Prune Young Almond Trees

Almond Pruning Good Branch Angle

California farm advisors from Bakersfield to Chico have completed many pruning trials over the past 30 years, and the results have changed the way we train and prune almond trees. We now know that the more you prune a tree, the lower the yield will be, and the less you prune the heavier the yield. But this does not mean that you shouldn’t prune almond trees! The dormant pruning done to an almond tree after its first and second growing seasons is the most important it will ever receive.

I suggest identifying primary scaffolds with good angles of attachment for structural strength and selecting three main scaffolds spaced vertically and horizontally around the trunk. Avoid poorly attached branches with included bark (see photos of good branch angles versus bad branch angles). These three primary branches permanently establish the tree’s basic framework. Leaving more than three limbs often results in poor crotches, weak branch attachment, and excess breakage when the first big crop is set, particularly when trees are grown on vigorous rootstocks.

From our trials we know that short pruning in the first dormant season, where scaffolds are headed back hard to 12 inches and all side shoots are stripped off, reduces yield the most in the first few harvests. Advantages are that this type of pruning is easily learned and taught, trees are uniformly controlled in size, usually no tying is required in the second growing season, and there are lots of secondary limbs and watersprouts to select from at the second dormant pruning. A drawback is that you guarantee the need for lots of thinning cuts at the second dormant pruning or you end up with way too many “virtual” primary branches and too much crowding. Another concern is you may also need to loop tie the secondary branches in the second dormant season to prevent them from flopping over during the third growing season. Hard heading cuts on vigorous trees results in willowy pole-like branches the next year.

Long Vs. Short Pruning

Long pruning, where three primary scaffolds are selected in the first dormant season and left unheaded, is the other extreme. Small lateral fruit wood is left on the tree and some thinning may be done to select secondary branches. Advantages are earlier production, far fewer thinning cuts needed in the second dormant season, and fewer watersprouts to remove. Disadvantages are that the method is harder to teach and more pruning skill is required, there may be a need to tie vigorous trees in the second growing season to keep the primaries from flopping over, trees are less uniform, and they may be more easily blown over during heavy storms. Similar light thinning is done in the second and third dormant seasons.

I don’t believe that farm advisors have ever advocated non-pruning during the tree training years. Non-pruned trees may have heavier early yield in the third and fourth growing seasons, but those years are the lowest yield years in the orchard’s life. Also, poor bloom weather in the third or fourth year may eliminate any yield advantage a non-pruner was hoping for. Eight or 10 primary scaffolds will develop into a bushy dense tree that is more subject to disease and to blowing over in the establishment years and beyond. Such trees may also be more subject to limb breakage from poor branch attachments. In the northern part of the Central Valley where heavy winter storms are common, the potential cost of tree loss or damage can far outweigh the hoped-for yield gains. If thinning cuts are made on these crowded primaries as the trees age, the remaining limbs result in an even less desirable tree.

The best compromise is intermediate pruning, where three primary scaffolds are selected in the first dormant season, small lateral twigs growing horizontally and non-vigorous lateral branch growth coming from the upper trunk or scaffold branches are left on the tree. The three primary scaffolds are tipped back lightly, usually to about 48 to 60 inches to where internodes are longer so that good secondary branching results. In the second dormant season, vigorous upright secondary branches are thinned out to no more than three on a primary, while once again lateral fruit wood is kept. Disadvantages of this method are similar to long pruning in that this method is harder to teach and trees are more variable.

Advantages include less pruning needed to thin watersprouts in the second dormant season, less need to tie trees, and less limb breakage and a fuller canopy compared to long pruned trees.

Intermediate Pruning Is Best

Early production in trial treatments using intermediate pruning is often very similar to production in the long-pruned check trees. In addition, keeping small lateral shoots and branches has several other benefits compared to short pruning where they are removed. Their leaves shade the trunk and lower limbs and prevent sunburn. Photosynthate produced by these leaves nourishes the lower limbs and trunk and increases their strength. Finally, these lateral branches are the first to spur up and produce a crop.

Little additional training is needed in the third and fourth dormant seasons. The very few thinning cuts made, if the trees have been trained well in the first and second dormant seasons, are confined to maintaining the dominance of the primary and secondary scaffold branches you’ve selected previously. The third dormant pruning should be your final shot at correcting any mistakes made in previous years.

Twenty years ago, many young orchards were pruned way more severely than necessary or desirable. Today, I believe that too often, little to no training is practiced with the mistaken assumption that yield will be the best with no downside. That is not the case. Good intermediate pruning will minimize blow-overs while still returning reasonable early production and longer term tree health.

Leave a Reply

One comment on “Prune Young Almond Trees

  1. Being a novice, with small backyard fruit trees, I guess I wish there were line drawings to help understand. Can you perhaps recommend a good how-to pruning book? Thanks, Martha

Nuts Stories
The new Greefa unit at Stemilt is nearly the length of a football field. “It just keeps going and going,” says General Manager Jay Fulbright. (Photo courtesy of Stemilt)
Citrus
September 20, 2016
Preventative Control Rules Now In Effect For Large Businesses
Facilities employing 500 or more people must meet new standards. Read More
If Palmer amaranth is present in your field, do not remove the weed plants. Instead, destroy the weeds by burying or burning near the infested field.
Photo credit: Dwight Lingenfelter, Penn State University
Citrus
September 20, 2016
EPA Says Glyphosate Not Likely To Cause Cancer
Paper says herbicide not carcinogenic at doses relevant for human health risk assessment. Read More
NASA's global temperature heat map for 2015
Citrus
September 17, 2016
August Was The Hottest In 136 Years
The extended heat wave continues a streak of 11 consecutive months of record-setting temperatures. Read More
8-10-san-luis-reservoir-california
Fruits
September 15, 2016
California Growers May Face More Water Cuts
State proposal would divert more water to San Joaquin River system to save endangered fish habitat. Read More
(Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Citrus
September 15, 2016
What The Bayer-Monsanto Merger Means Thus Far
The deal, subject to regulatory approval, would create the world’s largest agriculture company. Read More
Split view of Monsanto and Bayer company signage
Citrus
September 14, 2016
Bayer Acquires Monsanto After Months Of Negotiations
Mega-Merger sealed with $66 billion all-cash transaction. Read More
Illustration of CRISPR-Cas9
Citrus
September 13, 2016
Can CRISPR Carry Agriculture Innovation To The Next Level?
Game-changing technology allows targeted gene modification to fight diseases like citrus greening. Read More
The Latest
Nuts
September 29, 2016
Use Soil Sampling To Inform Your Almond …
Whether planting on new ground or replanting, sizing up the enemy — nematodes — is a must. Read More
Citrus
September 29, 2016
Winter Is Coming, And It Could Get Wicke…
Forecast sees heightened freeze threat for Florida citrus; frequent snow to blast Northeast. Read More
Citrus
September 22, 2016
Senate Committee Report Says WOTUS Refor…
A report issued from the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee says federal agencies overreach their authority to regulate Read More
Citrus
September 20, 2016
Preventative Control Rules Now In Effect…
Facilities employing 500 or more people must meet new standards. Read More
Citrus
September 20, 2016
EPA Says Glyphosate Not Likely To Cause …
Paper says herbicide not carcinogenic at doses relevant for human health risk assessment. Read More
Citrus
September 17, 2016
August Was The Hottest In 136 Years
The extended heat wave continues a streak of 11 consecutive months of record-setting temperatures. Read More
Fruits
September 15, 2016
California Growers May Face More Water C…
State proposal would divert more water to San Joaquin River system to save endangered fish habitat. Read More
Citrus
September 15, 2016
What The Bayer-Monsanto Merger Means Thu…
The deal, subject to regulatory approval, would create the world’s largest agriculture company. Read More
Citrus
September 14, 2016
Bayer Acquires Monsanto After Months Of …
Mega-Merger sealed with $66 billion all-cash transaction. Read More
Citrus
September 13, 2016
Can CRISPR Carry Agriculture Innovation …
Game-changing technology allows targeted gene modification to fight diseases like citrus greening. Read More
Citrus
September 7, 2016
Getting To The Root Of Improved Fruit An…
Taking a holistic approach to soil health is a key to increasing plant vigor and yields. High yields begin with Read More
Citrus
September 3, 2016
Farm Profitability Expected To Dip For T…
Net farm income could hit lowest figure since 2009. Read More
Citrus
August 30, 2016
USDA Offices Closed After Unspecified Th…
Agency locations in five states shuttered due to anonymous, but serious messages. Read More
Fruits
August 30, 2016
Farmworker Overtime Expansion Sent To Ca…
Allied industries say new regulation is burdensome when coupled with increase in minimum wage. Read More
Crop Protection
August 30, 2016
New Biopesticide Available From BioWorks
Mycoinsecticide has quick knockdown effect and multiple modes of action. Read More
Citrus
August 19, 2016
Rough Winter In Store For Much Of The U.…
The Old Farmer’s Almanac and its competitor The Farmers’ Almanac predict the 2016-2017 winter will be cold for much of the country. Read More
Citrus
August 18, 2016
Trump Campaign Announces Agricultural Ad…
Just three of the 64 are directly involved with fruits and vegetables, all three are Californians. Read More
Harvesting
August 16, 2016
Proper Stockpiling Can Maintain Almond Q…
As almond yields increase, growers may find themselves with more harvested crop than processors can handle. Proper stockpiling techniques can Read More
[gravityform id="62" title="false" description="false"]