulting in a multi-trunk tree!
Pomegranates fruit on short shoots near the ends of branches, which remain productive for 3-4 years. If the ends of all branches are pruned off, no fruit will be produced for the year!
To prune a pomegranate tree, leave the younger 1-3 year old wood to produce fruit. Prune out unproductive older 4-5 year old wood back to a younger side branch at harvest time to renew fruiting wood.
Pruning is carried out at harvest time, which is not in winter, because it’s much easier to distinguish fruiting wood from non-fruiting wood. Any tangled branches and suckers which weren’t pruned earlier can be pruned out in winter.
Another option is to hedge pomegranates in winter rather than prune them, they can easily be pruned into edible hedges! How can a hedged pomegranate possibly fruit? In the first year it may not, as all the end of the branches may get clipped off, but over time, hedging creates lots of regrowth in random directions, and any branches which aren’t growing outwards will keep their branch tips intact and produce fruit.