I have three fruit trees in my garden: a cherry, a sour cherry and an apricot. The cherry trees didn't grow so fast, but the apricot was about four metres (13 feet) high when I decided I should prune it or it would produce less fruits than the year before, which was less than a bucket. And since I love apricots, but especially apricot jam, I had no time to waste. The research was overwhelming and I was even more confused than before, but at least I knew what to expect. I know I'm not that smart and it takes me more time to learn than it would take to others, however I wanted so badly to prune the trees myself, that no obstacle was insurmountable for me. Many said I should have called a specialist because I could damage the trees and leave them without fruits for that year, but I wanted to learn and do the pruning myself from then on. I went to the store and bought a pair of long scissors for pruning trees, which turned out to be not as long as some branches required, but it was good for most of the branches in the end.
After watching several videos, reading a few articles and studying drawings about pruning trees for hours on end - and heeding the saying that repetition is the mother of learning - I had the courage to do it, so I went out and pruned my fruit trees. Just in time because it was almost March and the buds were almost bursting - I could do it, I was brave! Pruning the cherries was piece of cake because they only had a few thin branches, but there was the apricot, higher than a Christmas tree, almost as tall as our house. And I didn't even have a ladder!
But I had a plan in my head: since the apricot is growing near the fence and my fence has a concrete wall in the lower part, I planned to climb on that fence and hold myself to the iron bars in the upper part of the fence. For those who don't know me I have to say that I am a short and fat lady. But that didn't stop me as I was going to fight those 13-foot long branches - or longer - if I wanted to have a good apricot crop in the summer. Thinking of the many buckets full of apricots which I could harvest and of the pantry shelves full of apricot jam jars, which I could make afterwards, I was ready for the biggest battle of my life. I used to know a few basic rules for trimming trees, which I had already exercised over my citrus trees in years past, but after studying more I realized they weren't accurate and maybe that's why my citrus trees weren't growing well and have never had any blooms, nor any fruit, whatsoever. Some of the rules I knew were good, but after learning more I became aware that I didn't know much about how to prune a fruit tree correctly. First I had to remove the dead, broken or diseased branches.
I had one or two dead branches to remove and then I went on to the next rule: removing the crossing branches. The apricot had a thick branch which was crossing another, so I had to remove it with a saw. I trimmed it back partially, so I wouldn't hurt the tree when the branch fell due to gravity, which could have caused the damage to the trunk. Then I trimmed back the rest of the branch too. I learned if a branch is heavy, it can be removed in several pieces.
The most important task when pruning the fruit trees is to open up the centre of the tree by pruning the branches that are growing inside the tree, vertically or horizontally. They will stop the light from getting through to all the fruits for a good growth.
Another rule is to cut back the old twigs and cut only a third of the last year's growth. The apricot, in particular, fruits on the last year's wood. This is something I had to learn because it was very important for the future of my trees. Actually, is simple when you know it. Any branch has usually three shoots at the top, one in the middle and two shoots growing on each side - those skinny shoots are the last year's wood and the one in the middle is the old wood. Old wood has to be cut back very short, to where the young shoots are starting. Each of the young shoots get cut 1/3 from the tip. The more you cut the old wood, the more young wood grows and fruits more. Some of the twigs from the top of my fruit trees were growing to the inside of the tree, so I removed them and left the twigs which were growing to the outside, thus shaping the tree nicely. The the most important rule is to leave the shoots growing to the outside of the tree and cut back the ones growing toward the inside.
Finally, I had some nice shaped trees, but I was afraid of the result as it was my first big pruning experience. I didn't have to wait too long because soon the apricot trees budded and the tree was full of blooms. A week later, the cherries were blooming. I was ecstatic! My fruit trees have never had so many blooms - actually, all branches were full of flowers.
Time passed and fruits started to grow on all the trees. The cherries had more fruit than I expected as they were still too small to fruit fully like a mature tree. I counted about 12 cherries and 30 sour cherries. They began to ripen, but the birds were all over them as soon as they showed some red. I tasted a few not-so-ripe sour cherries, yet red, which the birds missed through the leaves and they were really sour.
The apricot was something else: all branches were full of apricots from the base to the top! Part of my goal was completed; I wasn't yet confident that all the fruits will ripen, so I watched them everyday, till July, when the apricots were finally ripe and ready to be harvested. The birds started to eat them too, but since they were so many and much bigger than the cherries, only part of the fruits got eaten. Nevertheless, I hung a t-shirt in the tree to chase away the birds, so I could enjoy my apricot crop. It was just as I hoped: a few buckets of apricots which made many jam jars, not to mention the apricot cakes I made every day, for over a month. I was so proud of myself!
For more information you can check out this great video from which I've learned a lot about pruning apricot trees.