Fig winter die-back and spring pruning

Posted on Categories Blog, Home, Orchard Care, Plant Profiles, Plants, Tree CareTags , , , , , , , ,
After a rough winter with some single digit temperatures, we’re very pleased to see most of the figs in the city sprouting new growth!  The amount of winter damage has been very variable from site to site and even one tree to another.  Some are sprouting high on the tree:

Some are only sprouting from the roots at the base:

And some even have survived well enough to set an early Breba fig crop:
Early Breba fig crop forming at Earth’s Keepers Farm in West Philly, May 2018.

The amount of fig winter damage depends primarily on location and microclimate (proximity to thermal mass like walls or wind protection) as well as whether the figs were wrapped or otherwise protected for the winter.  Although most established figs should have survived, some fig crops are likely to be greatly reduced this year.  Some cultivars with shorter growing seasons (like Chicago Hardy, Celeste, Takoma Violet, etc) are more likely to regrow and fruit in the same year.

If you still haven’t seen any signs by late May, I’d still give it the month of June before giving up completely.
Once it is clear where the regrowth is occurring, cut back your figs to just above any signs of green leaf or bud growth using loppers, handsaw, or pruners.  Reddish-brown wood is always dead and should definitely be removed.  In some cases, this could mean removing most or all of the branches after a harsh winter.  Good news is that figs are quite resilient plants and if they survived the winter, they are likely to make a full recovery.  A lot of winter damage is likely to result in a reduced crop and hopefully inspire greater effort at winter protection next year!  For more information on winter protection strategies and growing figs in cold climates, see our previous article:
And our primer on some favorite fig cultivars for Philadelphia:

This blog post was written by POP Executive Director Phil Forsyth. 

SUPPORT US!  If you found this entry useful, informative, or inspiring, please consider a donation of any size to help POP in planting and supporting community orchards in Philadelphia: phillyorchards. org/donate.

Does your tree look like it’s bleeding sap? It might be Bacterial or Fungal Canker!

Posted on Categories Blog, Home, Tree DiseasesTags , , , , , , ,

We recently received an update from Penn State Extension about bacterial canker on stone fruits (cherry, plum, peach, etc.) which provides one upside to hot midsummer temperatures. According to their recommendations, “summer is the best time to prune your [effected] trees, particularly during dry weather. The bacteria do not like hot, dry conditions and the pathogen population will be at its lowest. Research out of Cornell showed no benefit of copper applications before and after pruning. Save copper sprays for the fall and early spring when cool, wet weather favor bacterial populations to grow and trees will be the most vulnerable.”

So, what is canker? I’ve done some more research and found online resources to help you out with explanation, identification, pruning, and management tips! When there’s no precipitation scheduled in the forecast and its been dry for a couple days, please get outside, monitor your trees, and water any young plants, get your emergency pruning done!

To ask more questions and learn more about pest and disease management of fruit trees, stay tuned in to POP’s upcoming events lists for Community Orchard Resilience Education (POPCORE) course updates and specific Pest and Disease Management Classes.

Bacterial Canker (bacterial)

Latin names: Pseudomonas syringae and P. morsprunorum

Common names: gummosis, blossom blast, spur and twig blight, sour sap, and dieback

Cytospora Canker (fungal)

Latin names: Leucostoma persoonii and Leucostoma cinctum (teleomorph) and Cytosporaleucostoma and Cytospora cincta (anamorphs)

Common names: perennial canker, peach canker, Valsa canker, and Leucostoma canker

Identification (plenty of photos below)

These infections are most noticeable when it looks like sap is oozing out of your tree in one or more places. This sap is, in fact, the pathogen surrounded by a sugary layer of protection, which can then be spread via water droplets carrying the bacteria or through fungal spores carried in wind and water.

Cankers don’t always have to be oozing, however. Older or dormant infections might appear as sunken areas on branches or trunk bark, dessicated (dry) and cracked areas, areas that look like the tree has tried to heal over old wounds, or areas that look scarred.

Fruiting buds, vegetative buds, flowers, leaves, and fruits can all be affected by these diseases and show dieback (flowers, leaves), spotting (leaves and fruits), or gummosis (buds, fruits) as well.

NOTE: Identification, pruning, and management of the bacterial fire blight (Erwinia amylovora) and fungal apple canker (Neonectria ditissima) on pome fruits (apple, pear, Asian pear, juneberry, etc.) are very similar to those of these stone fruit diseases. If you have any of these, emergency pruning is also necessary at this time.

ANOTHER NOTE: Some of these symptoms may be from insect pest problems. Oozing sap could be an indication of oriental fruit moth, peach twig borer, or peachtree borer getting into your shoots, trunk, or fruits. Dieback (called flagging in this case) of new shoots could be an indication of oriental fruit moth or peach twig borer. However, any entry point in your tree from insects is an open wound that could be more susceptible to fungal or bacterial infection.

Bacterial canker of plum tree (Robyn Mello)
Blossom and leaf dieback are also symptomatic of infection, though there are insect pests that can cause similar appearances. (
Manifestation of advanced canker on unripe peaches. This will completely rot fruit before it ripens, and fruit left on the ground will continue to spread the disease next season. (photo credit: Robyn Mello)
Blossom and leaf dieback are also symptomatic of infection, though there are insect pests that can cause similar appearances. (
Blossom and leaf dieback are also symptomatic of infection, though there are insect pests that can cause similar appearances. (
An infection may not always look like it’s oozing. Here, a dry wound may still be harboring bacteria or fungus and should be cut out. (


Always disinfect your tools with isopropyl alcohol, bleach solution, or hot water and soap before removing every new canker. One organic orchardist out of Wales disinfects his tools with milk between cuts instead, which has anti-bacterial qualities and apparently works for him.

Tools you will likely need are pruning shears, pruning saw, a sharp knife (grafting knife, pruning knife, pocket knife, or sharp kitchen knife), and possibly chisel and hammer. Placing a sheet, tarp, or large garbage bag under you while pruning may help to keep infected debris from getting lost on the ground. You’ll want to remove all material from the site.

If infections are apparent in your main trunk, thicker branches, and branch crotches connected to the main trunk or thicker branches, you may be able to get away with cutting out the infection rather than removing the entire limb. To do so, cut into the outer layer of bark a couple of inches out from where your canker is showing, and peel that back to reveal the wood underneath. Infected wood is most likely brown/black and may have gummy residue. Cut all of that brown/black wood out by notching with a knife, saw, or chisel and hammer until all that you see exposed is clean and green, healthy wood.

After cutting into a canker site, the darkened center of this wood is what the infection looks like inside the tree. If cutting canker off, make sure you have clean, green wood or you haven’t cut deeply enough. (photo credit: Robyn Mello)

If smaller branches are infected and you can’t find clean and green wood below your cut, you’ll have to prune the entire branch back to where it is clean and green, and to a bud that’s pointed in an outward direction and angle preferable for a new new branch to grow. You don’t want any brown/black discoloration anywhere to be showing behind remaining pruning cuts.

NOTE: Emergency pruning for the bacterial fire blight (Erwinia amylovora) and fungal apple canker (Neonectria ditissima) on pome fruits (apple, pear, Asian pear, juneberry, etc.) are essentially the same. Pruning out fire blight is often recommended to cut back 8” from visible infection.

Pruning tools, bottom to top: 12’ telescoping pole saw and pruner, expandable pole saw, limb spreaders of various sizes, pruning saws, 70% isopropyl alcohol, loppers, extendable pole pruner, hand pruners, gloves, and twine (Robyn Mello)

Prevention and Management:

Remove all diseased plant parts from your orchard via trash bags, adding to a well-managed and hot compost pile, or burning. Placing a sheet, tarp, or large garbage bag under you while pruning may help to keep infected debris from getting lost on the ground.

Michael Phillips, author of must-have orcharding book, The Holistic Orchard, has some great herbal tips for helping your afflicted trees, including rubbing calendula salve or garlic paste onto newly pruned wounds for their antimicrobial effects. Plants healing plants seems like a winning option! There are many other common antibacterial and antifungal plants growing in most of POP’s partner orchards, as well, such as thyme and oregano that can be used the same.

Though we generally don’t recommend sealing pruning cuts because trees are best at healing themselves, some orchardists whose trees have been heavily affected by these diseases will use organically approved Abrex Heal and Seal or similar.

Continue to monitor your trees for signs of infection or re-infection, compost well at the end of the season or beginning of the spring, and, if your orchard’s infections are quite bad, spray with copper/sulfur fungicide at the very beginning of spring next year.


Penn State Extension: Bacterial Canker

Penn State Extension: Cytospora Canker

High Quality Educational Videos:

How to Identify and Remove Canker from Apple Trees

Removing Cytospora Canker from Plums

Fire blight and cankers


The Holistic Orchard by Michael Phillips

The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Pest and Disease Control: A Complete Guide to Maintaining a Healthy Garden and Yard the Earth-Friendly Way edited by Fern Marshall Bradley, Barbara W Ellis, and Deborah L Martin (a Rodale Organic Gardening Book)

This POP Disease Tip is written by Orchard Director Robyn Mello. 

SUPPORT US!  If you found this entry useful, informative, or inspiring, please consider a donation of any size to help POP in planting and supporting community orchards in Philadelphia:

Bramble On: It’s Blackberry Time!

Posted on Categories Berries & Vines, Blog, Harvesting, Home, Orchard Care, Plant Profiles, PlantsTags , , , , , , , ,

Q: What makes blackberries special?

A: So many things!

The first ripe blackberries from a two year-old thornless blackberry patch in North Philly!

In order to properly research this blog post, a memory refresher of the taste of blackberries was in order! While the organic vegetable farm I work on does have blackberries growing, (mostly as a side enterprise) they are not yet ripe, and so I trekked to the Giant supermarket where they had organic and non-organic blackberries for sale for $4.99/pint. Sheesh!

Blackberries are, according to my hands-on research, sometimes sweet, sometimes tart, sometimes sweet and tart, and always delicious! They are juicy and crunchy (from the seeds) and will dye your hands. They are firm to touch (for a berry) and they are extremely elegant. Just look at those beauties!! Mmmm!

Once I got my taste (and touch) refresher, I decided to explore the nuances of growing blackberries. It turns out, how they are cared for is affected by what type of blackberry plant you have. Is it thornless or thorny? Trailing or Erect? Traditional or Primocane Fruiting?

The main difference between thornless and thorny is a matter of having to wear protective gloves when you go to prune or harvest.

There are thornless trailing, and thornless erect, there are thorny trailing and thorny erect, all of these are different varieties.

The more noticeable difference comes when comparing trailing to erect. Fruits from erect blackberry plants (thornless or thorny) tend be slightly smaller and slightly more bitter.


Erect plants are also easier to trellis, in that they don’t need to be trellised at all.–pruning–training-and-growth-characteristics.php

Both varieties need to be pruned, and the trailing ones more so because of how long their canes get. More on pruning in a bit.

In the image above you can see the trailing vs. erect refers to the growing habit of the “canes”. Canes are, essentially, blackberry stems which emerge from their roots  in late spring and summer.

That brings us to the 3rd type of different variety  – traditional vs. primocane fruiting. Primocanes are the newest, first year growth. Traditional blackberries will not fruit on their primocanes. Rather, they fruit on second year wood (called floricanes), usually in July/August in the Philadelphia area. Primocane Fruiting varieties, as the name indicates, are able to produce fruit on first year growth, usually in the fall.  If those canes are left until the next year, they will fruit again on the floricanes in summer, thus producing two crops from the same plant. 

Unfortunately there are no cultivars that are primocane fruiting, erect, and thornless all together, but I’m sure some plant breeder is working on it!


Let’s say you have a thornless, trailing, traditional variety, like the ones on my farm. What can you do to make sure your blackberries are ready to harvest to fullest capacity? If you prune them at the end of their growing season, you’ll do yourself a huge favor!

What are you pruning? Not the primocanes, of course, because you want them on the plant next year when they’ll be flowering and fruiting. Floricanes, the canes that flower and produce fruit in any given growing season, should be removed after harvest or anytime before spring of the following growing year. They are easy to tell apart because the floricanes die after they’ve produced fruit, one and done, and the stems turn from green and reddish to grey and brown.  If you leave them, they will be in the way moving forward and may even invite disease.

Once you removed any dead floricanes, you want to trim the tops of the primocanes in preparation for next year. If it gets too crowded, some of the fruit will not get enough sunlight, air flow, or nutrients. It will also be harder to harvest.

In the winter, when the plant is dormant, you can remove the weakest of the canes and trim the lateral branches, to help strengthen the canes you are keeping.  For more pruning specifics, check out POP’s pruning guide for berries, brambles, and vines!

Now that your blackberries are nice and dapper, you’re ready to harvest!

Harvesting blackberries should be done in the morning after the dew has dried, to prevent the berries from sitting out in the sun. This will give them a longer shelf life. Ripe blackberries will come right off the plant with a gentle tug. You can even roll them off the plant. It is best not to stack them too high on top of one another or you may get some crushed berries on the bottom. If the berry is not fully black (still red or purple in some areas) it isn’t ripe. Once you’ve picked them, put them in a fridge as soon as possible. They should stay for up to a week. Don’t wash them until you’re ready to use them – washing them will make them spoil faster.

Now that you’ve got your blackberries, you can use them in a variety of ways: scones, jams, add them to your overnight oats, blackberry ricotta pizza with basil, blackberry cheesecake brownies, ice pops, milk shakes, pies, cobblers, crumbles, add them to a salad, blackberry mustard or butter, waffles, fruit roll-ups, fruit salad, blackberry mint julep, blackberry salsa, chutney, tarts, pavlova, blackberry glazed salmon, and lots more!


Blackberries are extremely good for you, so it’s important that you eat them in every way possible, including popping them into your mouth raw.  Blackberries offer up a sizable portion of vitamins C, A, E, K, and B. They are low in calories and sodium, and they have lots of fiber and antioxidants which help protect against aging, cancer, inflammation, and other neurological diseases.  

Flowers and young fruits on a thornless blackberry variety.


So now you know what makes blackberries special. They’re delicious, low maintenance plants that pack a nutritional punch  – what more could you ask for from Mother Nature?

This POP Plant Highlight written by POP Volunteer Alex Zaremba. 

SUPPORT US!  If you found this entry useful, informative, or inspiring, please consider a donation of any size to help POP in planting and supporting community orchards in Philadelphia:

‘Lean On Me’: An Overview of Orchard Trellis Systems

Posted on Categories Berries & Vines, Blog, Home, Orchard CareTags , , , , , , ,
A rustic grapevine trellis. Painting by Jean Kieffer.

By now, we’ve all heard Bill Withers’ classic swooning lyric “we all need somebody to lean on.” As I was working on building a trellis for the tomatoes in my home garden last weekend, I couldn’t help but think of this lyric’s many meanings – it’s a simple adage and it’s so true!

As a new POP intern, it is exciting to think of all of the partner and community support POP depends upon to grow: without you all, POP would be unable to thrive. In the same way, I love to celebrate all of the support we give our orchards to do the same. What does our orchard support look like? Many things: from pruning training and pest and disease management advice to harvesting and trellising. As I pounded the stakes of my tomato trellis into the ground, I was struck by the romantic notion of the trellis as something for our orchards to lean on. So, how do we lend that support?

Training grape vines to a new wires at POP’s trellis-building workshop at Historic Strawberry Mansion in 2015.

The Basics

There are two main types of plants that POP orchardists work to trellis: brambles like raspberries and blackberries and fruiting vines like grapes and hardy kiwiberries. Trellising these plants helps ensure efficient fruit production, easy harvesting, space management, and airflow to reduce mold and disease formation. In this post, I am focusing on trellises with posts perpendicular to the ground and wires running horizontally in between posts.  

Kiwi vines are often trained to a series of overhead wires as pictured above. Credit: Bob Guthrie

The Materials

Trellises are best constructed with strong materials to support the weight of the plants. These materials can include wood, metal, or bamboo posts and galvanized wire. Various hardware can also be used including turnbuckles, wire strainers, hooks or nails for training, and eye bolts. For extra support, use cement at the base of the posts, utilize anchor posts and wires, angle posts away from the inside trellis, or construct the trellis on a pre-existing structure.

Trellising grapes gives the plants support, better access to sun and airflow. Credit: Deep Green Permaculture

The Construction

There are a wide range of materials and forms to choose from, but here are some basic guidelines to keep in mind when constructing a trellis:

  • Keep your posts and cross wires perpendicular using a level when necessary
  • Tighten cross wires to avoid sagging by using a turnbuckle, strainer, or other wire tensioner.
  • Utilize appropriate spacing based on the weight and growth patterns of your plant. For example, most grape vines are planted with about 7 or 8 feet of space in between each plant, whereas kiwis are planted 10 to 12 feet apart.  Maximum distance between posts for a properly supported trellis is 20 to 30 feet, so you might fit 3 or 4 grapes but only 2 or 3 kiwis between each post.  
  • For heavy vine crops like grapes, kiwis, and trailing blackberries, additional support is needed at either end of the trellis to keep the weight from pulling the structure inward.  Options include h-braces, posts angled outwards, or ground wires.  These are generally not needed for raspberries and upright blackberries, whose stems can support some of their own weight.
  • Twist ties or horticultural ties are useful for training the vines to the trellis.  Just be careful not to tie them too tight and choke of plant growth.
  • Be creative and thrifty! There are many ways to recycle materials to construct strong trellises.
Constructing angled t-post end supports for a new grape trellis.


For step-by-step instructions on trellis construction options and other helpful tips, check out the following:

Growing Hardy Kiwifruit (kiwiberries) in the Home Garden

Adventures in Bramble Trellising

Ideas to Construct a Grape Trellis

POP Blog – Pruning and Training: Bushes, Brambles, and Vines

How to Build a Cable Trellis

Sourcing Trellis Materials

Wood or metal posts, galvanized wire, and other materials can be purchased at most garden/farm supply centers and hardware stores, although special ordering of some items is sometimes necessary.  For more specialized trellising supplies like wire strainers and fasteners, there are a variety of online orchard/vineyard supply options:

This edition of POP Tips prepared by POP 2017 intern Amy Jean Jacobs. 

SUPPORT US!  If you found this entry useful, informative, or inspiring, please consider a donation of any size to help POP in planting and supporting community orchards in Philadelphia:  

Stocking and Maintaining Your Orchard Toolkit

Posted on Categories Blog, Home, Orchard CareTags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Pointed and flat-blade shovels, bow rakes, and pitchforks ready for use at Hunting Park Orchard

In the realm of orchard care, there are few things as satisfying as harvesting fruit at perfect ripeness, or the excitement of growing a new varietal, and that is using and maintaining the right tools for the job. Ah, we orchardists are a practical and hardworking lot! The tasks are many in an orchard — from digging holes for trees and shrubs, turning over compost and layering wood chips, to pruning and harvesting fruit from out-of-reach branches. In service to all those who tend orchards with dedication, we offer you this quick breakdown of some of our trusty tools of the trade for home and community orchards and suggestions for keeping them in tip-top, sharp shape.

If you’re care-taking your garden or orchard for the long haul, it’s worth the investment to choose high quality tools that feature thick, wooden handles and heavy-gauge tempered metals that will be more durable through the years. If you choose to share tools, rather than purchase, check out your local tool library such as The West Philly Tool Library, who in partnership with POP in making orchard tools available, offers tool rentals for a membership fee between $20-50 annually.  There is also a Kensington Tool Library in North Philly in the works. 


The Groundskeepers

Shovels, forks, and rakes perform most of the essential functions for groundwork – but which ones to use?

Select pointed shovels for digging holes, as when you’re preparing the ground to plant a bare root tree, and square-blade shovels for moving materials, like the excess soil you’ve dug out. Garden spades have a defined U-shape edge that allow you to work with greater precision and in tighter areas. Long-handled shovels will give you more leverage from an upright position to loosen ground soil when you’re preparing a hole for planting. Good shovels range in price between $30-40.

When you’re working on a smaller scale and a shovel is too unwieldy, trowels and digging knives come in handy. Both will allow you to dig the appropriate sized holes for herbs and groundcovers.  Traditional, digging, or potting trowels of metal will be much sturdier than plastic ones, obviously, but the plastic may be well-suited for planting with children in a well-prepared bed.

Where digging knives or the Japanese hori hori ($13-60) can have the edge-up on trowels is that they have one serrated edge that can assist with breaking up compacted soil, or cutting through tough roots. A word of advice: if you choose a model with a wooden handle, you might consider wrapping the handle in a fluorescent or patterned tape, as they easily get camouflaged against the brush. Don’t let it happen to you!

Like shovels, forks come in a number of forms, so it’s important to understand what function do you need from your fork. Most often, we use garden forks that have four, long and super-strong tines that are helpful for digging compacted soil and tough root systems and a compost fork or pitchfork which is a great choice for scooping materials from a pile like woodchips or compost with its slender tines that curve-up at the end.

When shovels or garden forks may not be strong enough to deal with rocky or clayey soil, pickaxes with their sturdy spike and chiseled ends can be a great asset for breaking up ground and uprooting heavy root systems.  A pickaxe will be your best friend when you’re trying to tear out tenacious, invasive tree trunks to make way for new plantings.

Choose a bow rake for its short, metal tines arranged along a parallel plane for spreading heavy materials like compost or mulch after you’ve dumped them out of your wheelbarrow.  Leaf rakes are of course made for leaves!  

A look at POP’s tool chest for pruning: bow saw, handsaw, isopropyl spray, hand pruners, sharpener, loppers, pole saw, pole pruners, and pole pruner/saw combo.

Pruning Picks: Handtools

When selecting hand pruners, select bypass motion pruners, which are best for close, clean cuts on live branches. The scissor-like motion is ideal for cutting 1.5-2” diameter branches between both sharpened blades, whereas anvil motion pruners can sometimes mash live branches between their sharpened blade and fixed anvil. Keep in mind with most tools, that those that are regularly sharpened with a file will maintain the health and integrity of your plants through sharp, clean cuts. Ideally, sharpen your tools after each pruning session, or at the very least, every season.  

When you’re selecting pruners, choose a tool that fits your hand size to avoid unnecessary hand strain and pick ones with durable hand coverings, sturdy springs, shock-absorbing bumpers and high-carbon steel blades. Pruners you can loosen and tighten will give you added flexibility for making more precise cuts. As with most tools, it is worth investing in quality tools that will perform better and last longer.  We prefer Felco or ARS brand hand pruners for this reason.   

For pruning dead wood and larger 3” diameter branches, a folding hand-saw and anvil-style loppers ($25-50) will come in handy! Refer to POP’s Pruning Guide for more specificity on how to make various types of pruning cuts with these tools.

Pruning Picks: Tools With Extra Reach

If the trees’ branches are beyond your reach for pruning, you will need a pole saw, pruner, or combo tool, which can be extended up into the canopy at heights of 10-30 ft, which are ideal for heading cuts and removing high-up branches. Combo tools feature a rope-pull system that cuts branches and a high-carbon razor-tooth steel blade, as in this model from Corona (under $100).  We also love our long reach pruners from ARS.  

Credit: Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

Harvest tools

When fruit is beyond reach for picking, a fruit pole picker can help! The basket at one end allows you to reach high into tree to pluck and capture fruit in the basket. Still out of reach? Establish your perch on a tripod orchard ladder, with a wide-flared base and extendable leg to support the climbing harvester (also great for pruning!). Wearable fruit picking bags or buckets allow you to quickly and efficiently store your fruit as it’s being picked.


If you’re trying to grow the more common fruits (apples, peaches, plums, cherries, apricots, and pears), most likely you will encounter pest or disease challenges at some point that make spraying equipment necessary to ensure good production and tree health.  For the most part, organic fruit growing doesn’t mean not spraying, it just means spraying different things!  If you have just a few trees, you might get away with a 1 or 2 gallon hand sprayer.  A 3 or 4 gallon backpack sprayer is much more efficient for larger orchard plantings.  If you are spraying harsher organic sprays like sulfur or copper fungicides, it is advisable to have a separate sprayer used only for those applications.  NOTE: Many of the more unusual fruit options (figs, persimmons, paw paws, etc) have few if any pest or disease problems and thus might not require a sprayer at all!

POP’s orchard tool collection available for borrowing at the West Philly Tool Library includes both hand sprayers and backpack sprayers.  Use is restricted to organic sprays only.  


Keeping your orchard and gardening tools clean and well-cared for ensures your safety and that of your plants. Quality hand tools can last many seasons with proper care. Don’t use tools that need repair!

It is unsafe for you and possibly your plant to use dull, rusted, or contaminated tools.  Here are a few tips and practices to keep your tools in shape. Always remember to wear gloves when cleaning blades!

  • Wipe the blades clean after every use. To remove sap, clean your blade with a cloth and kerosene. Use sandpaper or a wire brush to remove light to medium rust. Coat your tools and blades lightly with oil to prevent further rust damage.
  • Keep moving parts oiled and tight.
  • Keep your tools sharp!  This will both make your work easier and is better for the health of your plants.  The easiest option is a hand sharpener (like this one from Corona), which can be used without disassembling the tool.  Keep the blade steady and sharpen along the beveled edge with short strokes.  Never sharpen both sides of a pruning blade- only the beveled edge!  Blades may also be sharpened using a sharpening stone, but disassembly may be required. Tools like shovels or axes may be used with a hand file.  See further sources below for more details, or to see which technique will work best for you.
  • Sand wooden handles with a medium-grade sandpaper and treat with tung or linseed oil.
  • Disinfect your tools to avoid the spread of plant diseases! When pruning plants that are diseased, always apply isopropyl alcohol or a 10% bleach solution (90% water) in between each cut.  This is also a good general practice for any pruning done during the active growing season.  We prefer an isopropyl spray bottle for easy application, but dipping or wiping tools can also work.  
  • Store your tools in a toolbox or shed to prevent damage from excess moisture and light.
  • Completely rinse and clean your sprayers after each use.  

Caring for your tools can take a bit of time and effort, but your plants and your hands will thank you!


A History of the Garden in 50 Tools by Bill Laws

This edition of POP Tips prepared by Education Director Alyssa Schimmel and POP 2017 intern Abigail Dangler. 

SUPPORT US!  If you found this entry useful, informative, or inspiring, please consider a donation of any size to help POP in planting and supporting community orchards in Philadelphia:  

POP CORE Recap & Orchard Care Through the Seasons

Posted on Categories Blog, Home, Orchard Care, Orchard Pests, POP Orchards, Soil Care, Sprays, Tree Care, Tree DiseasesTags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

POP kicked off its newest training program last Wednesday, March 8th at Bartram’s Garden called POPCORE: Community Orchardist Resilience Education. An endeavor to realize the potential and beauty of fully productive, well cared-for eco-orchards in every neighborhood, POPCORE seeks to encourage the self-sufficiency of our partners and connections between partners in close geographical proximity through group trainings and face-to-face sharing between partners. With increased knowledge, attention, and combined resources, the average community orchard has the potential to produce hundreds of pounds of varied produce per season in addition to being a safe, beautiful outdoor space for gathering and education.

POPCORE combines many elements of orchard stewardship, ecosystem design, and food uses that POP has learned over the past ten years,  synthesized in a 4-part series that can be taken as one-off classes or in pre-season series. Hosted back-to-back over four Wednesdays in March at Bartram’s historic garden, the course covers Pruning and Eco-orchard Seasons (March 8), Pest and Disease Management (March 15); Plants, Fungi, and What To Do With Them (March 22); and Permaculture and The Future of Philadelphia’s Food System (March 29).  Registration info here

The first class taught by POP Executive Director Phil Forsyth and Orchard Director Robyn Mello drew 21 participants, who came from a span of neighborhoods throughout the city to learn about orchard care through the seasons and the specifics of pruning fruit trees, berries & brambles, and fruiting vines, with a pre-class hands-on pruning demo hosted in Bartram’s Community Orchard.

For the health of your orchard, seasonally-appropriate care is important and POP wants you to succeed! Check out POP’s Resource Guide for PDF-downloadable handouts on topics covered during POPCORE’s first session, including orchard care by season (summarized below) a guide to pruning, and relevant POP blog posts linked below. 

Students learn techniques for wintertime pruning of fruiting shrubs in Awbury Arboretum’s food forest.


PRUNING. For best production and tree health, all common fruit trees regardless of age should be pruned during their dormant season every winter, ideally between late January and early March. The basic idea is to open the tree to more air and light.

Check out POP’s guide to Pruning Fruit Trees and  Pruning Bushes, Brambles, and Vines.  

REMOVE MUMMIFIED FRUIT. Any fruit left hanging on the tree is a potential source for disease spores. Pluck and remove any mummified fruit from the orchard during pruning.

SPRAY DORMANT OIL. Apply horticultural oil, neem oil, or vegetable oil at 4% dilution to smother overwintering eggs of insects including aphids and scales.

Check out POP’s guide to Dormant/Horticultural Oil Sprays. 

MAINTAIN ORCHARD EQUIPMENT. Clean and sharpen all orchard tools. Order orchard care supplies. For PHS City Harvest participants, check out a related training on Tool Care on Saturday March 25th from 10am-noon or visit POP Partner The West Philly Tool Library for information on tool rental and care. 

Orchard liaison Tony Dorman spreads compost during a spring workday at Philadelphia Montessori Charter School


APPLY MULCH/COMPOST. Spread chipped winter prunings, shredded leaves and/or compost.

Check out POP’s guide to Ramial Wood Chips and Weeding in Place.  

HOLISTIC ORCHARD SPRAYS. Holistic sprays are composed of compost tea, liquid fish/seaweed, neem oil, and/or effective microbes. For best tree health and resistant to disease, apply up to 4 times in the spring (after bud break, at first pink of flowers, after petal fall, and two weeks after petal fall). Depending on specific pest or disease problems, some orchardists might also consider other organic sprays including the ones listed below. 

Check out POP’s guides to orchard applications of:

TRAINING. New growth can be trained to better angles using clothespins, branch spreaders, or tying to weights.

THINNING. In late May or early June, young fruitlets on peaches, apples, pears and Asian pears, and some plums should be thinned by pinching off with fingers or pruner. Peaches should be thinned to 8” apart, apples and pears to 5”, and heavy-bearing plums to 5” on the tree. Also at this time, all fruit should be removed from any newly planted trees.

Check out POP’s guide on Thinning Fruit Trees. 

BAGGING FRUIT. Place ziplock, paper, or nylon bags around young fruit (especially apples) to protect them from some insect and disease challenges.  

Check out POP’s guide to Bagging Fruit.

Community members pick berries during Strawberry Mansion’s Strawberry Festival


HARVEST. Pick fruit as they ripen, spring through fall according to fruit type. Remove or compost any fallen fruit to reduce potential pests and disease. 

Check out POP’s guide to Summer Harvest Timing and Equipment and Late-Season Fruit Ripeners.

MONITOR. Observe orchard regularly throughout the year for pest and disease problems, identify and respond appropriately with trapping, removal, or possible applications of kaolin clay, neem oil, Bt, pyrethrin, etc.

EMERGENCY PRUNING. Remove diseased or damaged wood, root suckers, and watersprouts any time of year. Be sure to sterilize tools with alcohol or bleach solution between each cut. In some cases, additional structural pruning may be done in early summer to minimize regrowth, but avoid anything but emergency pruning after July.

For more information, check out this POP guide to emergency pruning. 

Executive Director Phil Forsyth brews a batch of compost tea to apply to orchard plantings


APPLY COMPOST. After most leaves have fallen, spread a layer of compost or spray compost tea. An annual soil test can reveal any other specific nutrients or amendments that should be added.

Check out POP’s guide to Autumn Composting. 

We hope this seasonal breakdown provides you with a solid overview to ready yourself for maintaining the health and productivity of your orchard. Hope to see you in a POP CORE class soon!
SUPPORT US!  If you found this entry useful, informative, or inspiring, please consider a donation of any size to help POP in planting and supporting community orchards in Philadelphia:  

Partnership Spotlight: West Philly Tool Library

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A well-stocked work-bench at the West Philly Tool Library Photo: Jacques-Jean Tiziou

With a  library of more than  2,500 loanable tools,  knowledgeable tool librarians and mechanics, and a host of classes, West Philly’s Tool Library (WPTL) is a valuable community resource fostering a DIY-ethic of garden, home, and automotive repair. Since its founding in 2007, the tool library has grown to sustain nearly 2,000 members (800 of whom are currently active) who come to rent everything from the most common of tools like hammers, wheelbarrows, drills, and saws, to equipment for larger jobs like lawn mowers, extension ladders, and a full range of gardening, woodworking, plumbing, and metalworking equipment.

WPTL on 1314 S. 47th St. is among the ranks of 80 nationwide local lending libraries that make tool rental affordable and accessible to tenants, long-time residents, and newcomers looking to build their next project or maintain their home and gardens.

Tool librarian Judson Wood says it’s easy to underestimate the value of a lending library.  “For many of our members, their home is their most cherished and valuable asset. Instead of having to go out and buy a tool that they might use one time for a repair, they can rent the tools they need and save themselves the cost of more extensive damage.”

In August 2016, The Philadelphia Orchard Project joined forces with WPTL to expand access to orchard care equipment like backpack sprayers, fruit harvesters, and pruning tools for WPTL members and community orchardists working to maintain POP’s 56 orchard sites, or glean from the city’s unharvested fruit trees. This partnership was made possible by an initial grant from the McLean Contributionship.  Twenty five POP tools currently exist in the collection with other tools and supplies to be added later this season.  All are available for borrowing during WPTL’s regular open hours on evenings and Saturdays.

POP orchard equipment now available for borrowing at the West Philly Tool Library includes a variety of pruning tools, pole harvesters, and backpack sprayers.

“The POP partnership is an exciting partnership because it leverages both of our organization’s resources and makes them available to our shared community,” said Alison Schmidt, the library’s new director.  “POP essentially long-term lends tools to the Tool Library and we are able to have these available not just for POP members’ use, but also all of West Philly Tool Library’s members. It’s wonderful!”

Sliding-scale memberships range from $20-50 annually for individuals to $25-250 for public schools or organizations. Representatives from POP orchard partners are eligible to become full WPTL members at the minimum individual rate of $20/year.  Two forms of I.D. are required for membership along with two references who can vouch for the member’s reliability to rent and return. Members can borrow tools for up to a week at a time with the possibility of renewal.

Tool Library member Danyell Brent kneels beside his veggie beds that he built with tools from the library.
Tool Library member Danyell Brent kneels beside the garden beds he built with tools from the library.

Farmer Danyell Brent of Friends Urban Garden for Peace and Understanding in the Belmont Section of West Philly is one of the library’s many members who’ve come to rely on the organization. Last spring, Brent rented circular saws, drill bits, and clamps to construct garden beds for his community garden, where he grows vegetables and herbs that he distributes to his neighbors.

“What I like best about the Tool Library is how easy it is to find the right tool for the job,” Brent said. “They give you a week to use the materials – which is great when you’re working on a big project, you can renew your materials, and their staff is very friendly. You can’t beat it.”

Schmidt says she is excited to expand the organization’s impact through education, collaboration with other groups across the city, and developing potential workshop space.

For more information on the WPTL’s happenings, membership offerings, classes, and tool sales, visit their website or Facebook.

This edition of POP Tips prepared by Alyssa Schimmel, Education Director. 

SUPPORT US!  If you found this entry useful, informative, or inspiring, please consider a donation of any size to help POP in planting and supporting community orchards in Philadelphia:  

Winter Pruning: Workshop Review & Pruning Guide

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Phil discusses branch bark collars and where to make proper ‘thinning’ pruning cuts to open fruit trees to more air and light.

POP kicked off its 2017 season on Jan. 28th with a sold-out class on winter pruning held at Awbury Arboretum’s Agricultural Village. Executive Director Phil Forsyth led off with a presentation on pruning and the techniques and tools most appropriate by species — whether stone fruits like peaches, plums, cherries, and apricots, pome fruits like apples and pears, fruiting bushes, vines, or rambling brambles — blackberries and raspberries.

The second portion of the workshop brought participants, armed with hand pruners, loppers, pole pruners and saws, out to test what they learned. We pruned a row of pie cherry trees on the border of the Teens Leadership Program farm and then moved through POP’s demonstration food forest orchard, tending to the assortment of plantings. Now cleared of diseased and damaged wood, and competing, crossing, or vigorously grown branches from the previous year’s growth, the pruned plants will be more productive and structurally sound for the season to come.

Workshop attendees saw back a limb to create a modified central leader for this cherry tree, improving air and light flow toward the tree’s center

Pruning helps maintain the health and vigor of plantings through the removal of branches and manipulation of buds. Good pruning helps fruiting trees, shrubs and vines remain more resistant to pests and disease, as well as bear a larger, more consistent, and better quality harvest. While damaged, diseased wood, suckers at the base of the tree, and watersprouts can be pruned in any season, most orchard pruning is best completed during the dormant season, before the buds begin to swell, and preferably on a day when the temperature is above freezing (late January through early March) – with the exception of peaches (which should be pruned after they bloom).

For specific information on pruning and shaping methods and the basic structure of trees, consult POP’s Pruning Guide for Young Fruit Trees here along with other printable resources for tending to your orchard plantings from our POP Handouts and Resource guide.

Eager to learn more? Look out for next month’s workshop on Fruit Tree Grafting at Bartram’s Garden on March 11th from 10am-1pm, and this year’s new Community Orchardist Training Program kicking off Wednesday evenings in March at Bartram’s Garden!

SUPPORT US!  If you found this entry useful, informative, or inspiring, please consider a donation of any size to help POP in planting and supporting community orchards in Philadelphia:  

Pruning: Bushes, Brambles, and Vines

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Pruning the prolific black raspberry canes at The Village of Arts and Humanities and PhillyEarth permaculture site
Pruning the prolific black raspberry canes at The Village of Arts and Humanities and PhillyEarth permaculture site

These categories of woody perennial edibles are are often considered much lower maintenance than fruit trees. As a result, it’s come to POP’s attention that they may not be receiving the attention they deserve when interplanted in our community orchards, so we’ll be working this season to highlight what to watch out for and how to properly care for them throughout the orchard seasons.

Just as winter is time to prune your fruit trees, it’s also time to prune and tend your berries to ensure a boom harvest this season!

Tools needed: gardening gloves (especially for thorny bushes), pruning shears, loppers, pruning saw, isopropyl alcohol (for sanitizing tools before each plant)

BRAMBLES (cane-bearing shrubs)

Raspberries and blackberries are unique in the world of berry bushes in that they don’t have any permanent wood.  Each cane (branch growing from the ground) only lives for 2 years.  In old-fashioned bramble varieties, first year canes have no flowers or fruit and then bear in spring/summer of their second year.  Newer ‘ever-bearing’ varieties flower and fruit on new canes in the fall of their first year and then again in spring/summer of their second year.

Dead second-year canes are generally easy to identify by gray/brown coloration, pealing bark, and more side-branching.  Newer canes tend to have more reddish/green coloration and a more upright habit.

Blackberries (Rubus): In winter, remove all 2nd year canes and thin out to 8 or 10 strongest new canes. Shorten canes to 7’ and laterals to 15”.  In summer, pinch out tips of new canes when they reach 3’ height.

Raspberries (Rubus): In winter, remove all canes after 2nd year. Thin out weak or crowded 1st year canes. For “everbearing” varieties, shorten remaining canes to below previous fruiting.

Sometimes dead canes will easily snap off or pull out of the ground, leaving your young canes behind with more breathing room. The colors of the canes often make it very easy to see what's young and old/dead.
Sometimes dead canes will easily snap off or pull out of the ground, leaving your young canes behind with more breathing room. The colors of the canes often make it very easy to see what’s young and old/dead.

All other berry bushes fit in this category (we’ve listed some of the ones we plant most often below).  Use thinning cuts for a less bushy effect. This increases light and air circulation to the interior of plant. Remove stems that are more than 4 to 6 years old, sometimes younger for certain species. Older stems are less productive, so their removal enables younger stems to take their place. When pruning, cut stems to l-2” above crown of plant.

IMPORTANT: avoid removing more than 30% of living wood in one growing season, or there will be a flush of vegetative growth as the plant tries to restore its former food-producing capacity. The same can be said for fruiting trees.

Blueberry (Vaccinium): Cut back stems older than 4 years.

Currant/Gooseberry/Jostaberry (Ribes): Remove shoots after their 3rd year. Remove all but 6 new stems.

Phil demonstrating currant pruning at the Teens4Good 8th & Poplar community orchard. Remove dead and diseased wood, and then move onto removing the oldest wood and any far-reaching runners.
Phil demonstrating currant pruning at the Teens4Good 8th & Poplar community orchard. Remove dead and diseased wood, and then move onto removing the oldest wood and any far-reaching runners.

Elderberry (Sambucus): Cut out wood older than 3 years and thin new suckers.

Goumi (Eleagnus): Minimal pruning needed. Cut back stems and suckers to desired height and girth.



Grapes: During the First year after planting, simply cut to 2-3 buds.

During the second year, you must select a training system. If you have 2 wires, use the 4-arm kniffin method, if one wire, use single-curtain cordon method, if you have a fence, use the fan system to utilize the area of the fence. Decide on a height for the trunk and thin the plant to a single trunk. Cut back to just over the height of the highest canes you want. If no vine reaches the desired height, repeat simple first year pruning to focus energy from the weak roots into 2-3 good shoots, one of which will be chosen next year as the trunk.

During the third year select 4 vines of first year wood. Always choose thick, vigorous vines with at least 6” between nodes (places where this year’s buds will grow). Cut them to 10 buds on each, then select 4 other vines and cut them to 2 buds each.

Each subsequent year select the 4 best vines (usually from the 2-bud stubs you left last year) and cut to 10 buds (for Concord grapes 15 buds is okay) for this year’s bearing wood. Remove last year’s bearing vines, but leave four 2-bud stubs to produce next year’s bearing wood

To prune an overgrown vine, select the canes to save, choosing from the canes which received the most sun during the previous season. They are usually darker in color and larger in diameter (at least as thick as a pencil). Cut Concord grape vines to the best 60 buds, cut less vigorous varieties to 40 buds (these are the maximum numbers for a mature, healthy plant, which lead to good quality grapes).

Tom Zabadal has an extensive series of YouTube videos on maintaining grapes if you’re interested in learning more and expanding your production.

This prolific kiwi at SHARE orchard needs summer pruning to open up its fruit to air and light!
This prolific kiwi at SHARE orchard needs summer pruning to open up its fruit to air and light!

Hardy Kiwis (Actinidia): Regardless of the structure they are growing on, kiwi vines should be pruned initially to a single trunk and trained straight up by tying to a post (no twining!). At the appropriate height for the structure, the vine should then be pruned into two permanent cordons (main branches) in opposite directions. Thin out laterals growing from the cordon to 12” apart. Additional summer pruning is needed to keep these vigorous vines under control. Here’s a great video to assist and a guide with photos from Penn State Extension to read through as well.

Adapted from POP’s Pruning Guide, amended by POP Program Director, Robyn Mello and Executive Director, Phil Forsyth

SUPPORT US!  If you found this entry useful, informative, or inspiring, please consider a donation of any size to help POP in planting and supporting community orchards in Philadelphia:


The Pruning Book, Lee Reich

Grow Fruit Naturally, Lee Reich

The Holistic Orchard , Michael Phillips

The Backyard Berry Book, Stella Otto

POP Pruning Guide: Fruit Trees

Posted on Categories Blog, Home, Orchard Care, Tree CareTags , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Pruning is the regulation of plant growth and productivity through branch removal and bud manipulation. Good pruning can help fruit trees become more resistant to pests and disease, as well as bear a larger, more consistent, and better quality harvest.  Annual pruning is strongly recommended for best health and production of the more common pome and stone fruits (apples, pears, peaches, plums, cherries, apricots).  Most uncommon fruits have less intensive pruning needs (see list at the end of this article).

GT pruning 2015
Winter fruit tree pruning workshop at Grumblethorpe historic house in Philadelphia.


  1. Removing dead and diseased wood helps prevent infection and the spread of disease.
  2. Pruning can improve both the quantity and quality of the harvest. The interior of unpruned trees tend to be too shady for good production. They may also demonstrate alternate-bearing: a large, low quality harvest one year followed by a very small harvest the next.
  3. Good shaping works with a plant’s natural growth habit to develop a strong primary structure that is able to support the full weight of harvests.
  4. Encouraging good branch angles can prevent them from breaking in a storm or under the weight of fruit, which can tear deep into the trunk and endanger the whole tree. A narrow crotch angle is weak; at 17 degrees or less the bark gets pinched between the branch and trunk, trapping water and promoting rot. A crotch angle between 45 and 60 degrees is ideal, because the bark can develop fully.

crotch angles

  1. sprouts and suckersPruning maximizes fruit production and health by controlling vegetative growth. Shoots, water sprouts, and vertical branches drain a tree’s energy. Suckers grow from below the graft union and divert energy from the grafted tree.
  2. Sunlight to the interior of the tree is essential for flower bud formation and fruit ripening.
  3. Increased air circulation to the interior can significantly reduce both development of fungal diseases and pest populations.



How, when, and what to prune will depend on what type of tree you are working with. Be familiar with your tree’s growth habit (pyramidal, spreading, bushy, climbing, vigorous) so as to choose the pruning style best suited to the plant’s natural growth tendencies. Also learn about its fruiting habit; inadvertently pruning fruiting wood or specialized fruiting structures can seriously compromise a tree’s ability to bear fruit.  See tree list at the end of this article for more information specific to different fruit types.



Damaged and diseased wood, suckers and watersprouts should be promptly pruned, no matter what time of year.  During active growing season, always sterilize tools with rubbing alcohol or a 10% bleach solution between each cut.  A spray bottle is the easiest means of application.

Most annual pruning should be done during the dormant season, before buds begin to swell, and preferably on a day when the temperature is above freezing (late January through early March in Philadelphia).  Most tree diseases are dormant in winter, thus reducing the spread of infection. However, sterilizing tools is still good practice especially with trees known to be infected.  Pruning cuts made in winter will also heal more quickly with the spring growing season to follow.

Some exceptions include…
Peaches should be pruned during or after they bloom in spring. Apples, pears, and grapes can be pruned earlier, starting in late December.  Espaliered fruit trees need both dormant and active season pruning to maintain their form.

pruning cuts



Thinning: To allow more light and air into the interior, cut branches back to their point of origin on the parent branch.  This is a highly recommended technique and the type of cut used most often.

: The opposite of a thinning cut in that it induces more side branching.  Cut a branch back to a lateral bud heading in the direction you want the branch to grow. Make the cut ¼” above a bud (to allow for dieback) and at an angle parallel to the direction of the bud.

Damaging Cuts – Do Not Use!

Shearing: One of the worst things you can do to a fruit tree is to remove a set length from all of the outer growth, in which cuts fall randomly above and below buds. Shearing will cause a flush of dense, bushy growth, which is fine for hedges, but can ruin trees.



Notching: By nicking vascular tissue above or below a lateral bud, you can determine whether a bud becomes a shoot or a flower. The nick should be close to the bud, about 1/8” wide, but not deep (a mere scratch – to cut the phloem just below the bark surface). It should reach halfway around the stem. To produce a shoot, notch above dormant bud, cutting off the flow of growth hormones from terminal bud. To produce a flower, notch below the dormant bud, sending the flow of carbohydrates from the leaf to the bud instead of the rest of the tree.

Spreading, bending:  Various techniques can be used to train branches to better, more horizontal angles.  Hanging weights (molded concrete hangers, water bottles, etc,), using clothespins in late May-June, tying branches to ground or mouse guards, or using commercial or homemade limb spreaders to widen branch angles, will help make branches both sturdier and more fruitful.  Always carefully bend branches partially to side, not down, to prevent breaking.  Spreading and bending is especially important for trees with upright habits, including pears, apples, european plums, and sweet cherries.

Commercial or homemade limb spreaders can be used to train branches to more horizontal angles.




Central Leader

The central leader method is for trees with a strong vertical (conical, pyramidal) growth habit (apples, pears, European plums). Usually 3 tiers (whorls), each consisting of 4 branches, 6-9” apart, and spaced evenly around the trunk.

Tier #1: 2-3′ above ground
Tier #2: 5-6′ above ground
Tier #3: 8-9′ above ground

central leader

Modified Central Leader

The modified central leader is an alternate method for trees with a moderate vertical growth habit, recommended for sweet cherries and some apples and pears. 5-6 branches are left spiraling evenly up the trunk, 8-12″ apart, but the trunk is cut back to a main branch at 5-8′, and treated as open-center from that point.

mod central leader

Vase or Open-Center

Vase or open-center is used for tees with a spreading, vase-shaped growth habit (such as peaches, Japanese plums, and pie cherries). A whorl of 3-5 branches is left within 2-3′ above ground; any main trunk is cut back to the topmost branch.

open center



Note: As a general rule, avoid removing more than 30% of living wood in one growing season or there will be a flush of vegetative growth as the tree tries to replace the removed wood.  If a larger percentage needs to be removed for some reason, consider summer pruning to minimize regrowth.  Peaches are a notable exception in that up to 50% of living wood is removed every year.  

  1. After removing dead and diseased wood, start with bending and spreading. Then, use thinning cuts primarily, and tipping or heading only to encourage lateral branching.
  2. Don’t prune off fruiting spurs on apples, pears, apricots, and plums. On peaches and sour cherries, thin the fruit-bearing wood by removing twigs under 4-6”.
  3. Keep the central area open by removing crossed, crowded, and inward growing branches. This increases light to interior and improves air circulation.
  4. Prune for branch strength by removing branches with acute crotches (less than 17 degrees between the branch and the main trunk). Encourage wider angles by training narrow forks through spreading techniques.


Making the Cut:

Smaller branches.  To remove a branch less than 1” wide you will make a single cut just outside the outermost ring of the branch collar. Start by locating the branch collar, which is a swollen area of compressed rings of bark tissue/wood at the base of a branch. It is the point at which the growth pattern of the trunk overlaps that of the branch, strengthening the connection of the branch to the tree as new growth is added each year. Branch collar tissue is the tissue that heals and closes over the wound made by removing a branch. It is also a storehouse of phenolic compounds which prevent fungal diseases from entering the plant while the wound is healing.

  • Use high quality tools and sharpen them before every pruning session. Bypass pruners and handsaws are the primary tools needed for young trees.  Larger trees may require pole pruners, pole saws, or orchard ladders.
  • Make precise cuts. Never cut into the branch collar. The proper cut may leave an unsightly wedge of wood, but cutting into the branch collar reduces the tree’s capacity to heal.
  • Don’t leave a stub. If more than 1/8″ of wood is left outside the branch collar, the wound takes much longer to heal, because the healing tissue of the branch collar must grow out over that extra wood. This increases the risk of attack by insects and diseases.
  • Always make a straight, flat cut. Do not try to sculpt the cut to the contours of the branch collar as you may accidentally damage the branch collar tissue.

branch collar

Larger branches.  A three cut approach is best for pruning branches larger than 1” in thickness.  Although the final cut should be made in the same location, just outside the branch collar, preparatory cuts are recommended to avoid the weight of the branch tearing down the side of the trunk and causing significant damage to the tree.  Use a handsaw rather than a pruner to make cuts on larger branches.

  • The first cut should be made on the underside of the branch, a couple inches out from the branch collar.  Saw only a quarter to halfway through the branch.  This prevents the weight of the branch from tearing towards the trunk on the second cut.
  • The second cut should be made just beyond the first cut.  Saw all the way through the branch from the top.  This removes most of the weight of the branch.
  • Make the third and final cut just outside of the branch collar, perpendicular to the branch bark ridge.



Apple (Malus)- Preferred form depends on variety, but central leader or modified central leader works for most.  Spreading/bending branches is recommended.  Thin fruit to 5” apart.

Apricot (Prunus armeniaca)- Open center or modified central leader.  Thin fruit to 2” apart if necessary.

Cherry, Sweet (Prunus avium)- Modified central leader.  Head leader to create sidebranching.

Cherry, Tart (Prunus cerasus)- Open center or modified central leader.

Fig (Ficus)- In protected sites, can be grown as open center form.  In spring, remove winterkilled branches.  In exposed sites, wrapping or mulching may be needed for winter protection.

Hazel/Filbert (Corylus)- Open center, with moderate pruning to stimulate growth.

Jujube (Zizyphus)- Minimal pruning needed.

Juneberry (Amelanchier)-  Minimal pruning needed.

Medlar (Mespilus)- Minimal pruning needed.

Mulberry (Morus)- Minimal pruning needed.  May be severely cut back to maintain smaller size.

Pawpaw (Asimina)- Minimal pruning needed.

Peach (Prunus persica)- Prune during or just after flowering.  Remove up to 50% each year.  Open center form.  Thin fruit to 8” apart.

Pear and Asian Pear (Pyrus)- Central leader or modified central leader.  Spreading/bending branches is recommended.  Thin fruit to 5” apart.

Persimmon (Diospyros)- Modified central leader.  Shorten long willowy shoots.

Plum (Prunus)- Open center form, except for European varieties that prefer central leader.  Thin to 2” apart on heavy bearing varieties.


pruning tools


As with most tools, don’t buy the cheapest available!  Quality tools will perform better and last longer.  

  • Bypass hand pruner
  • Hand saw
  • Bypass loppers
  • Blade sharpener
  • Alcohol spray bottle (for sterilization)

When your trees get larger, you’ll likely also need:

  • Pole pruner
  • Pole saw
  • Orchard ladder (tripod)
  • Bow saw (for larger branches)



Lee Reich, The Pruning Book and Grow Fruit Naturally

Carla Emery, The Encyclopedia of Country Living

Michael Phillips, The Holistic Orchard


SUPPORT US!  If you found this entry useful, informative, or inspiring, please consider a donation of any size to help POP in planting and supporting community orchards in Philadelphia: