Recently while pruning fruit trees I have become focused on something new. It’s not size control, it’s not maximizing fruit production. It is creating easy access to the fruit that the tree produces.

What is a door?

Once a tree reaches a certain girth, it becomes difficult to harvest the fruit that is inside the canopy. One needs an avenue to the interior of the tree: a “door.”

How do you get the nectarines in the center of this tree?

The door is an open space on a tree’s side where there are no large branches impeding your reach into the center of the canopy.

Sometimes a tree grows branches that are not evenly spaced on all sides, thereby creating a door for you. Other times, you must create this door through pruning, and it is best done while the tree is young. That said, I have forgotten to do this on some trees and had to later prune out large branches to create doors after struggling to pick interior fruit for a couple years.

Where to place the door?

It is wisest to locate the door on the north or east side. When the sun shines into the north and east sides of a tree canopy, it is weak.

The west side is not ideal, as the afternoon sun is hotter than the morning (east) sun. But the south side should especially be avoided. A door there opens up branches to the most intense sun. In Southern California, the sun runs across the sky at a southern angle all year long. Any branches that face south are most vulnerable to sunburn. The more horizontal these branches are, the more vulnerable they are.

Sun damage on south-facing branch of a stone-fruit tree.

What if two or more trees are planted close together? This can get complicated depending on the spacing and whether or not you want to be able to walk between the trees, but here is an example from my yard where I have two cherry trees oriented east-west, where I have pruned a door on their north sides between the trees but not all the way through.

Cherry trees, looking southward, with access door pruned between them on north side.

I know this is hard to discern from the photo so here is what it looks like from above:

Which fruit trees need doors?

Pruning a door into stone and pome fruit trees is most important. (Stone fruits: apricot, plum, peach, nectarine, cherry. Pome fruits: apples, pears.) The reason is that stone and pome fruit trees have less flexible, and sometimes abrasive, branches.

Compare them to citrus or mango or avocados, which have flexible branches that can be more easily pushed to the side to create an entry point into a tree’s interior. Nevertheless, it can be useful to prune doors into some of those evergreen trees too. I have found the need to do so on a few of mine.

In the end, what we’re after is not just lots of fruit on our trees, but easy access to that fruit as well. So we keep them pruned down in height, yes, and we might also prune in a door.

Looking into the door on the east side of my Dapple Dandy pluot tree a couple of summers ago.

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