UNITED STATES—Adding new fruit trees to a garden is reasonably easy. Maintaining them properly as they mature is more of a challenge. Centuries of extensive breeding to enhance production of such trees has increased their reliance on horticultural intervention. Most deciduous fruit trees consequently need specialized dormant pruning during their winter dormancy.

Without adequate dormant pruning, most deciduous fruit trees are unable to support their unnaturally large and unnaturally abundant fruit. Dormant pruning actually enhances the size and quality of fruit. However, it also limits the weight of excessiveness, and confines it to sturdier branch structure. It concentrates resources into fewer fruit of superior quality.

Dormant pruning, or winter pruning, likewise concentrates resources into more docile but healthier vegetative growth. It eliminates or at least diminishes the 4 Ds, which are dead, diseased, damaged and disfigured growth. Confinement of potentially rampant stems not only improves structural integrity, but also limits wasteful production of unreachable fruit.

Deciduous fruit trees are definitely not ‘low maintenance’.

Almost all deciduous fruit trees, and most nut trees, require specialized dormant pruning. So do grapevines, kiwi vines, berry canes and roses. Evergreen fruit trees, such as citrus and avocados, are exempt for now though, since such pruning promotes new growth that is vulnerable to frost. Most of such trees do not require such aggressive pruning anyway.

Almonds, apricots, cherries, nectarines, peaches, plums, prunes and all their hybrids are stone fruits of the genus Prunus. Almonds are actually seeds, or stones, of leathery fruits that are merely hulls. Various stone fruits need various degrees of similar pruning. Heavy peaches need aggressive pruning. Lightweight cherries might need only minor trimming, or no pruning at all.

Apples, pears and quinces are pomme fruits that, like stone fruits, need various degrees of similar pruning that conforms to their distinct characteristics. Persimmons, mulberries, pomegranates and figs each need specific types of pruning as well. Familiarity with each of the dormant pruning techniques that each fruit tree in the garden requires is essential.

Highlight: Cherry

Cherry, Prunus avium, is one of the more popular fruits of summer. However, winter is the season for planting new trees and pruning mature trees. Pruning is comparable to that of other stone fruits, but to a lesser degree. Their sweet fruits are typically less than an inch and a half wide, so are relatively lightweight. Docile trees may not need annual pruning.

Home garden trees with dwarfing rootstocks should grow no taller than about 15 feet. Some stay less than 10 feet tall. Orchard trees with standard rootstock grow significantly taller. Wild or feral trees can grow 40 feet tall, with their fruit beyond reach. Old cultivars mostly require another compatible cultivar for pollination. Some modern cultivars do not.

Cherry fruits are mostly rich deep red, but can be dark blackish red or pale orangish pink. Early spring bloom is brief but profuse and splendidly clear white. Three to four inch long leaves that are deep green through summer become bright yellow or golden yellow prior to defoliation during autumn. Even the silvery young bark of some cultivars is appealing.

Tony Tomeo can be contacted at tonytomeo.com.