top of page
  • Writer's pictureBrad DeBroux

Spring Awakening: AI-Enhanced Tips To Prune a Flourishing Urban Garden in USDA Hardiness Zone 5a

Updated: May 5

Guide to Pruning Raspberry Bushes, Apple, Pear, and Peach Trees and Flowers

As the early spring months of February and March arrive in USDA Hardiness Zone 5a, it's the perfect time to prepare your garden and small urban farm for a successful growing season. You'll be well on your way to a bountiful harvest by focusing on ideal plant shapes and maximizing fruit production. In this blog post, I'll share valuable tips I've gathered over the past decade, enhanced by my collaboration with AI tools like ChatGPT 4.0, 3.5, Bing, and Google's Bard.

Although it's now May 1st, and this post could have been published earlier, the knowledge and experience shared here remain valuable for anyone looking to improve their urban farming skills. As a lifelong doer, I can attest that there is a learning curve for urban farming and writing. However, my experiences and grassroots efforts have allowed me to grow and develop, much like the thriving plants at FarmYourLot.

Walter the Dog
Walter ready for action

Walter is ready, and this year, the plants in our greenhouse and garden are already showing signs of improvement – they're greener, larger, and have better structure. I attribute this success to the use of AI in assisting in applying the essential building blocks of plant care: light, soil, water, nutrients, and integrated pest control. As a former member of the GSD Squad ("get shit done") in mortgage banking technology, I know the value of getting things done efficiently. AI has been instrumental in helping me achieve that in my urban farming journey.

In the following sections, I'll share some practical pruning and timing tips for the spring season, which have been informed and enhanced by my partnership with AI. Let's dive in!

What a difference little snips make!

The art of pruning and shaping trees offer valuable lessons. We cultivate fruitful and thriving environments by focusing on priorities, maintaining balance and stability, and fostering adaptation and collaboration that healthy, productive gardens need to grow and flourish. Let’s go through a few examples; In each one, I’ll give you some useful pruning and timing recommendations this spring and next!

Raspberry pruning- the canes have it

Pruning your raspberry plants in the spring promotes healthy growth and increases fruit production. Raspberries have two types of canes: primocanes and floricanes. Primocanes are first-year growth canes, while floricanes are second-year growth canes that produce fruit. Knowing which canes to cut in the spring depends on the type of raspberry plant you have: summer-bearing or fall-bearing.

  1. Summer-bearing raspberries: These raspberries produce fruit on second-year canes (floricanes) in the summer. In the spring, follow these guidelines:

  2. Use your pruning tool to remove dead, damaged, or diseased canes at ground level.

  3. Thin out weak or crowded canes to ensure about 4-6 inches (10-15 cm) of space between each cane. This will help prevent disease and promote good air circulation.

  4. Cut any lateral branches on the remaining floricanes to about 12 inches (30 cm) in length to encourage larger fruit production.

  5. Fall-bearing (or everbearing) raspberries: These raspberries can produce fruit on both first-year (primocanes) and second-year (floricanes) canes. In the spring, you have two pruning options:

  6. For a single fall crop:

  7. Cut back all canes to ground level in early spring. This will remove the potential summer crop on the floricanes and encourage a more abundant fall crop on the new primocanes.

  8. For both summer and fall crops:

  9. Remove any dead, damaged, or diseased canes at ground level.

  10. Thin out weak or crowded canes to ensure about 4-6 inches (10-15 cm) of space between each cane. This will help prevent disease and promote good air circulation.

  11. Cut any lateral branches on the remaining floricanes to about 12 inches (30 cm) in length to encourage larger fruit production.

  12. Leave the healthy primocanes to grow and produce a fall crop.

Clean your pruning tools before and after use to prevent the spread of diseases. It's also a good idea to wear gloves to protect your hands from thorns.

Timing is so important; your berry harvest depends on it!
  • Dormant season pruning (late winter or early spring): Prune your raspberries before new growth begins, typically in March, when temperatures rise, but the plants remain dormant.

  • Summer pruning (after fruiting): For summer-bearing raspberries, remove spent floricanes after producing fruit, usually in late July or early August in zone 5a.

  • Maintenance pruning (during the growing season): Regularly check your raspberry plants throughout the growing season (April to September) and remove any dead, damaged, or diseased canes as soon as you notice them. Also, remove any unwanted suckers growing outside the designated row or planting area.

Walter ready to tackle the raspberry brambles
Walter ready to tackle the raspberry brambles

Dealing with a large pile of raspberry brambles can be challenging, but turning them into mulch for your garden is great! Here are a few steps to help you break down the brambles and create mulch:

  1. Protective gear: Before starting, wear protective clothing such as gloves, long sleeves, and long pants to avoid getting scratched or injured by the thorns.

  2. Pruning shears or loppers: Use pruning shears or loppers to cut the brambles into smaller, more manageable pieces. This will make it easier to handle the brambles and reduce the risk of injury.

  3. Bundle the brambles: Once cut into smaller pieces, combine them using twine or string. This will make it easier to transport the brambles to your garden.

  4. Shred or chip the brambles: To turn the brambles into mulch, you can use a wood chipper or shredder. This will break down the brambles into smaller pieces that can be used as mulch. If you don't have access to a wood chipper or shredder, you can rent one from a local garden center or home improvement store.

  5. Spread the mulch: After shredding the brambles, spread the mulch around your garden beds. A layer of 2-4 inches of mulch is recommended to help retain moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature.

  6. Optional: If you find the bramble mulch too sharp or thorny, mix it with other types of mulch, such as wood chips or straw, to create a softer, more comfortable surface.

Turn your raspberry brambles into valuable mulch for your garden while overcoming the "obstacle" in true Monty Python fashion.

Pruning and training apple trees is essential for their health, productivity, and overall structure. In USDA Hardiness Zone 5a, the average minimum winter temperature ranges from -20°F to -15°F (-29°C to -26°C). I've created a guide to Planting and Caring for Bare-Root Apple Trees. I'm happy with the results and pulled this exert from there!

Pruning and training your apple trees:

Apple trees require pruning and training to promote healthy growth, improve fruit quality, and maintain their structure. The best time to prune and train your apple trees Is during late winter to early spring before new growth begins. Pruning and training in late winter/early spring (Late February to March). Pruning during this period also helps stimulate new growth and improves sunlight penetration and air circulation in the canopy.

Pruning is best done in late winter or early spring while the tree is still dormant, as this helps to minimize stress and potential exposure to disease. However, if you missed the ideal window, you can still prune your apple trees, but there are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. Be Gentle: Since the tree is now actively growing, it's important to be more conservative in your pruning. The tree must heal all your cuts, which is harder during the growing season when resources are already heavily allocated to new growth.

  2. Prioritize Corrective Pruning: Focus on removing dead, diseased, or damaged wood, as well as any branches growing inward or causing crowding. This will help improve air circulation and sunlight penetration, which benefit fruit production and overall tree health.

  3. Watch for Signs of Stress: Keep an eye on the tree after pruning. If it seems to be struggling, consider providing supplemental water (especially if conditions are dry) or a balanced fertilizer to help support recovery.

  4. Be Aware of Disease: Pruning in late spring and summer increases the risk of certain diseases. Be sure to sanitize your pruning tools between each cut, especially when removing diseased material, to prevent potential spread.

Remember, it's better to prune a little late than not. The main goal of pruning is to keep the tree healthy and productive, and even late pruning can contribute to this. Just be mindful of the tree's response and adjust your care accordingly.

Tools needed to prune your apple trees.

  • Pruning shears

  • Loppers

  • Pruning saw

  • Pole pruner (for taller trees)

  • Gloves and safety glasses

Steps to prune and train apple trees:
  1. Remove dead, diseased, or damaged branches: Remove any branches that are dead, diseased, or damaged. Make clean, angled cuts close to the branch collar, ensuring not to damage the collar itself.

  2. Remove crossing or rubbing branches: Prune any branches that cross or rub against each other to prevent damage and potential disease entry points.

  3. Remove suckers and water sprouts: Eliminate suckers growing from the base and water sprouts from the branches, as they consume energy and nutrients but do not contribute to fruit production.

  4. Pick your pruning style, Central Leader System, and Open Center (Vase); I outline them all next.

  5. Establish the central leader: Identify the strongest vertical branch as the central leader and remove any competing branches. This helps maintain the structure and promotes healthy growth.

  6. Thin out crowded branches: Reduce the density of branches to improve sunlight penetration " and air circulation. Aim for a well-spaced, balanced canopy.

  7. Shorten long branches: Prune overly long branches to encourage lateral branching and fruit production. Ensure not to remHere'sve more than 1/3 of the total branch length in a single season.

  8. Train young trees: For young trees, use a combination of pruning and physical supports (stakes or wires) to establish the desired shape and structure.

When pruning and training apple trees, there are several shaping options you can choose from, depending on your preference, available space, and desired fruit production. In her book "Martha Stewart's Gardening: Month by Month," she provides tips on pruning trees, shrubs, and roses, emphasizing the importance of proper technique to promote healthy growth and maintain the plant's natural shape. She also advises gardeners to research specific pruning requirements for different types of plants and to avoid over-pruning, which can weaken the plant and reduce its ability to produce flowers or fruit. Here are some common pruning and training systems for apple trees.

Central Leader System:

The central leader system is the most common method for training Google's apple trees. This system maintains a single main trunk (the central leader), with tiers of scaffold branches growing outward and slightly upward. This system promotes a strong tree structure suitable for standard and dwarf varieties.

Modified Central Leader System:

Similar to the central leader system, the modified central leader system maintains a single main trunk but allows for more lateral branching. This system is often used for semi-dwarf and dwarf apple trees and can result in a slightly bushier appearance.

Open Center (Vase) System:

The open center or vase system removes the central leader and trains the tree to have three to four main scaffold branches that grow outward and upward from the trunk. This system creates an open, vase-like shape that allows for better air circulation and sunlight penetration, which can help reduce the risk varieties of diseases. The open center system is commonly used for peach and plum trees but can also be adapted for apple trees.


Espalier training involves pruning and shaping a tree to grow flat against a wall, fence, or trellis. This system requires more intensive pruning and training but can be a beautiful and space-saving option for growing apple trees in small gardens or urban settings.


Cordon training involves growing a single vertical stem (cordon) with short fruiting spurs along its length. This system is often used for growing apple trees in small spaces or as a fruiting hedge. Cordons can be grown as vertical uprights or at a 45-degree angle (oblique cordons).


The fan training system involves pruning and training the tree to form a fan shape, with several main branches growing outward and upward from the central trunk. This system is ideal for small gardens or growing against a wall and can create an attractive display when in bloom.

Each pruning and training system has its advantages and challenges, and the best option for your apple tree will depend on factors such as available space, desired aesthetics, and fruit production goals. Regardless of your chosen system, regular pruning and maintenance are essential for promoting a strong tree structure, healthy growth, and abundant fruit production.

Pear Trees

Like apple trees, Pear trees require spring pruning to maintain an open canopy and promote fruit production. Follow these steps to prune pear trees:

  • Remove dead, damaged, or diseased branches.

  • Eliminate any branches that grow downward or vertically and those that cross or rub against each other.

  • Maintain a central leader and well-spaced scaffold branches by thinning out the canopy.

  • Prune back the remaining branches to a healthy outward-facing bud or lateral branch.

Peach Trees

  1. Disinfect Your Tools: Before you start, clean your tools. This helps prevent the spread of diseases between plants.

  2. Remove Dead or Diseased Wood: Remove any dead, diseased, or damaged branches. This is crucial for maintaining the overall health of the tree.

  3. Remove Suckers and Water Sprouts: These small branches grow at the tree's base and straight up from the limbs. They drain energy from the tree and do not produce fruit.

  4. Thin Out the Crown: Peach trees need good air circulation and sunlight penetration to stay healthy and produce high-quality fruit. Remove branches that are crossing or rubbing against each other. Aim for a balanced, open vase shape.

  5. Shorten Branches: Cut back the remaining branches to about half their length. Make your cut just above an outward-facing bud. This encourages the tree to grow in a more open shape and helps it support the weight of the fruit.

  6. Prune to a Bud: Always prune to a bud facing the direction you want that branch to grow. This helps you control the shape and spread of the tree.

  • Don't remove more than 25% of the peach tree's total branches in one year, as this could stress the tree.

  • Ensure your cuts are clean and made at a slight angle to avoid water pooling and causing rot.

  • Treat large wounds with a tree wound dressing to prevent diseases.

  • If you're unsure about a cut, it's better to err on caution and cut less. You can always cut more next year.

Remember, pruning is an art, and it might take some practice to get it right. Your tree will thank you for your efforts with a bountiful harvest!

Summer pruning (June to August)

Summer pruning is typically unnecessary for apple, pear, or peach trees in Zone 5a, but it can be useful for managing vigorous growth, maintaining tree size, and improving light penetration. Focus on removing water sprouts, vertical shoots, and long, unproductive branches. Summer pruning should be done conservatively, as it can reduce fruit production the following year.

Pruning and training practices may vary depending on the type of apple tree (dwarf, semi-dwarf, or standard) and the desired training system (central leader, modified central leader, or open center). Always sanitize your pruning tools before and after use to minimize the spread of diseases.

General Trimming Tips for Small Urban Farms

In addition to pruning specific fruit trees and bushes, it's important to follow general trimming practices to keep your small urban farm in top shape:

  • Regularly inspect your plants for signs of disease, pests, or damage, and address any issues promptly.

  • Prune and trim hedges, shrubs, and perennial plants to maintain shape and encourage healthy growth.

  • Remove any weeds, dead leaves, or debris from your garden beds to prevent disease and promote a healthy growing environment.


We're working on an illustration of these pruning techniques, and I'll add them to the article and send a post when they're done.

Tending to our gardens is like an episode of "The Joy of Painting" with Bob Ross. Instead of a canvas, we’ve got soil and the amazing places it lives; instead of paint, we've got plants. You will make mistakes along the way, but in the words of Bob himself, we don't have mistakes here; we have happy accidents, and in my own words, leaning into our garden adventures, accidents can produce some amazing changes.

And if you're feeling more like Martha Stewart, it's time to start considering what delightful dishes you'll whip up with all these home-grown fruits and veggies. A homemade apple pie or a peach cobbler, perhaps?

However, if you're having one of those 'Monty Python' days where nothing seems to be going right, remember the words of the famous troupe: "Always look on the bright side of life." After all, it could be raining, which would mean free water for your plants!

Thanks to AI and some resilient plants, this urban farming adventure continues to be a journey of discovery, surprise, and fruitful reward. Keep tending, keep learning, and remember, we're all together in this beautiful, chaotic garden of life. Happy farming!

26 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page