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Experts demonstrate the art of pruning fruit trees

Four dozen people turned out Wednesday for a professional pruning demonstration geared not toward commercial growers but average homeowners with fruit trees growing in their backyard.

The event, now entering its fourth decade after last year's pandemic-related cancellation, was timed to coincide with the dormant season — "the best time to prune your tree," said the event's instructor, Orchard Systems Advisor Mohammad Yaghmour with the University of California Cooperative Extension in Kern County.

He led a question-and-answer session between demonstrations of techniques and equipment, showing people what to do and what not to do if they want a tree that survives and tasty fruit later in the year.

There are different approaches to pruning that suit different kinds of trees, Yaghmour explained as he snipped away at a peach tree. He demonstrated a small "heading cut" that can promote stronger growth, then provided an example of a "thinning cut" that removes growth — and explained the proper use of each.

He said the first twigs and branches to cut are the broken ones, followed by those that are dying or overlap, then twigs that curve downward or are too close to others. Letting in light for optimum coloring of fruit is another consideration, Yaghmour added. He also recommended cutting away all suckers.

Precipitation can lead to infection in a tree that's recently been pruned, he said, so it's best to do all the cutting at the start of a dry 10-day forecast. If a tree is dying, his recommendation was to replace it.

Because trees will produce a given mass of fruit each year, Yaghmour explained, pruning can influence whether the output is greater in number or greater in size. The longer fruit is left on a tree, he noted, the better the chances it will suffer damage from pests.

One option to consider for defending a fruit tree against pests, he said, is diluted latex paint from a hardware store.

UC Cooperative Extension Advisor John Karlik said Kern County happens to have good soil, temperatures and weather for growing fruit but that it's important to prune the trees correctly.

"Fruit trees are very unforgiving," he said. Each tree "responds exactly to its environment."

His view was that growing fruit imparts psychological benefits.

"It does give a person more of a sense of time, a sense of seasons," he said. "Some things can't be rushed."