Home and Garden

Top tips for pruning fruit trees in February

Plus a few other things to do in the garden before spring

By Nan Fischer
For Taos News
Posted 2/13/20

It's hard not to get excited about spring this time of year as the sun moves north and comes into the house at different angles. Days are visibly lengthening, another sign spring is …

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Home and Garden

Top tips for pruning fruit trees in February

Plus a few other things to do in the garden before spring


It's hard not to get excited about spring this time of year as the sun moves north and comes into the house at different angles. Days are visibly lengthening, another sign spring is about to replace winter.

Even though we will probably see much snow this month, it's time to prepare for the work that will be upon us next month. If you haven't started a garden journal yet, do so now. It's time to make detailed plans and take some action in the yard.


Houseplants will come to life as the days get longer. Wash the dust off them by hand or in the shower. Fertilize at half strength once a week. Check for pests, such as aphids, scale and mealybugs. Pot up root-bound plants and take cuttings for propagation.

Order seeds, plants and summer bulbs, such as dahlia, gladiolus, canna, crocosmia and Asiatic lily. Seeds will ship now, but plants and bulbs will arrive at planting time. By ordering now, though, you reserve them. Stock will run low as the season progresses, so be sure you get what you want by buying now.

Prepare your tools. Clean, sharpen, repair or replace clippers, loppers, hand cultivators, shovels and pitchforks. Tune up your mower, tiller and Weedwacker. Check hoses and sprinklers for cracks and leaks. You want things to be ready when you are.

Make plans for hardscaping. Get estimates from and make plans with contractors for fences, gates, walkways, decks or patios, driveway work and construction projects. Once it warms up, they will get busy, just as you will.

Plan for seed starting

Get your seed-starting supplies ready - pots, soil, labels, grow lights. Clean and disinfect pots you are reusing from last year. Use a 10 percent solution of bleach as a disinfectant.

Create a planting schedule if you are starting things from seed. This month start leeks, onions, pansies, parsley and perennials.

• For warm-weather plants, such as tomatoes and peppers, read the seed packet to see how many weeks it takes for the plant to be mature enough for transplanting. Count back from the average last frost date to figure out your seeding date. I plan on June 1 as the transplant date, but you may live in a slightly warmer or colder microclimate and need to adjust.

• Cool-weather plants, such as lettuce, kale, chard and spinach, can be transplanted as early as the last week of April. Again, read the seed packet to see how long your seedlings need to grow, count back from the planting date, and you have your seeding date.


We usually get a thaw and dry spell in February. Get small building projects done if your yard is dry enough.

Walk around and inspect your flower beds. Look for plants that have heaved out of the soil and gently put them back in place being sure the roots are buried again. Top the soil with mulch.

Be on the lookout for new growth. I have a patch of daffodils in a warm sunny spot up against the house. These predictably poke through the soil around Valentine's Day. This is something I eagerly anticipate every winter. In very warm years, I have seen crocuses in February. So observe your warmest beds.

Take cuttings of branches for forcing inside. Apple, crab apple, cherry, lilac and forsythia blooms will brighten your home with color and fragrance and whisk away your winter blues.

Prune your fruit trees

Prune your fruit trees this month or next before bud swell. When temperatures are above 20 degrees, dieback is minimized, but it's still cold enough that bugs and diseases are not around to enter the cuts. Also, with no leaves on the trees, you can see what you are doing and work the shape and structure that will improve tree health, appearance and yields.

By cutting out certain branches, you allow more light to reach the center of the tree, improve air circulation (important for reducing disease) and stimulate growth throughout the summer.

You will need pruners, loppers, a pruning saw and a ladder or pole extension. Tools should be clean, sharp and disinfected in a 10 percent bleach and water solution. If you are cutting more than one tree, wipe your tools down with the bleach in between trees to avoid passing on disease. Fire blight is transmitted this way, according to Rob Heyduck, associate research scientist at the New Mexico State University Sustainable Agriculture Science Center at Alcalde.

Plan ahead. Look at your tree from many angles. Decide which branches to remove, and mark them with flagging, twine or chalk.

You want to create a conical shape, with shorter branches at the top and a wider base. This lets light reach the center leaves. Keep the width manageable, too, for easy maintenance and harvest.

Prune the biggest branches first. Leave strong lateral branches. Remove those that hang down, are long and spindly, and those at a narrow angle to the trunk. A strong branch will have at least a 60-degree angle to the trunk.

Make cuts about ¼ inch out from the collar, where the branch meets the trunk. Heyduck says this area will heal quickly and maybe produce a new fruiting branch. All cuts should be angled outward so rain will run off and to the ground. A flat cut or angled toward a branch allows water to collect, which can cause rot and disease.

Remove branches that cross or rub against each other. Damaged bark exposes the tree to bugs and disease. Choose one to remove for best shape and air circulation.

On smaller branches, cut above a node that will grow outwards, not towards the center of the tree. You want to keep the inside as open as possible. Again, cut on an angle to allow rain to run off.

Cut off suckers and water sprouts that come from the base or the crotches. They are usually vegetative and suck energy from the rest of the tree.

Remove dead and diseased wood, which should be burned, never composted or put in the brush pile. Avoid spreading the disease.

Never cut off more than one-third of the tree. By pruning too much at once, you may not get fruit and you could reduce the tree's vitality. If you are reviving an older tree, Heyduck suggests doing a little each year for two to three years, while visualizing the intended shape.

Don't be afraid to prune. Your trees will benefit from an annual trim - and so will you with healthier trees and bigger harvests.

There will be a pruning workshop at the Sustainable Agriculture Center in Alcalde on Feb. 27 from 1-4 p.m. Cost is $10.


New Mexico State University

Sustainable Agriculture Science Center at Alcalde

371 County Road 40

Contact (505) 852-4241 or

alcalde@nmsu.edu or visit



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