For a start, winter is a good time to do your major pruning for the year. The trees are dormant and they have lost their leaves so you can get a good look at the branch structure and work out which bits to take and which to leave.
Whist there are some definite rules to pruning apples and pears, anyone can do it, you just need to look at the tree as a whole and remember that the fruit will grow on wood older than one year.
Let’s start with the basics of any pruning, the maintenance pruning. This means cutting out any suckers that are coming up from below the graft and cutting out any stubs or broken branches (caused by wind damage or possums). Then look for inward facing branches, these tend to clog up the tree and make a good place for pests and diseases to hide, so get them out. Take out any rubbing or crossed branches, any diseased branches and any branches that are pointing downwards.
You are ideally looking for a “vase shape” of structural branches that allows airflow and sunlight into the middle of the tree once the leaves have returned.
Now step back and look at the branches you have left. Look down each branch from the tip toward the supporting branch. You will see a small ringed cluster of scars or dimples at the end of each year’s growth. You should be able to count each year’s growth by finding these rings.
Now you know how old each section of growth is. The very tip of the branch to the first set of scars is “one year” wood. That’s the wood that has been put on over the last growing season. Apples and pears fruit on 2 and 3 year and older wood. So those nice new shoots that have grown over the past season are important for future crops as they become the 2 and 3 year wood with successive growing seasons.
In any apple or pear tree you want a good balance of one, two and three year old wood. This keeps the balance between healthy growth, good cropping and structural integrity.
So, prune back your new growth by about a quarter to a third. Make sure you prune back to an outward facing bud and cut on an angle sloping away from the bud so moisture can run off. You can also thin out some fruiting spurs on the 2 and 3 year wood if you think the fruit they produce will be too close together or too heavy for the branch to bear. Also prune out vertical branches, as horizontal branches produce more fruit.
In general, pruning too hard will promote lots of shoot growth and not much fruit so remember to be on the gentle side.
In any pruning operation, use sharp, clean secateurs and clean them with diluted methylated spirits (3 parts spirit to 1 part water) between trees so you don’t pass pathogens from one tree to another. Collect your pruning’s and any other rotten fruit and leaves and remove them from the area. This will reduce the chance of pests and diseases ruining next year’s crop.