Gardening With Allen: Judicious pruning key to keeping fruit, vegetable plants productive

Allen Wilson is a Vancouver gardening specialist. Email Allen Wilson at

I have a peach tree and blueberry and raspberry bushes that did quite well this year but they have some very large branches that had no fruit. Should these be cut off since they are taking energy from the branches that did?

It is an erroneous concept that leaves or branches that are not producing fruit are taking energy from another part of the plant.

Those leaves are producing energy just like the leaves on branches with fruit. That energy is actually being transferred to the fruit just like nearby leaves

The only branches of blueberries that should be removed are brown, dead ones.

Occasionally, extra long branches are shortened to shape plants. New branches do not always bear fruit the first year but will have fruit the second year.

This is also true for raspberries. Raspberry canes die after the second year. Dead canes that do not develop leaves in the spring should be removed at ground level.

There is no benefit to shortening the live canes back to an arbitrary height such as 5 or 6 feet. Canes can be bent down to pick higher fruit.

There is one type of branch that can and should be removed from fruit trees including apple, pear, cherry, peach and plum. These are the branches that grow straight up that we refer to as water sprouts.

These are usually small branches but can grow quite large if left to grow a second year. Vertical water sprouts seldom bear fruit. If left to grow they will prevent good structural development and cause trees to grow taller than is desirable for convenient fruit picking.

The main pruning time for fruit trees is winter or early spring before new growth starts.

At that time, small branches are removed to open up the tree so more light can reach the fruiting branches and fruit color is improved. This also reduces the amount of fruit so the branches do not break from the heavy load.

Normally about 25 percent of small branches are removed. The branches that grow outward are left and those that grow up at a sharp angle or grow inward toward the center of the tree are removed.

Before pruning small branches, look for larger branches that are growing up at a sharp angle. These branches can be shortened just above an outward facing bud or side branch. This will keep the tree at a lower height. The more horizontal branches are, the more fruit they will bear.

Tomatoes: Another similar fallacy is removing side branches of tomato plants or other vegetable plants. These side branches will usually develop fruit when they become larger. And even if they don’t, their leaves are producing food that is transferred to the fruit on other branches.