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130. Great Fruit Tree Pruning Practices | Simply Trees | Russ Metge | Salt Lake City, UT
15th April 2016 • GREEN Organic Garden Podcast • Jackie Marie Beyer
00:00:00 01:06:18

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Proper fruit tree pruning

Russ Metge from Simply Trees is here to share his journey as a business owner where he does’t just prune trees but also educates his clients on the importance of proper fruit tree pruning in Salt Lake City, UT.

Russ Metge is a professional Horticulturist with a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture from Brigham Young U-Idaho. He is a husband and father of four. He owns and operates Simply Trees, a pruning business in Salt Lake City that specializes in fruit tree pruning and horticultural pruning of other specialty trees, vines, and shrubs like Japanese Maples, grapes, roses, raspberries etc. He loves working outdoors, and the only thing he likes more than pruning fruit trees is teaching others how to prune fruit trees with his on-site, one-on-one fruit tree pruning workshops where clients learn how to prune fruit trees with there very own trees as examples. When Russ is not pruning trees he enjoys connecting with like minded gardeners online via Twitter, Facebook and his blog which can be found at

I was listening to our first episode and it’s funny cause you can hear my daughter playing in the background.

It’s a great episode it’s been in the top most downloaded episodes since I first started.

Tell us a little about yourself.

So last time, I was father of 3 daughters expecting a fourth and now I’m a father of 4 daughters. probably the biggest change since last year. I own an operate a business in Salt Lake City where I pruned and care for people with fruit trees, mostly with a backyard orchard, a list of clients that I pruned for year after year after. I love my job! Not many people can say they love their job but I’m definitely one of them.

Tell us about your first gardening experience?

I don’t have a first experience. I’ve been around gardens since I was  little kid. I do remember as a child, spending a lot of time in trees, just climbing trees. I have 4 brothers, and a sister, too  both sides of me, one that’s al little bit older and brother a little bit younger, spent  a lot of time climbing trees, lots of mature apple trees as a kid, catch honey bees in jars… see how many fit in a jar…


Yeah, just doing the typical boy thing.

Weren’t worried they’re gonna sting ya? I just heard people worrying about that the other day. I got out by our honey bees and never worry about getting stung.

I got stung several times throughout the summer, running around bare foot, stepping on a dandelion in the grass that had a bee on it, getting stung by a honeybee, just part of growing up for me. We were careful, we would just turn the jar upside down and the  bees would fly upward.

What’s interesting. I just remember when the trees were in bloom they were just humming with bees, every single blossom had a bee on it. We have a few apricots trees starting to bloom here in SLC, and I seldomly see a honeybee… it’s kind of sad how it’s changed over the years. Now adays with all the pesticides and everything it’s definitely affected the bee population. I have seen that and experienced it first hand!

Maybe we can talk about what we can do to help the bees, you were saying that it’s raining is not a good time to prune.

There’s a lot of pest control, even organic gardeners have to do, it’s just different.

Good Cultural Practices for Fruit Tree Pruning Care

The first and most important part of making sure your trees is making sure your tree is not susceptible to pests is to have good cultural practices:

  • is make sure your tree has plenty of water
  • gets plenty of sunlight
  • remove the lawn from the base of the tree.
  • make sure that your tree is as healthy as can be

So it is make sure your tree has plenty of water, make sure your tree is planted in a location in your garden in a place where it gets plenty of sunlight, it’s important to make sure that you remove the lawn from the base of the tree. A lot of my customers plant their tree in the middle of the lawn, which is not a bad thing. Lawn mowers and string trimmers come and are damaging the bark and so there are a lot of things you can do to make sure that your tree is as healthy as can be.

I actully have one customer of mine, I pruned for the very first time, that I pruned for last year and he called me up in the summer, and I could just hear this anger in his voice, and he told me that his apricot tree, that he remembers planting whenhe first bought his house that was probably 2 feet and 30’ tall .

He called me and said his tree was dying, and I knew it wasn’t because I did anything wrong because pruning trees doesn’t kill trees.

I asked him did you look around the base of the trees, what do the leaves look like? And I started asking him all these questions. … No, nope, I think you pruned it too heavy. .. I said, go out and take some pictures and lets see if we can identify what’s going on with this tree.

So he went outside and took some pictures of the trunk and so inside the bark he could see the exoskeleton of an insect that had emerged from the bark.

I could send you pictures…

But he, lost a mature tree that wasn’t just a tree, it was a tree that he was emotionally attached to, it was part of his existence, he’d had it for years, he was just devistated that it could happen. He broke down in tears. It’s hard for me to see something like that happen too.

I think we had a really early spring last year, had some pretty cold weather, then we had some cold snow, late in the season, then we had a really hot dry summer. So I think that tree was under a lot of stress, and experiencing drought conditions and struggling to get enough water, is the main reason it will be more susceptible to an infestation like that.

Every tree is going to have pests, it’s part of nature, its just part of gardening, that’s just what we do. When you put a tree under stress that’s what it’s gonna do. So we want to make sure the tree is as healthy as it can be… that’s the difference of life or death of a tree.

So you want to make sure the tree is as healthy as it can be… Most important thing you can do as a gardener to make sure that your fruit trees are going to be I don’t like to say pest free-

disease free?

… able to fight off natural disease that occur in our areas.

Golden seeds, I’ve had a lot of guests talk about water is important and can help you with your production but also, here we are again and the spring is in the air, dry and hot and we’re almost ready to plant yesterday was the first day of spring. Suggestions and things listeners can do to stay healthy ahead of time. 

So that’s kind of the cultural practices, the most important thing you can do.

It’s not just for pest control, you’re gonna get better fruit as well.

Multiple benefits to that, once you have good cultural practices …

Fruit Tree Pruning

Pruning is an important part of that. We talked about that in our first interview.

  • will open up the tree
  • it allows light into the tree
  • more airflow 
  • it won’t get so much fungi breeding inside the canopy of the tree

Pruning is another practice, where pruning properly will help make sure that your tree is healthy.

One of the things I like to bring up during the pruning process, is correct pruning techniques are gonna minimize infestations.

I just pulled my chain saw out, which is a rare thing for me to do, and I took a peach tree down to ground level, it was infested, I maybe be pronouncing this wrong, but

Cytospora canker

It’s a fungal disease:  affects the peach tree branches, causes bleeding you get that gummy sack, tree was pretty open, kind of in a shaded area, so the tree wasn’t planted correctly so it wasn’t getting the energy planted to stay healthy and then improper prunning techniques one of the steps in my 8 step pruning method that I use.

Is to remeove the leader, I like to open center to allow the sunlight and allow the air to flow in time the center of the tree. If you chop the leader out when the tree is mature it leaves a big wound at the very top of the tree, which is not a good thing because then if you get water up there, the moisture is a great place for fungus, the moisture sits on top of that.

The branches are composed of 2 parts:

  • dead hardwood center core
  • alive green flexible sapwood ring

the center which is kind of a darker color, if you’ve seen firewood there’s a darker core and a lighter ring of the branch. The center core is heartwood, it is dead wood, it’s only function is to give the tree structural integrity. It’s hard, it’s brittle, but it’s strong and it’s kind of like the rebar in the center of the tree. That out ring is a green layer, it’s  flexible, and allows the tree to bend and move.

So the combination of hardwood and sapwood is perfect, with this rigid structure with flexibility to move in the wind.

Nature knows what it’s doing much better then you and I do, so it doesn’t have to think about it. That’s just the way it is. So if you make a large cut on your fruit tree, you’re exposing a large wound and in time that would is gonna seal off and heal, and close up, but  if it’s a large wound, that sealing process, will take so long the inner core, that heartwood will begin to rot away. That affects the structural integrity of the tree. The tree will still live.

You’ve probably seen trees with a hollow rotted out core, really old trees will have a hollow  core, they’ll survive year after year after year, but they could be stronger. If the core is going to rot out it doesn’t mean the trees going to die, but the structural integrity is gonna be compromised.

So that’s sort of a tangent from the citasporem infestiation on this peach tree. But what you can do, when you are pruning fruit trees that you’re

  • starting when they are young, and
  • you’re pruning the tree if you do have so you don’t have to remove a large branches.

If you have do have to remove a  large branch or especially when you are removing the leader, the center part of the tree,  you want to cut it perpendicular to the leader

don’t want to leave a flat surface on top of that cut, you want to cut it at a slight angle to allow moisture run off the tree.

Have you ever seen a large branch that’s been cut, and sort of swells, on the edges and starts to swell off, If you can imagine that but on top of your tree, if you remove a branch growing straight up and you imagine that welling happening around that wound, it’s gonna create a little bowl, where water will just sit there.

So that is just gonna cause all sorts of things with your trees…

Rot … and …

Yes, rot and citasporem.

I read an article if you cut that one, prunning technique, if you just cut any branch that growing upward it at a slight angle, that alone is repsonsible for making your orchard 50% better results at keeping the citasporem infestation likely in an orchard.

Just making it a cut at a slight angle. The point is prunning is an important part of making sure your tree is healthy, and it has to be done correctly, and you need to educate yourself on the correct methods, so that you make sure that your getting superior results and not damage your tree.

Tell people the best advice for pruning:

  • do it when trees are young
  • stay on top of it when the trees are young…

less likely to make mistakes when the tree is young, you’re much less likely to have these problems I’ve been talking about but if you wait and let it go fro years you’re just increasing your risk of the tree failing in the future due to pest problems.

Simply Trees fruit tree pruning

We haven’t mentioned your website yet … from the website you can access the blog… ut is for Utah.

The website is gonna tell you a little bit more about the company, if I was gonna work in my area. 

I teach an onsite fruit tree pruning workshop.

So people hire me to come out to their backyard, and teach them how to prune fruit trees one on one and we use their tree as the example. And so the reason we bring this up, is because the outline to that course is on the blog and it’s free! 

All the information that I teach people, is there and it’s free and anybody can access it, and as  I go through the outline if I mention   a word you don’t know.  It likely will take you to another blog post that explains that word and gives you specific information. It’s growing more and more each year.

I’ve been adding more about pest control, as my clientele grows, I’m getting a lot of  questions are about pest control, they are usually pest control related. There will be more blog posts about pest control and how to treat them organically.

Probably as people are seeing more pests as the environment  and as our climate changing, that’s probably very valuable, with new pests and diseases coming up everyday.

Yes, that’s true with the emerald ash bore, that’s moving across the country, it’s not even native to here but once it’s introduced, because it has no natural predators it can devastate entire forests.

We’re living in much more hostile environment when it comes to pests then we did 10 years ago.

Wow, so I don’t know anything about that… what’s the emerald ash bore?

They believe it was brought in through shipping containers through packing material or pallets of freight or something like that made from ash trees in Asia, but in Asia it’s not a major pest. They had a hard time trying to identify what this pest was and where it came from. But once it was introduced to the US, it came in through Michigan and the Great Lakes, it devastated all of the ash trees in those areas. Once it’s in the area, unless the treated properly the mortality rate is 100%. Its just one example of how we’re living in much more hostile environment.

it took years and years and to discover, what it was and how to treat it, so a lot of research is focused on one particular pest,

we’re a little more prepared for it.

What other pests are you getting… that you see on the fruit trees then?

the one that people complain about the most

coddling moth that bores into the apple trees

anyone who grows apples probably knows about coddling moths. It’s difficult to control, because it is a caterpillar, there are some organic pesticides.

some I don’t recommend unless they are absolutely necessary, even though they are from extracts plants, they’re not selective and its not like their gonna kill one bug and not another.

  • Neem oil is really common for insects that have a piercing sucking mouth part like aphids and mites and stuff.
  • It’s a horticulture oil but it can affect the beneficial insects as well. Its’ extracted from neem oil, but it will effect
  • pyrethrum an extract from a daisy like chrysanthemum flower
  • attacts a bugs nervous system, shuts down, some bugs recover but usually what happens, the bug is paralyzed till it’s starved to death That you can use on fruit trees, but it basically, doesn’t mean that your not gonna be killing bees and beneficial insects. A lot of it has to do with the timing.

Make sure it’s timing is right. 

don’t spray a tree in full bloom, 

if you do you’re gonna be willing bees

some insects are only present at certain times

base of tree, it’s easy to treat when it’s

once it’s in the bark

time it so when it emerges and and flying around laying it’s eggs. You want to have something on the base of tree, when the adults are laying their eggs, so you can interrupt the life cycle of the pest.

Just because they are organic doesn’t mean it’s safe. What’s good about something that’s organic is it decomposes immediately, where as the synthetic pesticides are designed to be persistent, designed to last a long time and not so gardeners don’t have to spray over and over again … a lot longer to prevent, they have a lot longer negative affects to the environment.

I think it’s great. Nobody’s talked about that I can think of that the organic pesticides are gonna go away instead of stick around. One thing people have talked about is that you have to keep using more pesticides because they lose their power?

The reason they lose their powers. they’re interrupting process that

I spent a few years in the  Philippines, and there are some very large cockroaches, and very large spiders, crawling on you in the middle of the night. I don’t know what you wanted crawling on you fans blowing on us through the night if we saw a...




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