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
Nuts
September 3, 2017
Codling Moth Monitoring Tips in Walnuts
Mating disruption doesn’t just affect those orchards directly involved; you need to consider the potential impact on nearby orchards. Read More
Insect Control
August 22, 2017
Stink Bug Threatens High-Dollar Crops in California
While populations are low, it appears invasive pest has recently stumbled upon the state’s peaches and almonds. Read More
Citrus
August 17, 2017
How Wicked Will Winter 2018 Be in the U.S.?
The 200th edition of the Farmers’ Almanac reveals wide-ranging weather patterns and events that would require everything from shovels to shorts. Read More
Nuts
July 30, 2017
The New Normal of Almond Orchard Canopies
Just because an almond orchard has no live lower limbs doesn’t mean it’s not extraordinarily productive. Read More
Nuts
July 29, 2017
New Orchard Systems Advisor Returns Home
Luke Milliron, who’s back in the Butte County area, is ready to help growers, especially improving irrigation. Read More
Nuts
July 28, 2017
Self-Fertile Almond Dominates New Plantings
‘Independence’ almond — which cuts pollination and other cultural costs — now represents one-quarter of all plantings. Read More
Citrus
July 23, 2017
USDA Invests $7.6 Million toward Beneficial Insect Research
Projects to promote beneficial organisms as part of a pest control strategy. Read More
Fruits
July 14, 2017
Brown Marmorated Stink Bug Predator Egg Mass Found
Samuri wasp parasitized egg mass found in Southern New Jersey peach orchard. Read More
Mobile technology farming
Citrus
July 10, 2017
Practical Solutions Are Bringing Precision Agriculture Closer to Earth
Growing the budding ag-tech sector to maturity likely will require a deeper meeting of the minds between technologists and agriculturists. Read More
Nuts
July 7, 2017
Lab Opens to Test for Pistachio Problem
AgExperts Inc. is now testing for Rhodococcus bacteria, which has plagued growers for the past few years. Read More
Nuts
July 7, 2017
California Almond Crop Projected to Increase 5%
This year’s California almond crop is forecasted to exceed 2 billion pounds, according to the California Almond Objective Measurement Report Read More
Closeup of a managed bee hive next to a blueberry field
Citrus
June 28, 2017
Felony Charges in Beehive Thefts
The men accused of heading up an operation to steal and re-sell beehives, Pavel Tveretinov and Vitaliy Yeroshenko, 48, have Read More
Citrus
June 21, 2017
Storm Runoff May Recharge Aquifers and Your Crops
A new study hints that tapping into storm water during dry years does more than increase water table levels. Read More
honeybees
Fruits
June 6, 2017
Survey: Bee Loss Drops Last Season
Bee Informed Partnership says preliminary analysis of results show second-lowest loss rate recorded in last seven years. Read More
Nuts
June 3, 2017
Have Flooded Orchards? Keep an Eye out for Damage
While the damage from waterlogging or Phytophthora may not be immediately known, there are some warning signs to be on the lookout for. Read More
The Latest
Nuts
October 2, 2017
Almond Industry Group Backs USDA Export …
Almond Alliance of California President Kelly Covello: Without Market Access Program money, the world-dominant industry “might not have entered China, which is now our third largest export market.” Read More
Nuts
September 25, 2017
Pollination Power Couple Teaming Up for …
Growers would be better off adding blue orchard bees (BOBs), reducing their heavy dependence on honeybees that have to be brought into California each year. Read More
Nuts
September 12, 2017
Walnut Crop Expected to be Down 5%
While wet California winter was welcome to growers, some orchards were flooded, compromising root systems. Read More
Nuts
September 3, 2017
Codling Moth Monitoring Tips in Walnuts
Mating disruption doesn’t just affect those orchards directly involved; you need to consider the potential impact on nearby orchards. Read More
Insect Control
August 22, 2017
Stink Bug Threatens High-Dollar Crops in…
While populations are low, it appears invasive pest has recently stumbled upon the state’s peaches and almonds. Read More
Citrus
August 17, 2017
How Wicked Will Winter 2018 Be in the U.…
The 200th edition of the Farmers’ Almanac reveals wide-ranging weather patterns and events that would require everything from shovels to shorts. Read More
Nuts
July 30, 2017
The New Normal of Almond Orchard Canopie…
Just because an almond orchard has no live lower limbs doesn’t mean it’s not extraordinarily productive. Read More
Nuts
July 29, 2017
New Orchard Systems Advisor Returns Home
Luke Milliron, who’s back in the Butte County area, is ready to help growers, especially improving irrigation. Read More
Nuts
July 28, 2017
Self-Fertile Almond Dominates New Planti…
‘Independence’ almond — which cuts pollination and other cultural costs — now represents one-quarter of all plantings. Read More
Citrus
July 23, 2017
USDA Invests $7.6 Million toward Benefic…
Projects to promote beneficial organisms as part of a pest control strategy. Read More
Fruits
July 14, 2017
Brown Marmorated Stink Bug Predator Egg …
Samuri wasp parasitized egg mass found in Southern New Jersey peach orchard. Read More
Citrus
July 10, 2017
Practical Solutions Are Bringing Precisi…
Growing the budding ag-tech sector to maturity likely will require a deeper meeting of the minds between technologists and agriculturists. Read More
Nuts
July 7, 2017
Lab Opens to Test for Pistachio Problem
AgExperts Inc. is now testing for Rhodococcus bacteria, which has plagued growers for the past few years. Read More
Nuts
July 7, 2017
California Almond Crop Projected to Incr…
This year’s California almond crop is forecasted to exceed 2 billion pounds, according to the California Almond Objective Measurement Report Read More
Citrus
June 28, 2017
Felony Charges in Beehive Thefts
The men accused of heading up an operation to steal and re-sell beehives, Pavel Tveretinov and Vitaliy Yeroshenko, 48, have Read More
Citrus
June 21, 2017
Storm Runoff May Recharge Aquifers and Y…
A new study hints that tapping into storm water during dry years does more than increase water table levels. Read More
Fruits
June 6, 2017
Survey: Bee Loss Drops Last Season
Bee Informed Partnership says preliminary analysis of results show second-lowest loss rate recorded in last seven years. Read More
Nuts
June 3, 2017
Have Flooded Orchards? Keep an Eye out f…
While the damage from waterlogging or Phytophthora may not be immediately known, there are some warning signs to be on the lookout for. Read More