UNITED STATES—Bare root season begins as the year ends for a simple reason. That is when deciduous plants are dormant. They are unaware of the otherwise distressful process of relocation. This is also why winter is the season for dormant pruning. Such pruning would be very distressful at any other time of year. While dormant, deciduous plants are unaware of it.

Dormant pruning of fruit trees is also important for a simple reason. Extensive breeding has increased reliance on horticultural intervention. In other words, deciduous fruit trees now generate more fruit than they can support. Their fruit is both unnaturally abundant and unnaturally large. It is both too heavy and too consumptive for its unpruned stems.

Dormant pruning enhances the quality of fruit by concentrating resources. Although less abundant, fruit is bigger and better. Also, dormant pruning enhances structural integrity of supportive stems. Although more vigorous, vegetative growth is more compact. Stouter stems endure less leverage from fruit weight. As a bonus, more fruit is easier to reach.

Dormant pruning is very specialized.

Almost all deciduous fruit trees require very specialized dormant pruning. This includes some nut trees, as well as grapevines, kiwi vines, cane berries and roses. However, it does not include evergreen fruit trees, like citrus and avocados. They do not need such aggressive pruning. Besides, pruning stimulates new growth that is vulnerable to frost.

Unfortunately, dormant pruning is too specialized to describe in a few paragraphs. For most deciduous fruit trees, it is quite aggressive. Peach and nectarine trees may benefit from removal of half of their stem growth! Apricot and plum trees need a bit less pruning. Cherry and almond trees may need only minor pruning. Yet, all six are stone fruit trees.

Apple, pear and quince are all pomme fruits. Their trees require similar dormant pruning. Their many varieties require various degrees of such pruning though. Fig, mulberry and persimmon trees all require particular types of dormant pruning as well. Deciduous fruit trees are certainly not low maintenance. This should be considered before planting any.

Highlight: Apple

Apples are amazingly diverse. They have been in cultivation for thousands of years. Too many cultivars to document developed during that time. Some ripen as early as summer, while others ripen for late autumn. Many are best for eating fresh, while others are better for cooking, baking or juicing. Some are sugary sweet, while others are impressively tart.

Malus domestica is the general botanical name for most domesticated apples. However, this classification includes countless hybrids of a few species. Some are products of very extensive breeding. Most can grow as large as small shade trees. Grafting onto rootstock limits their size accordingly. Most ‘semi dwarf’ home garden trees are relatively compact.

Apple trees bloom with small but profuse and brilliant white flowers for spring. Flowering crabapple trees generally bloom pink or reddish pink, but produce dinky fruit. Otherwise, apples are about as big as baseballs. Some are significantly bigger or smaller. They can be variable shades of red, yellow or green. Some are striped or blushed with two colors. Their deciduous foliage turns yellow through autumn and defoliates through winter.

Tony Tomeo can be contacted at tonytomeo.com.