I recently told you about the new fruit trees that Mama purchased at the annual county Master Gardeners fruit tree sale. You can read about how and where we planted them here.
One of the other fruit tree tasks we had to take care of this Spring was pruning the grapefruit trees. We’ve never done this before, so we did a lot of research on how to prune grapefruit trees before we started. I figured this information might be useful to some of you, so follow along with me here.
Here in Zone 9a we are advised to complete pruning by mid-March and to do this every 2-3 years. Unfortunately we’ve had some pretty scary health issues around here lately with my father-in-law being in hospital for quite some time. As a result we’re a little late to this task!
Today we finally had some time to “git er done” and done we did… uh… we completed the task adequately. 😉
Note, we were advised to use a handsaw for this task – something to do with loppers “pinching” the inner workings of the branch. I dunno so much about that, but I figured it’s not a big deal to use the handsaw instead… especially since Roddy would be the one doing the hard work! Muahahaha! So here we go…
How to Prune Grapefruit Trees
There are three main target areas, conveniently they are bottom, middle, top.
Your first task will be to clean up the bottom of the tree. Trim any and all branches that point downwards. In our case this was a LOT of the branches. These trees are HUGE producers and the heavy fruit laden branches have been dragging on the ground.
While you’re under there also trim any branches with dead, discolored or insect infested leaves. Also be on the lookout for what I call “parasite” branches. You will recognize them as thin, green shoots growing straight up with barely any leaves on them. They almost look like they don’t belong to the tree. These are just energy drains trying to get to the sun, they can be removed as well.
The cut should be in the “collar” where the branch you’re removing meets the main branch/trunk of the tree. Try to keep your cut smooth and in line with the main branch or trunk. Once you make the cut the tree releases a kind of hormone that will cause the cut to grow over and will eventually be barely noticeable.
Secondly you’re going to need to go in. Fight your way to the middle, and clean out some of the “bulk” between the main branches in there. There will be many little shoots and thicker branches alike. The idea here is not to completely clean it out, but rather to thin the branches out just enough to allow for more light to flow through. In this case, the grapefruit trees had several branches that were growing towards the middle, back in the direction of the trunk where there is insufficient light and air to sustain any fruit. Better to clear these out, improve light and airflow for the rest of the branches and save some of the tree’s energy for better prospects. (Again, trim off any branches showing signs of illness or insects.)
Finally the part we didn’t do… the top, as you can see below. The advice is to trim of 2-3 feet from the top. Ideally you want to keep your tree at around 14 feet in height. As I said, we didn’t do this. After seeing just how thin we had gone with the middle, and how many of the lovely flowers (future grapefruit) we had to remove in the trimming process, Mama wanted us to stop. I think we’d all like the trees to get a little taller — we’re hoping that they will provide a little more shade for the house in a few years — but we can always take the top down a little next spring if it looks like it’s needed.
Ready for a side-by-side?
Yikes! It’s different right? It’s scary at first looking at the half naked trees. Especially in this case as they looked more like bushes than trees.
See those little white marks on the trunk? Let’s take a closer look
Yes, that’s Roddy painting the cuts with white latex paint, (rather messily). Why on earth is he doing that?!? Well here’s the theory… we live in the marshy swamps of South Texas where bugs and insects and termites are abundant. We’ve been advised by local Master Gardeners to do this to “seal” the cuts and prevent undesirables from moving in. It was suggested that we use Elmer’s glue because it dries clear, but we couldn’t find any when we did this. Of course we’re going to find 3 bottles of it tomorrow when we no longer need it! So instead we used the white latex paint, and we’re hoping that it will fade with time and become less noticeable. Before we prune again I am going to do a little research into better alternatives for this purpose… But for this year, we’re happy to go with what has been proven to work.
This evening, in the fading light I sat on our doorstep and admired our work. They look good! I really think they look awesome, clean and tidy and maintained…. but yeah, they’re a little more bare than I think we were going for… Lesson learned!
What kinds of maintenance do you perform on your trees? Any tips or advice for us on pruning grapefruit trees? Do you think we took this too far? Let us know in the comments below.
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