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.”
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.
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.
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.
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Great idea… Thanks, Greg! And, LOL, even though I’m female, your cherry tree drawing put a smile on my face as it’s is also a pretty good representation of cleavage 🤭 ha ha!
Ha! Gina, they are cherry trees!
Hi Greg. Great info on “doors”. What cherry varieties are you growing? We have a Bing or similar that won’t set fruit here in Fallbrook. No big surprise. Thinking of grafting more suitable varieties….any suggestions?
Also we have blue lake pole bean seedlings in the greenhouse. Still too cold to set out in the garden?
Those two trees are Lapins and Royal Crimson. I planted them five years ago and they had their first real crop last year. Both produced.
I know some Minnie Royal and Royal Lee cherry trees in yards that are warmer than mine in winter that produce well. You could graft your Bing over to those (their patents have expired).
Or you could try a Royal Crimson tree, as I’ve seen that it also sets in warmer yards than mine. It is said to be self-fruitful but I can’t vouch for that.
Beans do better in cold soil than some other warm-season crops. I think they would be fine to plant, except that they would be susceptible to damage from pill bugs and earwigs if you have many of those in your garden. You might try putting one in the ground and seeing if there’s damage the following morning.
I have a Minnie royal next to a royal lee and just put a royal crimson next to them to make a 3 in 1. The Minnie royal fruits more than the royal lee but this year I’m expecting them to both fruit well and will eagerly wait a few years to see what the crimson does. My lapins is 15 feet away from these and never did very well and I just relocated a candy heart pluerry next to the new 3 in 1 and expect it to do well. I live near SDSU
Boy, I wish I had fruit trees big enough to need a “door.” Good advice if I ever get some!
Greg, love your yard posts! Thank you!!