This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
In all well-managed orchards, an intelligently directed pruning-knife plays an important part while the trees are young. I am not an advocate of an indiscriminate slashing of large limbs of fruit trees, simply on the ground that all trees are better for being pruned. This is one of the branches of fruit growing where unskilled or untrained labor should not take part; better no pruning, than ignorant butchery of any kind of fruit-bearing trees. Those who will take the pains to examine a young twig or branch of a pear tree will find the largest buds nearest the end or top of the branch. If left unpruned (such a branch, the second or third year), the eyes near the base, or lower part of the branch, will become dormant; the tendency of the sap is towards the extreme ends. This goes on from year to year, and when the tree ceases making wood, and fruit spurs are developed, they will be located on the extreme ends of the branches, where the weight of fruit is likely to weigh down the branches, and they are always in more or less danger of being broken from severe wind storms, and other causes, injuring and disfiguring the trees.
When the young branches are cut back one-half or two-thirds from the time the trees are set in the orchard, and this kept up for six or seven years, always working on the young growth of wood, very different results are brought about. By this simple method, the tree is built up firmly, so to speak, from year to year, the branches made stalky with the eyes well developed, so that when the trees come into bearing, the mass of fruit will be positioned on stout, stocky branches, strong enough to sustain the burden of fruit without risk of breaking the branches. These very desirable features are mainly brought about by what is known as Winter or Spring pruning. There is truth in the old adage that says, "Prune in Winter for wood and Summer for fruit".
Fruit trees planted in deep, rich ground, are likely to continue longer than is necessary for making wood growth, and in such cases it is well to resort to some method which will check this tendency of some varieties to wood, and cause them to produce some fruit at the same time.
I am constantly receiving letters, stating that the trees have been well taken care of, planted in a good soil; but, although in places six to ten years, have borne no fruit, asking for a remedy. Summer pruning, which is quite simple, is mainly practiced to bring about fruitfulness. It consists in shortening-in the young growth of the present year one-half and sometimes two-thirds, with a knife, or the thumb and finger when the growth is fragile. This can be done at any time between the 15th of July and the 10th of August. If shortened-in earlier than the middle of July, it is likely a second growth of wood will start which will not often ripen, and therefore may be injured by the cold weather the following Winter.
When the young growth is pinched back, the sap that would increase the growth by extension is disseminated in the remaining part of the branch, developing the wood buds, and bringing about by artificial means, in a single year, what it would in some cases take five, in the natural way. If the trees are vigorous and inclined to make wood, the tops become compact, excluding free access of air and light, both of which are essential to the growth of perfect specimens of fruit. This surplus growth of wood can be taken out while young, with great rapidity, during the Summer, in going through the trees to shorten the branches that are to be left for fruit-producing.
When a tree grows to a large size, and it is thought necessary to remove a limb of any considerable size, the following Spring a number of suckers will start from around where the branch was cut off. These can all be pulled of during the Summer without causing any injury to the trees.
With apples, when two young branches are growing too close, or may interfere with each other, it is very, much better to remove one while young, with the thumb and finger, or pruning knife, instead of waiting three or four years, and then be com-pelled to use a saw.
In fact, I have found this a safe rule to follow in all my experience in growing fruit for profit, that it is better to shape the tree and do the main pruning when the wood is young and tender, than to wait until the branches grow large, and then it is very difficult to carry out any system of pruning that will do the tree much good.
On fruit trees that are inclined to bear fruit early, Summer pruning should be practiced very sparingly. While on trees that are not so inclined, this method is the most easy and effectual to bring about the desired results.