Skip to main content
Flowers, Fruits, and Frass

Make your tree fruit and small fruit pruning plans now; reach out to Extension for resources

Nick Frillman teaching pruning workshop at Refuge Food Forest

For those of us who are lucky enough to have access to fruit trees, fruit bushes, bramble fruits, or cane fruits during the year, we have a chore that needs doing this winter: pruning. Pruning out dead, dying or diseased wood from all those wonderful plants and trees is an absolutely essential part of their management if good quality and quantity of fruit harvest is desired. Pruning is done in the dormant season, which for this part of Illinois is roughly January 1st until mid-March (depending on spring weather). Don’t prune outside of that window. You may do more harm than good!

Put on those winter boots on a bright, sunny day that’s not too windy. Bundle up, grab your hand pruners for small fruits, and your loppers for tree fruits, and some warm gloves. Finally, you’ll need a bottle of disinfecting alcohol and a rag for your hardware. Now you’re ready to prune.

Almost every fruit needs some form of pruning or cutting back in order to be productive the following year; that’s generally because they grow prolifically during the growing season to conduct maximum photosynthesis to help them form then sweeten their fruit. All those new leaves and wood crowd the plant, blocking good airflow and sunlight penetration, and bad things happen if that’s not cleared out; this can include poor fruit set, small fruit size, diseased leaves/wood, and possibly death of the plant depending on disease.

Many folks are overwhelmed with how to start the pruning process. So, how do you get started? University of Illinois Extension YouTube videos on this subject have really helped me improve my fruit pruning technique. And lucky for the reader, there have been an army of Extension staff who have posted how-to videos on the pruning of most all small fruit and tree fruit. Get on Youtube and type “how to prune *insert name of plant* Extension”; throw in “Illinois” in that search too, but Extension professionals from all over the country have been hard at work on this topic for years. Use that Land Grant University knowledge! Watch some videos, and go try it out. If you get stuck, ask Illinois Extension!

If readers would prefer an in-depth pruning workshop or demonstration, join the Refuge Food Forest Facebook group, and keep your eyes peeled for announcements regarding a fruit tree pruning workshop or two that I will be co-hosting in February. This can be a fun, meditative practice if you let it.

PHOTO CREDIT: Tree pruning workshop by Nick Frillman, University of Illinois Extension

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Nick Frillman is a Local Foods and Small Farms Educator serving Livingston, McLean & Woodford counties. A fourth-generation graduate from University of Illinois, Frillman has a B.A. with a double major of Political Science and Spanish and a M.S. in Crop Science with a focus on crop production. Before joining Illinois Extension, Frillman completed a field season of CSA and farmers’ market style production at a small “beyond-organic” vegetable farm in Sandy, Ore.