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I am a novice gardener living in the San Francisco Bay Area. When I created my vegetable/fruit garden, the landscaper recommended grafted fruit trees (ones which produce 6 different varieties of fruits). As a result I have one pear tree which should be producing 6 different varieties of pears. I also have one apple tree with 6 different varieties. The trees were planted about 4 years back. So, I have a couple of questions:

  1. Should I be pruning the extra branches that have been growing every season down to what the original tree looked like (on step, 6 branches)? - see picture of what is looks like today

  2. What else should I be doing to get a good fruit crop this summer? I guess I should fertilize them, but is there anything else?

Pear Tree Apple Tree

  • The tree in the first photo is too close to the house, it won't get enough sun there and the roots will go underneath the walls. Better to remove it altogether. – Chasamba Mar 10 '16 at 17:20
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You definitely need to do some pruning. Before you start pruning a tree, you should find all of the graft points. Since you have multi-graft trees, there should be one graft at the point where each main branch comes off of the trunk. As you are pruning, keep in mind that if you cut a grafted branch off or cut it back so close to this graft that it will have no branches/leaves left, you will lose that variety altogether.

Now that you know how far back you do not want to prune, let's figure out what you do want to prune out:

  1. Take off any wood that is dead or diseased.
  2. Remove any suckers. These are branches that are sprouting from the ground near the tree or from the trunk below your first graft point. I believe I can see at least one sucker in the top photo - it looks almost like a new trunk coming up 6 inches in front of the main trunk. These cuts should be flush with the trunk, taking care not to damage the collar - the small swelling where the branch connects to the trunk.
  3. Take off any water sprouts. These are branches that grow absolutely straight up to the sky. Again, these cuts should be flush.
  4. Take off any branches that are growing back towards your house or fence. Again, in the top photo I can see a few branches that are brushing against the wall of your house. Those should go. Again, these cuts should be flush.
  5. Thin out the remaining branches until you have 6 inches or so airspace around them. Again, these cuts should be flush.
  6. Finally, trim the remaining branches by taking off 20% or so of the growth they put on last year. This will encourage the branches to grow stronger and thicker. These cuts will not be flush, of course - make them a fraction of an inch above a bud that is poking out in a direction that you want the branch to grow in (ie., don't make this cut directly above a bud that is pointing straight at your house). Since you have a multi-graft, some of your branches are doing better than others. Cut the most vigorous ones back a little more than 20%, the least vigorous ones a little less. This will help you balance out the tree a little bit.

If you take the pruning one step at a time like this, it isn't overwhelming. Take your time and look at the tree as you go. You want to keep it balanced and make sure that none of the grafts is given the chance to overpower the others.

I am a little concerned about some of your grafts, though. It is hard to tell from the photo, but the two horizontal branches on the lower right corner of the first picture look like they may not be doing very well. Be careful with those. I'm hoping you didn't lose either of your grafts there, but they may have died back.

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    Great answer and thanks for all the details. One follow-up question regarding timing. Given that some of the many branches are blooming (see picture), would it still make sense to prune or wait until next dormant season? – JStorage Mar 9 '16 at 17:43
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    The best time to prune is generally while the tree is still dormant, but after the worst weather of winter is over. I don't know exactly what that means in a mild climate like yours, but here in the frozen tundra where I live, I try to get out there in late February or early March. That said, in your case, I would still do the pruning right now. The trees are growing fast this time of year, which means the wounds should heal over fairly quickly, which is important. I'd say go for it! – michelle Mar 9 '16 at 19:27

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