Young hazelnut trees require yearly pruning in the orchard. It’s crucial to prune new trees to establish the scaffold structure that will end up being the framework of your mature tree.
When a tree is planted we remove all side branching, reducing the hazelnut tree to a single whip. As we plant, we top the trees at a heigth of 32″ to 36″. This reduces the number of growing points remaining on the tree which allows it to put more energy into fewer branches when it wakes up in the spring. Topping a first year tree is crucial. If it is not topped, each bud will grow a little, instead of a few growing a lot. Hazelnut trees love to be pruned- they respond by growing more…
Following the first growing season, we prune after the leaves have dropped. The objective is to establish the 3 to 5 main scaffold limbs of the new tree. Balance the tree with limbs on opposing sides and spaced on the main stem. Keep the limbs toward the top 1/3 of the tree if possible. Remove all the rest. Cut off 1/2 of the growth of each of the 3 to 5 limbs you have chosen. Same as the first year, fewer growing points makes more vigorous growth.
After the second growing season (second leaf), we snip one-third of the new vertical growth from the dominant branches. If the tree has been damaged by deer or tractor blight, it may be necessary to re-establish the main leader and start over. If there are branches that go through the tree or anything you don’t like – remove it.
Some varieties will naturally grow in an upright direction (Jefferson) while others tend to be flat and wide (Yamhill). It is important to continue to snip 6″ off the tips of the main branches of Yamhill to keep it reaching upward.
Pruning from this point onwards will depend on personal preference. Any potential problem you can remove with hand pruners is best done now – or with a chainsaw at a later date! Remember, each branch will develop subsequent branches from the buds on them in the following years. If you build your scaffolding carefully over the first 2 to 4 years, your tree will have the strength it needs to withstand windstorms, give maximum access for equipment, and grow a healthy canopy for nut production.