Pruning First Leaf Potted Trees

Written by Brent Holtz (UCCE San Joaquin) and David Doll (UCCE Merced)

Newly planted potted trees often have very flat branch angles. These must be pruned in order to push new, properly angled, growth.

Newly planted potted trees often have very flat branch angles. These must be pruned in order to push new, properly angled, growth.

The first dormant pruning of potted trees can present some difficulties when selecting primary scaffolds. Potted trees are often planted throughout the year because growers are no longer limited to planting bare root trees while they are dormant. Many successful orchards have been planted throughout the year, including in the months of July and August. These potted trees often have produced branches that have unsuitable angles, placement, or girth to develop into primary scaffolds. With this in mind, it is best to treat unpruned potted trees that are two to eight months of age as if they were recently planted bare root dormant planted trees and prune off all of their branches in the first dormant season. By doing so these trees will push new growth the following spring that should have enough branches from which to choose primary scaffolds that are spaced properly around the tree with appropriate vertical angles (~45 degrees).

October – April planted trees may have to be treated differently. In this case, it may be best to not prune these trees and allow them to push the new growth. After 2-3 months of growth – or after trees have extended the new growth 12-18 inches, the trees should be pruned back similar to that of a bare root in January. This will create better branching angles while not reducing the vigor of the tree. Cutting too much off of too young of trees may stunt the tree’s growth. It may also be better to not sucker these trees until adequate girth is achieved.

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