One of the biggest benefits of living in the tropics is the abundance of tropical fruit. I’ve talked about growing a fruit forest, but growing your own fruit year-round isn’t as easy as planting some trees and then harvesting the fruit. You do have to put the work into caring for your trees, and sometimes the regular maintenance of pruning.
While all trees require different care, there are some basic rules to follow when pruning any tropical fruit trees: 1) always prune with an angled cut, 2) respect the natural form of the tree, and 3) encourage optimal tree health.
There is not a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to pruning tropical fruit trees; some trees do not need to be pruned at all, while others only need pruning every few years in order to achieve larger harvests.
Related: Pruning Tropical Fruit trees takes a lot of work. There is no dormant season and trees tend to grow quickly in the tropics. Because of this you should have a good pair of pruners. There is only one, known to be the best of the best, Felco Pruners. Get yourself some today and start pruning.
Why should you prune a tropical fruit tree?
The main reasons to prune tropical fruit trees are to encourage larger yields, or to keep them from growing too tall that fruit is inaccessible, or, like in the case of jackfruit, to help them to be strong enough to support their fruit.
The main reasons for pruning trees are to maintain size and shape, to encourage higher yields, remove dead or diseased portions of the tree and generally promote tree health.
For example, if you have many trees growing close together, the canopy of taller trees may begin to block adequate sunlight from lower trees. In this case, you should prune back the canopy to allow for sufficient sun so that all of your trees can benefit and increase fruit production.
Some trees, like rambutan or mango, grow very tall. You might decide you want to limit the growth, just so that it’s easy to harvest the fruit. But, if you’re okay with climbing up a ladder or have another system for harvesting the fruit, it’s generally not necessary to prune these trees.
You may want to learn more about growing fruit trees, such as Rambutan. If you do, be sure to read this post going over all about growing these delicious fruits.
Some pruning of trees is necessary maintenance. For example, if your tree has a fungus or other disease, you must cut off the infected limbs before it becomes a risk to the rest of the tree, and even your grove.
Trees that have been damaged after a severe storm, or have a dead limb also benefit from maintenance pruning. After the affected limbs are removed, the tree can focus more of its energy on producing fruit on the remaining healthy limbs.
Growth and Maturity
Some trees especially benefit from pruning to control the tree’s structure and encourage a strong trunk. These trees (such as starfruit) only require pruning in the first few years of life. Once a tree reaches around three or four years old, they generally won’t need regular pruning anymore.
Pruning mature trees (ones that are already producing full harvests of fruit) is usually to encourage higher yields, or prevent the tree from spreading out and covering lower trees, or becoming inconvenient to collect harvests from (as in the case of mango trees).
Kinds of Tropical Fruit Trees That Need to be Pruned
- Abiu – The fruit loves to grow on first year wood
- Jackfruit – Jackfruit should be pruned at least yearly, if not more frequently. It’s important when the tree is young to establish a strong trunk to support the heavy fruit.
As the tree grows, it will send off shoots that do not produce fruit. You should regularly prune away the unfruitful shoots, as well as thin the canopy to allow for increased sunlight.
- Strawberry Guava – This tree spreads very quickly and should be pruned regularly to limit expansive growth, and allow lower branches to get adequate sunlight.
- Regular Guava
- Starfruit – These trees especially benefit from pruning when they are young
- Breadfruit – Similar to the jackfruit, breadfruit is heavy and these trees need strong trunks to support the weight.
Breadfruit trees should be shaped when they are young by cutting the central leader at 6ʻ so it can stay low and spread, and then have regular maintenance pruning to ensure optimal health.
- All types of citrus trees – Orange, Lemon, Lime, Grapefruit, Tangerine, etc. In fact, if you want the ultimate guide to growing citrus in Hawaii, you have to check out this post.
Kinds of Tropical Fruit Trees That Don’t Require Much Pruning include:
- Avocado – prune occasionally to ensure sufficient sunlight and to keep short
- Mango – you may want to prune just to limit size as these trees grow very tall
- Rambutan – you can prune for larger yields when the tree is mature if you want to.
- Macadamia Nut
- Egg fruit – If you’re going to prune these trees, prune when the tree is young to plan the shape.
When is the best time to prune a tree?
The best time to prune a tree is usually in the spring, once you start to see new growth. This allows you to control the structure of the tree, if you see a new branch growing in an inconvenient direction (especially if the tree is planted near a house or building).
You may also need to prune after severe weather. In case a storm or strong wind has caused damage to a tree.
How to prune a tree?
You should start with sharp, clean tools.
It’s important that your pruning shears or saw is sharp, so when you make a cut you make a clean cut. It’s bad form to have ‘ragged’ edges, because it is harder for the tree to heal from nasty, sloppy cuts.
Small branches or new growth can usually be cut with pruners, but thicker branches should be removed with a hand saw or shears.
When cutting larger pieces, remove the entire piece, up to the connecting branch. For thinning new growth, snip the new shoot at the base.
Always cut with angled cuts, not straight, flat chops.
Never prune more than ⅓ of a tree in any given season, more than that can cause severe shock (unless itʻs some junk tree, cut 100% of one of those and itʻll come back with reinforcements).
- Get Rid Of Deadwood
When I go to first prune a tree, I look for dead or diseased pieces first.
Itʻs a good way to clear out the tree before you can give it an honest assessment of what needs to be done.
- Get To Topping
I like to keep my trees within manageable size. The key way to do this is thru topping. It is exactly as it sounds, cutting the top off a tree.Not at the trunk, but at the top layer of the canopy.
Visualize the ideal size of your tree, see that line in your minds eye.
Now that you know where you want a cut, youʻll most likely take a pruning saw or chainsaw to those branches of your tree. I always like to cut just above a branch that is pointing in a favorable direction, making an angle as I cut so water will not settle.
- No Crossing and No Touching
After Youʻve topped your tree, look for crossing or touching branches. Opening up a fruit trees interior typically helps the fruits ripen better. Eliminating crossing branches will help open up a tree. Removing branches that are touching will help eliminate disease.
- Finishing Up
At this point, the tree should be close to being fully pruned for the season. Look for any stragglers. Step back from time to time and give the tree a look. Make sure itʻs shaped the way you want it to be shaped.
Do’s and Don’ts of Pruning
Pruning is sort of like surgery for a plant, and that means that a lot of pruning is knowing what not to do. So, let me start with the actions to avoid when pruning:
- Be aggressive and cut too much
This can cause strain to the tree and actually take years for the tree to recover. Pruning is making intentional wounds which the tree must heal from. It’s better to take a cautious, slow approach when pruning.
If in doubt, wait. Give the tree time to heal before cutting off large portions.
- make messy cuts
Don’t hack away at your trees or damage the trunks or bark of the tree. Your cuts should be clean, made with pruning shears, a hand saw or good machete.
- leave partially-cut shoots or stubs of branches
What you cut, you should finish and remove with a nice, angled line up to the original base. Being lazing with hanging shoots or stubs puts your trees at risk of disease and decay.
- confuse pruning with Tree Training
Tree training is controlling the growth of your trees and requires a planned approach. You certainly do pruning as a part of tree training, but tree training extends beyond simply pruning your trees for maintenance and optimal growth.
- Respect the plant
Cut only the minimal amount you need to, and try to keep the plant’s natural shape (but, if you are Tree Training, this is an entirely different discussion).
- Focus on tree health
Cut back to healthy wood, especially when trimming for disease or damage. Don’t leave any dead branches when you prune.
If the branches have collars, cut only back to the collar.
- Use angled cuts. Not blunt, flat chops. Angled cuts heal faster.
- Favor horizontal branches when pruning.
Horizontal branches keep trees shorter and produce more fruit than vertical
- Remove ‘lazy leaves”
When thinning out a canopy, only prune away unnecessary branches with many
leaves, not structural limbs for the trees.
Remember, pruning of fruit trees should focus first on plant health, and then on increasing yields. For trees like jackfruit, pruning is necessary to ensure the tree’s trunk is strong enough to hold the heavy fruit.
Other trees, like mango and avocado don’t usually need regular pruning, but you may want to prune in order to encourage more fruit production, or limit the tree’s growth to an easier to manage height.
You can learn more about growing Avocado and what varieties to grow in Hawaii in this guide to avocadoes. Other than that, I hope you feel more confident in your pruning. Just remember, if you donʻt cut off too much, itʻll probably grow back, so prune away!!
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