Why in the dickens am I mentioning summer pruning now? Well many people still don’t know that it’s possible to prune throughout the summer. I used to have to cover summer pruning during winter pruning lectures because nobody would sign up for just a summer pruning class in the summer. In fact summer pruning may be more helpful than winter pruning. Summer pruning [especially repeated pruning] is the best way to control a tree that is growing to tall or fast. Summer pruning slightly reduces the tree’s vigor. While winter pruning stimulates new growth in the spring as it begins to leaf out.
Grandfather never lied. When he said “pruning trees in the summer is bad, especially with fruit trees—they might bleed to death” he was just repeating an heirloom myth. I know better now. Summer pruning will not cause plants to perish. In reality, summer pruning is a very valuable addition to the gardener’s repertoire of techniques (a tool, if you will) for shaping and nurturing all garden growth.
Summer Pruning’s Virtues
There are many practical aspects to summer pruning. First, it’s comfortable; you can wear shorts and a tee shirt instead of being cumbersomely bundled up. Now, pruning is spread over a greater number of months to ease a gardener’s busy spring. Since the foliage is readily visible, it’s easier to spot dead, damaged, or diseased growth; and you can watch how pruning effects light and shadow patterns.
It offers more opportunities to control unwanted growth on a tree. Mid- to late-summer is the best time to remove unwanted suckers and so-called water sprouts—those poorly-named straight shoots which tower through a tree’s crown [a.k.a., canopy] or along the top of horizontal limb—with a single pruning.
Summer pruning can allow you to enjoy bountiful flowering and then control the size of the tree. Summer pruning allows more light into the crown to add a colorful blush to ripening fruit. Pruning cuts callus-over with the assistance of active photosynthesis, sealing the wound.
Summer Pruning’s Shortcomings
Foremost, summer pruning is a new concept to many. Pruning trees in leaf makes it harder to see a deciduous tree’s winter branching pattern. The main and secondary limbs may get sunburned. [When pruning in hot summer areas, cut with discretion, leaving enough foliage to protect the main the trunk.] If you prune too late in the summer where winters are cold, any new growth will be vulnerable to some freeze damage. With fruit trees, some fruit may be knocked off if you prune on older limbs before harvesting.
Some diseases enter open pruning cuts. The fungus Anthracnose sp. causes cankers and enters cuts during fall rains in the west—don’t prune too late in the summer, allow plenty of time for a callus to form. Check the Cooperative Extension Service and its Master Gardener Program or an arborist for other diseases specific to your area.
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